Behind the Frame was quite a new experience for me. Often when I hear the words interactive fiction or story-rich I tend to check out immediately; Which is to say I’m not a fan. Yet something drew me to this particular offering from Silver Lining Studio and as a result, I experienced a beautifully crafted story that I truly didn’t expect to be so captivating. It also boasts some of the most awe-inspiring visuals I have ever seen.
It’s hard to call Behind the Frame a game, depending on your definition of the word. In truth, it barely does enough for me to qualify it as a game. Instead, It’s better to think of it as an interactive story, and it’s one that I enjoyed from beginning to end. The story follows a young artist who is on the cusp of finishing her final piece for a gallery submission, finding time in between painting to enjoy coffee, listen to music, and the occasional bite to eat. All this takes place in a cosy apartment next to a grumpy old neighbour and his old fat cat. Whilst her painting takes shape, the narrative explores and expands with seemingly random memories and moments interwoven throughout the game. With these adding to the mystique of the game and its character and taking some unexpected directions, it made me speculate their nature right up to the end credits.
It makes for a very intimate experience, which works in the games favour tremendously. It was easy to focus on the character, her world, and her story with no distractions. The memories woven into the story give some sense of mystery to a rather relaxing, cosy experience. And, the themes, atmosphere, and tone all meld together nicely to make for a rich experience. It hits all the usual games related buzzwords; Immersive, enthralling, captivating. You get the idea. Its real downside is the VERY short length, taking me under two hours to finish its six chapters while playing at a very leisurely pace. Despite that, its short playtime works well for the genre and format and lets the plot unfold at a great pace.
Now I get a chance to gush over the game’s art direction, which is nothing short of incredible. Taking influence from the famous Studio Ghibli, Behind the Frame boasts an entirely handcrafted art style. Everything in the game is hand-drawn, from the incredible environments down to the smallest details that ooze personality. It surrounds you in warm and vibrant colour and nuance, and the panoramic camera makes it easy to see it all and feel like you are in the world. Cutscenes are equally as beautiful, having loads of attention to detail that makes scenes smooth and elegant, again boasting the hand-drawn style that has insane amounts of polish and care. Aside from being stunning to look at, they also perfectly complement the game’s story and themes to a T.
The intimate nature of the story is made more approachable and welcoming thanks to the warm and inviting colours. Small details in the artist’s apartment make it feel lived in, and the animations give personality to the small cast of characters, even with the smallest actions or expressions. It’s honestly some of the most impressive art I’ve seen in a game in recent memory, and if nothing else showcases the incredible artistry of the Silver Lining’s team. The easy-listening soundtrack with jazz and lounge influences doesn’t go amiss either, adding some chilled out vibes to further enhance the relaxed, cosy feeling.
Truthfully the only issue I had was with gameplay. Breaking up the story and cutscenes are puzzles sections that were very simple. Most consisted of piecing together torn up pages or using sketches in your notebook to add new details to paintings. In doing so you find notes that add some intrigue to the story and clues to other puzzles found in the artist’s apartment.
These were pretty boring if I’m being frank, which I usually am. More than anything they served as a nice bit of interaction to remind me I was playing a game, and even the few that were slightly more challenging weren’t that much more engaging. Some of the more enjoyable moments were drawing sketches in your notebook, which even though it was simply moving your mouse frantically, let you hear the artist’s thoughts and showcased more of the game’s excellent art. That being said, its simplicity lends itself well to a game like this and in this genre. Taking a back seat to the artistry and plot lets those two do a lot of the heavy lifting. Instead, it serves as more of a backdrop that advances the plot and gets you to the next beautifully crafted cutscene, which the game transitions to smoothly without pulling you out of the game. While I’d have liked to see a bit more from the puzzles sections, maybe a little more depth or challenge, they ultimately serve the game well by being simplistic. Uncovering clues enhances the game’s story and adds a little mystery to their meanings, and the stunning art makes them a joy to look at.
Behind the Frame embodies the idea of games as art, quite literally. Whilst I was a bit disappointed as its very short length and simple gameplay, the amount of character, charm, and downright stunning artistry on display makes up for it in spades. The hand-drawn cutscenes and artwork are top-notch and live up to their inspiration without question, and the plot whilst simple was endearing and heartwarming. All the elements come together to make a great casual, interesting, and immersive narrative, and it’s one I thoroughly enjoyed despite my few grievances and my lack of interest in the genre. As I said at the outset of this review, It’s hard to say Behind the Frame is a game. But, it is easy to say It was a great experience and one that is deserving of praise and your attention.