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Frank and Drake Review

Frank and Drake Review

As someone who basically lives in Steam’s “Story-Rich” category, it's not uncommon to see developers draw inspiration from classic tales we know all too well, modernising them from dusty old pages into a shiny, new virtual experience. Whether it’s Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or the many Greek myths, our bookshelves are abundant with good soil, ready to sprout interesting gameplay mechanics and character dynamics. Naturally, I was excited to find out that Appnormals Team turned to Gothic tales when developing its point-and-click narrative adventure Frank and Drake, with the game’s titular duo embodying two iconic monsters — Frankenstein and Dracula.

If you’re familiar with the original novels, you know they’re written in epistolary form, telling their tales through letters and diary entries. Appnormals Team centres this style in its design, pitching our two protagonists, Frank and Drake, as roommates who never see each other, so they opt for communicating solely by sticky notes. The trouble is, not only do they have to get to know each other on a small square piece of paper, but they also have to solve a mysterious supernatural conspiracy together. In other games, finding journal entries or notes may feel more like an afterthought than anything else, but there’s a valiant effort here by this indie studio to create something original and cool by implementing those epistolary elements with extra intention and focus. The premise is definitely attention-grabbing, and its promises of a non-linear branching narrative, impactful choices, and fun puzzles sounded right up my alley in terms of gameplay. I was ready to love Frank and Drake; its ambitions certainly set the bar high, though perhaps too high in retrospect.

Frank and Drake Night

The game’s setting is a fictional American place called Oriole City. Frank is a resident and superintendent of a dilapidated apartment building, and he’s been suffering from amnesia for a year, which means he can’t remember his loving elderly dog, nor can he pinpoint why he has a strange feeling that the other residents might know more about him than they let on. Drake, on the other hand, has all his memories intact, but he’s dealing with the loss of his mother while also adjusting to his new living situation as Frank’s roommate, and he doesn’t know who (or what) he is. There are a few oddities about Drake that you’ll quickly learn about: he needs to feed on blood, he can’t go out at night, and he has the ability to see ghosts.

The story beats are spread out across six days, with each one split into two halves — you’ll play as Frank in the day and Drake at night. At the start of these sections, you get to determine how either character spends their time by selecting between two choices. Perhaps you send Frank to a library rather than a resident’s apartment, or maybe you want Drake to commune with the dead instead of heading to his job at a diner. Whatever you choose, a decision tree tracks your path, ultimately leading to one of six endings. All of the branches are meant to yield benefits and consequences, and the game specifies that you’re not meant to understand its story in one sitting. Instead, you’ll have to play through it multiple times and take different paths to see all the puzzle pieces.

Frank and Drake Bookstore

In theory, that all sounds great, but its execution is bogged down by poor storytelling and an impenetrable mass of exposition. The conspiracy you’re meant to solve gives itself away fairly early, so you never get the feeling that the mystery is particularly clever. Although the game tries to throw in some twists by intertwining the apartment residents and other side characters into the bigger picture, the end product is less like an intricate tapestry of lives and more like a big mess of names I didn’t care about. It’s confusing that the cast is treated with such importance as if they are the vital pieces we need in order to understand everything, but instead of meeting them face to face, you can only look through their documents and other belongings. Trust me when I say that there’s so much reading that, even though I love to consume books and visual novels regularly, Frank and Drake is the first game to make me feel exhausted by all the exposition it wanted me to keep track of across six playthroughs.

This isn’t helped by awkward pacing. Days and nights are cut short just as they get interesting, which often left me frustrated. The end also arrives way too quickly with little build-up, and of the ones I experienced, I didn’t feel like they could stand on their own. There’s also a big encounter on the last day that doesn’t hit quite as impactfully as I’m sure the developers intended, but I trusted that as I replayed, the experience would become more thrilling and emotionally compelling the more I uncovered documents, secrets, and the like. I understand the game isn’t designed for you to play just once, but I’m not a fan of sitting through multiple endings that only offer strange dialogue, little payoff, and more exposition — and then I’m expected to do it all over again. Unfortunately, Frank and Drake peaks in its introductory moments and simply goes downhill from there, as it only gets more confusing with its inelegant non-linear design.

Frank and Drake Journal

The game is also inconsistent with how it handles your choices, particularly with the sticky note mechanic. At the end of each section, Frank and Drake sit down with their journals to write out multiple paragraphs about what happened and any other thoughts on their minds; this is when you can select an important passage to drag onto a sticky note, leaving it for the other protagonist on their shared fridge. Whatever you write affects their Bond, which is depicted by a bar with three sections: Close, Neutral, or Distant. The problem is that the game doesn’t always give you multiple choices, so you don’t have a lot of control when it comes to deciding how they interact. For instance, the duo had a Close relationship in my second playthrough, but when Drake asked Frank a personal question, the only sticky note I could leave was a distant response, which dragged the Bond back down to Neutral. In another playthrough, they had the worst relationship ever, and yet the epilogue depicted them as close buddies; at that point, I could only shrug. How did my choices lead me here? I had no clue. With that said, no matter where their relationship fell on the spectrum, Frank and Drake always felt more like Frank or Drake to me, as they don’t really help each other investigate the mystery as much as you think they would.

Mini-games and puzzles appeared to be a redeeming component…at first. I loved how the challenges were tailored to both characters, reflecting their lives in unique ways. To me, Frank had the best ones, including realigning chakras, fixing a bicycle wheel, and changing out oxygen tanks. However, Drake’s were also interesting in a spooky, supernatural way. The difficulty seemed challenging enough but not too complex initially. Upon replaying, though, I continued to explore different branches and ended up getting stuck at some unnecessarily obtuse puzzles while playing as both protagonists; in those instances, I really needed some sort of tooltip or hint to describe what the game actually wants you to do. I love a good puzzler, but the staggering difference in difficulty across paths and lack of instruction make this a hard one to recommend.

Frank and Drake Puzzles

On the bright side, Frank and Drake runs well, and it's a fantastic-looking game. Each scene is brought to life with rotoscoping, an animation technique that overlays hand-drawn art with filmed footage. Screenshots don’t do the smooth, fluid motion justice. Every time one of the protagonists walks somewhere, it feels like you’re watching an elegant, beautiful movie. The sound design is also well-crafted, and playing with headphones on really immerses you in the background sound effects, as well as the great soundtrack.

I really wanted to like Frank and Drake, and I’m sure there’s a good game in here somewhere, but playing something six times from start to finish is a lot of work to understand a narrative that seems like it’s trying to be as vague as possible. The game doesn’t make an effort to make replaying easier, either. You can’t skip through text you’ve already seen, nor can you choose specific days to play. For a game that outright says you need to experience it multiple times, there should have been an effort to include quality-of-life features for those extra yet mandatory playthroughs. Like me, you might be drawn in by the prospect of a modern-day Frankenstein and Dracula tale, but the great art and premise aren’t enough to make this a worthwhile title.

4.00/10 4

Frank and Drake (Reviewed on Windows)

Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.

Frank and Drake is a beautiful-looking game that could have been great, but it’s ultimately let down by obtuse puzzles and, most importantly, its incoherent story.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Alyssa Rochelle Payne

Alyssa Rochelle Payne

Staff Writer

Alyssa is great at saving NPCs from dragons. Then she writes about it.

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