Though they’ve been making well received mobile games since 2010, Simogo Games truly announced themselves as an indie developer to watch in early 2012 with the release of the universally acclaimed Beat Sneak Bandit. That breakthrough game was one of the very highest rated games of 2012 and it remains among the most praised iOS games to date. A year later they released the stark and haunting Year Walk –my review of which you can read here – to yet more plaudits, proving the success of BSB was not a fluke. For many developers, releasing a game as unique and excellent as Year Walk would constitute a damn fine year, creating little need to get another product out the door quickly.
Simogo clearly didn’t feel this way and I’m glad because Device 6 is one of the most memorable, fascinating, and one-of-a-kind games I have ever played. It’s also one of 2013’s best games hands down. Terms like “unique” and “peerless” got tossed around a lot when talking about games that break the mold in some way, but I want to be clear: I personally have never played anything quite like Device 6. It has the pacing and puzzle structure that calls to mind classic point-and-click adventures, and it occasionally unnerved me in a way that some horror titles have flirted with, but make no mistake, the overall Device 6 experience is in a category of one.
If I had to stick with more traditional nomenclature, I suppose I’d call Device 6 a text based adventure game, but I think it’s best described as an “interactive mystery novella.” The player “controls” Anna, a woman who wakes up in a mysterious castle with no idea of how she got there. I threw the scare quotes up there because the act of playing the game is similar to reading a web article or e-book on a mobile device. In others words, “control” is a relative term here. You’ll scroll through text which narrates the game as you progress, flipping your device all around as the words on screen go left, right, upside down etc., representing actual movements Anna is making through the world. Though the game is mostly text, there are adequate visuals to help paint the picture of your surroundings. The game’s judicious use of imagery to compliment the text is really smart. Device 6 is, in its own way, just as if not more immersive than a lot of the big-budget, graphically impressive games that are routinely complimented for their ability to suck players in. The excellent use of sound is a huge factor as well. Sound effects are used to compliment the proceedings, and the effect is brilliant. The wooden rhythm of your own footsteps, a creaking door, the whirring of some sci-fi machinery; it all sounds great and works to draw you into this mysterious world.
And how mysterious it is. As I mentioned before, the game cold opens in an ominous and foreboding estate, with a protagonist who has no clue as to what’s going on. It’s up to you the player to guide Anna forward and figure out what’s afoot. The game is delightfully trippy in a Lynchian sort of way. There’s a nice dash of old school, Bond-style, 70s sci-fi flavor mixed in too. The meat of the game comes in the form of puzzles that you’ll need to solve to move forward. These puzzles are where Device 6 truly shines. In short, they’re amazing. They’re tough but not too hard, and they yield a tremendous feeling of satisfaction when solved. In their basest form, some may seem like classic video games tropes – i.e. “find the correct key code to unlock this door.” However the actual solving process goes so much deeper, and they’re presented in a much more organic way than is the norm. You’ll often go backtracking through the environments, pouring over the text and images for clues. At one point I was playing back creepy, prerecorded messages coming from taxidermied bears, and later I was standing among lambs in a wooded area making note of symbols on a projector screen. These are truly some of the most inventive and fascinating puzzles I’ve ever encountered in a game, and I had a blast cracking them. I’ve never taken so many notes when playing a game, and it’s not even close. Device 6 will challenge you to think creatively and pay great attention to detail. I really couldn’t be happier with the puzzles in this game.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but the narrative is gripping and mysterious in a way that made it difficult to put the game down. The game is divided into six chapters – you know, like a book! – and the whole thing took me four and a half hours to complete. I knocked it out in two sessions, breaking just to give my brain a rest from all the sleuthing. Greater minds will see their way to the compelling conclusion faster than I did, but at just $3.99 I little issue making a recommendation here. Device 6 is a triumph of game design that steps so far out of the box, many will hesitate to call it a game. Whatever you want to label it, it demands to be experienced by anyone who’s a fan of spy novellas, tripped-out mysteries, or just plain genius design. Device 6 makes use of the iOS medium about as well as any game to date, and I highly recommend that anyone who owns an iPhone or iPad spend an evening or two getting absolutely lost in it.