Device 6 Review – Textual pleasure

Device 6 artwork

The phrase “this game is unlike anything you’ve ever played” is bandied about a lot in the industry.

In the case of Simogo‘s Device 6 though, that description can be applied completely accurately and without fear of reprisal. To even call it a game at all is potentially misleading; Device 6 could be more accurately described as an interactive puzzle novella.

Intrigued? So was I, and I got more and more intrigued the further I got through this genuinely compelling title. From the opening seconds where you’re asked to hold the screen six inches from your face while you are “scanned” and identified, you know that this is going to be something a little different. Being scanned is a little unnerving, which if you’re playing Device 6 is a feeling you’d better get used to; it will continuously keep you on your toes mentally and keep you on edge emotionally.


An innocent question

Following the scan, an excellently crafted opening sequence reminiscent of the tv show Mad Men gives us a brief insight into some of the themes to come. Sinister dolls; a man in a bowler hat; twin castles; all of these images fly past. Combined with its distinctive colors, hypnotically expanding concentric circles and block arrows the intro is seemingly designed to disorient and disconcert you. Accompanied by a phenomenal theme tune reminiscent of classic 1960s TV shows like Mission Impossible or The Man From U.N.C.L.E, the effort and production value in the opening sequence alone is a fantastic indication of the quality and dedication with which this game was built.

At its core Device 6 is a surreal thriller. You’ll read a lot of text conveying the story of the protagonist, Anna. Anna wakes up in one of two identical castles with no notion of how she got there other than the fact that it somehow involved a doll. The text acts as both narrator and map. Controls are simple: drag the text with your finger so that you can follow along as it twists and turns its way around the display. On occasion you’ll find the text splitting off in different directions and you’ll have to pick a direction to follow. You’ll also frequently find yourself retracing your steps, trying to find some clue to answer the puzzles that appear along the way.

Split over six chapters containing one main puzzle, your objective is to guide Anna out of her castle and finding out the mystery behind how she got there.  Peppered along the way, next to the text, are technical diagrams with notes describing a series of electronic devices numbered one through six. Each new diagram and chapter give more and more of a clue as to what’s happening in Anna’s world. Every step reveals a little more of the seemingly sinister plot of which she is a part. Like a good book, the clues build up gradually and only come together in the final moments, presenting a grand overarching conspiracy which will leave you shocked.

The puzzles themselves are all unique and ingenious. For example, the first puzzle presents you with a rudimentary computer which requires an identification number to activate it. Earlier in the chapter, Anna encounters a prerecorded riddle which cryptically tells her where to find the numbers she seeks. The numbers, when found, must then be added together to find the final number. If you’ve been paying very close attention you can answer the puzzle there and then but otherwise you’ll scan back through the story to find the clues. Generally the puzzles are straightforward and are designed to really force you to pay attention to the story that is being told. They will test you but they never reach the realm of frustrating you so much that you want to quit. The story is the star here, not the puzzles, which makes sense in this game.

Accompanying the text and the puzzles are beautifully ominous pictures of crying dolls, herds of sheep, decaying Greek statues and other items of portent, providing a great visual addition to the story that really helps you feel as if you’re there following Anna.  The imagery is startlingly good and I recommend playing on an iPad for full effect, although the iPhone experience is still excellent. There are also snippets of creepy audio coming from recording playback devices hidden around the castles and their grounds. These pictures and sounds all add to the experience, but frequently they are also clues, either to the puzzle in that chapter or to the encompassing mysterious story.

In a curious twist, between each chapter you’ll be asked a series of questions. These are seemingly innocuous and ask you things like what shape you feel best describes the previous chapter or if you found the level of interaction in the previous chapter satisfying or not. The further you go into Device 6, the more you realise just what these questions mean. They’re not throwaway distractions or questioned designed to help the developer improve the game, they are a genuine part of the narrative, but you won’t understand how until later.

Even if it takes you a while to get through the puzzles, Device 6 is not a long game. It took me around an hour or so to play through it but I did immediately dive back in to play it again. The story is perfectly paced and being able to play through the whole thing in one shot is a major plus point as it allows you to get truly immersed in Anna’s world without having to jump in and out of it. This allows you to really feel the sinister and surreal tone of Device 6 in its most intense form. This is not the sort of game to play in bursts or while watching TV; it deserves your attention and it deserves your time.

The way the story builds is undoubtedly superb, but the culmination of that build, the final scenes of Device 6, will leave a lasting impression. It’s one of those great moment in gaming that you will never forget. Possibly in years to come we’ll look back on the last moments of Device 6 in one of our Defining Moments pieces. It deserves to be remembered in the same way.

So the game has an incredible story, good puzzles, a unique presentation style, a great aesthetic and perfectly designed sound. On top of all of that though, I would argue that Device 6 is the first true mobile game. It is the first game to not only accept but embrace the device on which it is presented. Since you have to continually turn your iPhone or iPad in your hands as you play, the hardware becomes part of the experience and the narrative rather than just the medium on which they are presented. This is different from twisting the device to steer in a racing game or adjusting it slightly in a balancing game. That harnesses your motor skills as an input mechanism but it doesn’t reflect that you are truly holding the experience in your hands. In both those cases, the same effect could be had using a PS3’s six-axis controller or similar. Device 6 could not be played on a console or on a PC and because of that it really makes the hardware important.

Device 6 is a rare case of being a genuinely different title. Not only that, it’s also a genuinely brilliant one. The only thing it has going against it is that after playing it through twice, I can’t see myself playing it again. At least not for a few months. That one minor quibble aside, I can safely say without hyperbole that it is one of the greatest offerings on a mobile device.

9 Total Score
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Richard Moran
Raised on a steady diet of pop culture, lemonade and chocolate cake since the early 1980s. Richard Moran is a popular answer to the question: who the hell is that guy?
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