Touch-screen gaming has a masterpiece on its hands.
With “Device 6”³ ($3.99 on iOS), developer Simogo seamlessly blends the gripping suspense of a mystery novel with the interactivity of a phone or tablet. The concept hearkens back to classic puzzle-solvers like “Myst” and “Portal,” but “Device 6”³ wields the iPad as a means to assail multiple senses simultaneously, creating an adventure quite unlike any other.
The haunting plot progresses through on-screen text, stringing players along with cryptic hints. The font jumps to and fro across the screen in visual accompaniment to the disjointed narrative.
Sentences sometimes plunge downward to mimic the motion of an elevator, or turn hard at an angle as the character changes direction, forcing players to flip their tablets end-over-end in conjunction with the story's unexpected branches.
Clues come in many forms, through text, images, video and sound. The sensory assault is at times so overwhelming that it's best to seek out solitude before beginning the game. Find a quiet room and a set of headphones, and block off two to three hours to complete the journey in one sitting.
As for the story itself, it's impossible to delve below the surface without spoiling “Device 6”²s” deeplyengrossing atmosphere. In a familiar jumping-off point, protagonist Anna awakens alone in a strange castle, intent on uncovering where she is and how she arrived there.
It's a largely solitary quest, punctuated with brief, memorable interactions. The soundtrack is brilliant throughout, remaining largely unobtrusive but packing an emotional punch during key moments. The setting itself also headlines the tale, as Anna slowly pulls back the curtain on her bewildering surroundings.
Puzzle difficulty is, obviously, subjective. Simogo's brain-teasers are serious enough that solving them is a gratifying experience. On several occasions, I knew the solution was hovering at my fingertips, yet I still had to backtrack to find the one clue that put the final piece in place.
These moments of moderate frustration are wonderfully refreshing. Far too many adventure games hold the player's hand and sap all the fun that accompanies a satisfying realization. There's no time limit to solving these stumbling blocks, and each section is short enough that it's not a chore to retrace your steps.
It isn't just the well-balanced challenge of these hurdles that makes them so appealing, however. “Device 6”³ probes the edges of players' perception, forcing them to reconsider how they consume the narrative. Each bizarre segment builds on the ever-strengthening immersion, sending gamers deeper down the rabbit hole.
Though Anna's exploits are often grim and unsettling, “Device 6”³ occasionally breaks through with a delightful, albeit dark, sense of humor. If you're certain of where the story is headed or breezing through puzzles without any trouble, these inside nods help keep the action fun and lively.
It's as difficult to stamp a score on “Device 6”³ as it is to neatly categorize it. The game is extremely text-heavy, and also quite short. Those factors alone are bound to alienate some players.
As a fan of story-driven puzzlers, however, I found the trip nearly flawless from start to finish. It's a quick ride, but its chilling mood will loom over you long after the final scene.
Not only is “Device 6”³ easily the best iOS game I've ever played, it's among my favorites from this year across all platforms.
Final score: 9 out of 10