Mobile games typically fall into one of two different categories. There are the Angry Birds of the world, games that are perfect for sneaking in some play while waiting in line or sitting on the bus. Then there are the games that demand your full attention, the kinds of experiences that tell you put on a pair of headphones before you play. And while Device 6 — the latest release from Year Walk developer Simogo — might not be a game in the strictest sense, it definitely demands all of your attention. It's a short story mixed with a series of interactive puzzles, and it's one of the most inventive and playful narrative experiences you're likely to find.
A 1960s spy thriller crossed with a J.J. Abrams-style mystery
Device 6 begins when a woman named Anna finds herself in a strange castle, with no recollection of how or why she might be there. As she attempts to unravel the mystery and make her way out of the building, things simply become stranger and stranger: the game is filled with bizarre contraptions, cryptic clues, audio recordings, and far too many locked doors. It’s divided into six chapters, each of which essentially involves solving some puzzles so you can get the hell out of wherever you're currently trapped. Each one is followed by a strange questionnaire that only heightens the mystery. Device 6 is sort of like a slick 1960s spy thriller crossed with a J.J. Abrams-style mystery (but without the inevitably disappointing ending). It features a wonderful minimalist art style, and terrific sound design, including one particular song that will be stuck in your head for days.
What's surprising about the game, though, is that it's mostly just text. The story unfolds sort of like a book, as you swipe your way through words, but the structure isn't what you're used to. The text will shift to better suit what's happening — it may take on a staggered appearance when you're going down some stairs, for instance — and will even split at points to let you follow different narrative threads. The words will twist and turn, forcing you to do the same with your iPad, and you’re able to move backwards through the story at any point to look for clues.
At times you'll come across interactive gizmos that require a password or some kind of code, and the only way to find it is to go back through the world to find things you may have missed, whether it’s a phrase or an image. You'll also have to listen closely to audio clues, and Device 6 regularly throws in surprising and delightful new ways to interact with its world. The puzzles are often challenging, but they're also very fair: you don't have to make any huge leaps of logic to progress in the game.
But the text doesn't just move the story along — it also serves as the game's map. "What we found interesting was what actually happens when you navigate through the chapters: not only are you progressing in the story, you are also moving geographically," explains Simogo's Simon Flesser, the game's director. "So time and space are the same, which we thought was a very interesting concept."
"Time and space are the same."
Device 6's creation was actually inspired largely by the team's experience crafting Year Walk. Though it's a very different kind of game — a creepy first-person adventure based on Swedish folklore — Year Walk came bundled with a free "companion" app that lets you delve further into the game's mythology outside of the game itself. "The way that the companion app triggers the imagination by telling instead of showing, and played with blurring the lines between the game world and the real world, was something we were keen to explore more," says Flesser. And Device 6 definitely bleeds over into the real world: at one point I found myself in the bathroom holding my iPad up to a mirror to read some backwards text, and I filled several notebook pages with potential puzzle solutions.
Story is a huge part of Device 6, and it's certainly an engaging narrative, but what makes the game special is the way you can engage with it. It may be made of several different kinds of media, but they blend together seamlessly to craft a wholly unique and wonderful experience — it's neither a book nor a game, but it merges some of the best elements from both. "A lot of people do seem to think that interactivity in storytelling must be stories with a branching narrative, or decision-based story progress,” says Flesser, “but what we're trying to do is linear narratives told in ways that would only be possible in an interactive medium.”