You won’t find a more confident game this year than Device 6. From its brassy opening – soundtracked by what appears to be the theme tune from a great lost ’60s spy thriller – to its elegant, understated epilogue, this is a wonderfully assured piece of interactive drama. It moves with a tangible swagger in its step, even as its protagonist advances uncertainly through an unfamiliar environment.
Anna, you see, has been kidnapped. She awakens in a strange building with no memory of how she got there, save for a vague recollection of a doll. Her journey is illustrated by words and occasional images, and sporadically brought to a halt by locked doors and curious mechanisms. Your job, then, is to read and listen, tease out environmental clues, and open the path forward.
It’s tempting to describe Device 6 as a visual novel, then, though that isn’t quite the full story. Rather than tapping through text to advance the narrative, you follow it, swiping and rotating your tablet or phone to trace Anna’s footsteps. A long carpet stretches out as a single line of text you traverse with your finger, while a spiral staircase sees a paragraph corkscrew from bottom to top. In other words, unlike acknowledged influence 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, you’re directly involved at every turn, guiding the narrative with your fingers, while looking and listening for clues.
If Year Walk’s conundrums were relatively abstract, the puzzles here are more successfully integrated into the narrative. The solutions are usually fairly close at hand, though it isn’t just considerate design and thoughtful structuring that keeps backtracking to a minimum. It would be a mistake to say why, just as it would to explain how its linearity is actually crucial. As with its predecessor, the less you know about Device 6 going in, the more it can surprise you. And surprise is a more potent weapon here than in most games.
While there are echoes here of influences as disparate as Kafka, The Prisoner, Saul Bass and David Cronenberg, it’s a very game-literate adventure, with strong hints of Layton and Zelda. The thrilling rush of the last two chapters, meanwhile, as the puzzles are cast aside just as players are craving an uninterrupted sprint to the final revelations, is reminiscent of Killer7’s riveting closing stretch. Yet while maintaining its exhilarating blend of the dark and the playful – there’s an unforgettable moment here that may be 2013’s most delightful cameo – it takes great care to finish on a full stop. It’s not about knotting together loose ends so much as satisfyingly pressing that final piece of the jigsaw into place.
Simogo’s greatest triumph, perhaps, is to intensify the potency of the written word. In using its text both as narrative and as geography – and through its impressively restrained use of illustration and sound – it generates an almost unrivalled sense of place. It isn’t embarrassed to allow Device 6 to be a game when it needs to be, and yet it knows precisely when to let the story take over. The result is a sharp, striking mystery that is at once provocative, extraordinarily stylish and altogether essential.
Device 6 is out now on iOS.