Version tested: iPhone
On developer Simogo's mysterious island, a word is worth a thousand pictures. Device 6 tells the story of Anna, a girl who awakens to find herself adrift in a tower set on on a spar of rock. As she starts to explore her surroundings, the sentences that construct her narrative begin to stretch out across the iPhone screen and form corridors, rooms, and battlements. It's a landscape you travel by reading. Turn left, and the text you're following turns left too, while paragraphs describing elevator journeys rise or descend with the thrum of a shuddering counterweight. The plot steadily unfurls into a map that you trace with swipes of your finger, leading you past mysteries stated and unstated, through puzzles both visible and hidden.
As with this February's Year Walk, Simogo displays a peculiar knack for conjuring isolation and recently vacated spaces, although the earlier game's church gates and tree stumps are replaced here with Bakelite telephones and hissing reel-to-reels, while fairytale illustration is traded for a blend of infographics and gorgeous old Penguin Books cover art. There's a touch of Cing's back catalogue to Device 6, and the whole production's been cold-filtered through 60s espionage TV, too. As Anna's journey drifts over territory initially staked out by Patricks McGoohan and Macnee, as codes are broken and dormant machinery roused, Simogo's game becomes the closest thing you'll probably ever get to playing a numbers station.
The developer's clearly moved on since Year Walk, although the games definitely feel like fellow travellers. This time the narrative's even quicker to fold back on itself, eventually entangling audience and creator and even the hardware the whole thing's playing on. The medium is a message here, although you'll need to replay the game several times, possibly with a pad and paper, to get that message down in full.
Device 6 is quicker to organise itself, too: this is a tale told in six devices, six chapters, and six room escape mysteries. Each chapter's written with a surprisingly warm kind of precision and hinges on a stand-out brainteaser, one that often revolves around parallax-scrolling images set into the text itself. This is a short game, but the range of its imagination can be startling, and challenges shift from classic christmas cracker conundrums to ingenious uses of sound, vision, lateral thinking and even handset manipulation. What unites everything is the sheer playfulness: if you're stuck, you can just start tinkering with things, prodding buttons, drawing connections between disparate elements of a given chapter and then scrubbing them out in favour of a new approach.
The dependable structure - the back and forth between travel and challenge as you burrow your way deeper into the narrative - provides some necessary orientation in such a strange and disarming game. It also allows Simogo to place its biggest mysteries outside of the moment-to-moment puzzling itself. Shifting from smirking puns at the creakiness of modern progression systems to a finale that's actually quietly devastating, Device 6 is designed to linger in the mind long after the last code has been cracked and the last sentence read. Spy stories - even traditional ones - often haunt their readers' dreams once they've been completed. It's only appropriate, really. Is that a final full-stop or a microdot? Is this the end of the affair or an invitation to go deeper?
9 / 10