Written by Simon Flesser and Magnus ‘Gordon’ Gardebäck — If the legendary designer Saul Bass had created mystery games for the iPad, they’d probably have come out a little bit like Device 6. And while it has the look and feel of the opening titles for a Hitchcock film, and can be as disorientating as Vertigo at times, it was put together a long way from the film sets of Los Angeles. Simogo, the app developer set up by Simon Flesser (words) and Magnus ‘Gordon’ Gardebäck (code) is based in Malmö, Sweden. So we could even call it Scandinavian crime fiction!
Device 6 brings a perfect blend of reading and interactivity. The heroine of the story, Anna, wakes up with a headache, and no memory, in a strange room. There’s a painting of an orange on the wall. She begins to explore and finds that she’s captive in a castle on an island. Through a window she can see a lighthouse, but she needs your help to escape. Maybe the artwork on the walls, and other items she finds while exploring the passages of the castle, hold clues – codes she can enter into the archaic electronic consoles she finds here and there.
Unlike so many other mystery games, where the puzzles can seem contrived and unrelated to the storyline, these seem to fit in with both the story and the surreal atmosphere of the game. However, while surrealism is the dominant style, the puzzles themselves aren’t so obscure you can’t solve them. The mystery – that’s very surreal. It’s more Magritte than Maigret, and might also remind you of The Prisoner. Anna – also referred to as Player249 – glimpses images of a man in a bowler hat and figures she’s on his trail. On the way she meets various strange entities, such as three stuffed bears with spooky, menacing voices. Pressing telecom buttons and listening to messages the bears have sent each other, she might be able to work out passwords that will help her escape into the next chapter. But there’s also a hint that they might be nuclear launch codes.
The peculiar puzzles and storyline keep you guessing as to whether Anna is a real woman, or an elaborate old fashioned robot. In one chapter we stumble in on what might be her own funeral, with the audio being played backwards like some kind of Satanic message. What do the black dog and the moon have to do with it? Why is the priest a gramophone?
The layout of the text is cleverly used to enhance the interactivity. When she walks down a hallway, the words might well start scrolling way out off the screen as the doors and pictures she passes appear through holes in the virtual paper. You drag along with your finger to read on. When she reaches a corner, the text will turn a corner too and go off up or down. If the path forks, you can choose which sentence to read next – the one that carries on along the line, or the one that goes kicking off towards the rest rooms. You’ll twist and turn the iPad as you read and discover new puzzles.
The muffled sound effects and music round off the surreal atmosphere. Little cracks and bleeps in the audio match the weird, retro technologies Anna finds throughout the game. Simogo even wrote a song for one scene.
There’s a sense of humour throughout too. The only thing wrong with Device 6, it seems, is that it ends too soon. Once you get into this mystery you’ll want it to go on a few chapters more. Anyway, if you’ve read this far, it’s time to stop and go buy the app. You won’t be disappointed. And, there’s not a clichéed hardboiled-esque detective in sight.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars
Watch the trailer and view further screenshots below.