Device 6 has good taste. That’s evident from the start, with its Saul Bass-style intro and an aesthetic cribbed from cult 60s British shows like The Prisoner and The Avengers. It’s a swinging slice of interactive fiction that uses the tablet platform in clever ways, and it’s also classy enough to respect our patience and intelligence. You should play it, which means you should also read it, which means you should let it squat in your iCloud until computers turn to dust. Go.
Device 6 merges text, sound and image into a mixed-media presentation that’s part mystery story and part puzzle. This is a story, black words on a white screen, but you have to crack the esoteric stumpers in each of the six chapters to follow the plot to its conclusion. That usually means searching for clues and numbers hidden throughout each chapter. Sentences snake around the screen in all directions like House of Leaves, cryptic audio snippets confuse as often as they confide, and obtuse black and white photos create an unsettling aura of menace. You’ll rotate your iPad in every direction, hold it up to mirrors, tap the screen to change radio stations and enter secret computer codes, and manipulate your device in a variety of non-gamelike ways that work well on a tablet.
These elements make Device 6 unique, but the writing sometimes holds the game back just a bit. There’s a playfulness to the writing that’s sly and wicked but often far too precious. It’s tempting and too easy to untangle the threads of its pastiche—intentionally or not the game will remind you of a half-dozen different reference points. Our hero, Anna, is a barely sketched and confused cipher whose only consistent character trait is her love of cigarettes. Like Number Six she tries to suss out her mysterious new surroundings, but she’s largely reactive, traveling from one unusual situation to the next, like Alice lost in a Wonderland that’s a forgotten European outpost of the Dharma Initiative.
The writing doesn’t completely betray Device 6, but it does reveal the emptiness at its core. It strives for the otherworldly creepiness of The Prisoner without plumbing any of that show’s philosophical or ethical depths. It’s a fine mystery with a suitably spooky atmosphere and a few smart ideas about the tablet format and interactive storytelling, but its style and its gimmicks will stick with you longer than whatever message it tries to impart.
Device 6 was developed by Simogo. It is available for iOS.
Garrett Martin is Paste’s games editor and the Boston Herald’s games critic. He regrets selling his Prisoner DVDs. Follow him on Twitter at @grmartin.