For the past several nights, I haven’t been able to sleep. Between tossing and turning in my bed and dreaming of something other than sugar lumps and Christmas elves and Santa Clause, this was not how I wanted to spend the Christmas season this year. But I can’t help it: for whatever reason — most probably too personal to share with anybody outside of my closest friends and family members (sorry, AppStorm readers) — I’ve been struggling with nightmares on a daily basis.
So when I picked up Device 6 on my iPad, I knew right away I was in for a treat the likes of which I hadn’t had in a video game in years. This is exactly the sort of nightmare-like game that Stanley Kubrick would have made if he used an iPad. Eerily enough, one of my dreams was filled with mannequins, which I didn’t know I had a fear of until I had the nightmare just last night.
Within the first chapter of Device 6, there were mentions of voiceless mannequins having a tea party in the dining room of an abandoned house. Read on to find out what makes this bone-chilling little horror masterpiece so good, and I promise not to spoil anything beyond the first ten minutes of gameplay.
Device 6 is told like a book, albeit the most unconventional and interactive book you’ve ever read. As you read through each chapter of this strange story, you’ll play Anna, a woman left alone in a mysterious castle with no recollection of how she got there — and her only vague memory being that of a disturbingly unpleasant doll.
Everything in the game serves to disorient the player.
The game’s greatest trick is in its disorientation of the character and the user, and to that end, the game’s many theatrical elements out-do the latest Christopher Nolan movie. You’ll be following the text along, but the text will move from one side of the screen to the other, and as you flick to read it, you’ll also turn your head or spin the iPad around to keep going.
At the same time, you’ll be solving puzzles based on the geography of the castle. In other words, knowing where you are is important, but since you and Anna have been spun around an infinite amount of times, you’re going to feel as lost and confused as she is.
The game’s cool tricks with pictures and sound recordings make it all the more immersive and terrifying.
In that sense, Anna and the player are the same. For all this talk of the first-person narrative, Simogo has somehow managed to combine the enthralment of a first-person shooter with the perpetual freedom of a choose your own adventure book.
Of course, it’s not just about reading. Everything is highly interactive. Pictures will move with the text, appearing at the exact right moments and disappearing as soon as the related block of text is no longer relevant. Puzzles will be told over the sprawl of a chapter, requiring you to retrace your steps and figure out what all the pieces mean. Voices will call out in the distance, and disquieting music will almost always be playing.
Some elements are extremely interactive, but also irritatingly confusing (on purpose, of course).
This is truly nightmare-ish in the same way that The Shining is nightmare-ish, not because it’s particularly jumpy or overly thrilling, but because it manages to play upon human fear and place the human directly in the middle of the action. It makes us the characters, and thanks to some truly stunning sound and visual work, it makes us addicted to our own horror, in a truly masochistic way.
Did I mention the insanity of the design here? This is not a cheap-sounding production. For all I know, it cost mere pennies to make, but it looks, sounds, and feels like a million bucks. It’s as immersive as it is puzzling, as rewarding as it is terrifying.
Within minutes of playing, I was transported to my dream worlds from last night, the night before, and the night before that, instantly made aware of my own feelings when I woke up. I was transported to another place and instantly haunted. I don’t mean to say this in a negative way — we all like a good scare — but there were moments I wanted to put down my iPad and walk away.
Even the chapter openings are a little offbeat and intimidating.
As far as atmospheric haunted stories go, you can’t beat Device 6. I can hear the music still in my mind on a loop, teasing me because I know what I’ll be dreaming about tonight when I hit the sack.
This is the iPad game that gamers dream about.
You might remember a time a few years ago when atmospheric thrillers were all the rage. Games like Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space were all the rage, where the horror wasn’t coming from when things jumped at you, but rather from the quiet moments where you weren’t sure what was coming. For consoles, this was revolutionary. Device 6 is just like that, but it’s happening on an iPad.
The opening credits are like the great stuff we used to see at the beginning of old Hitchcock movies like Psycho, North By Northwest, and Vertigo.
The fear is palpable. Even when there’s no music, there’s still the small element of white noise — a tiny sound of nearly-imperceptible static that’s only noticeable if you happen to remove your headphones (and if you’d like a word of advice, I suggest you listen with headphones). The puzzles are actually incredibly challenging and require a little bit of a thinking cap. Unlike many iOS games where the puzzles are minor brain teases that only keep you from being completely cognitively dormant, Device 6 will consistently challenge you. And horrify you. All at the same time.
Don’t Open That Door
I wish I could tell you more, but there’s a very thin line to be walked here for me as a reviewer between critique and spoilers. Telling you about the story’s finer moments would ruin things. Showing you and screenshots from beyond the first chapter would change your perception of the first chapter and the game. It’d be like revealing the ending of the second act of The Shining before you saw the ending of the first act; why would I do that to you?
The best compliment that I can give Device 6 is that it transcends the iPad. It’s not just a good gaming experience on iPad, it’s simply a great gaming experience anywhere, period. This is the sort of game that changes things. For some people, Device 6 is going to make it a little hard to sleep at night. Don’t make my mistake. Don’t play it just before bed. I’m headed to sleep now. I know what I’ll be dreaming of.