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Portabliss: Device 6


This is Portabliss, a column about downloadable games that can be played on the go.

Device 6, most simply described as a puzzle game for iOS, makes me the delicious kind of uncomfortable that comes from being in a room with ordinary objects that are just not quite right somehow. A simple chair that for some reason gives you the shivers, or a statue that makes you slowly back away as the hairs on the back of your neck start rising, or a recording with exactly the wrong amount of static in it. Other games will douse you in blood or throw unstoppable killers your way this Halloween, but if you truly want to be creeped out, take part in Device 6's deceptively pleasant tests.

Device 6 is presented as an entertainment for you, Player 249, as you read chapters involving Anna, who awakes to find herself in a strange castle filled with all manner of odd apparatuses and decorations. Device 6 uses text, music, voice, and pictures to great effect – you don't just read about Anna moving down the hall and turning a corner when she hears voices, you reorient your iPad (or iPhone) as the text itself forms a corner and suddenly the audio rises and you hear the sounds that drew Anna forward. The text is like a living thing, changing and flowing as the narrative itself changes. Words use the full space of the screen, not content with merely guiding your eye left to right, but up down, back around, and over, creating a motion and fluidity that makes you feel like you're actually walking along with Anna as she explores her curious surroundings.

Gallery: Device 6 | 8 Photos

Device 6 doesn't merely rely on pretty words and typography to lure you in, however; it also makes clever use of images, letting them peek through unseen windows as you swipe across the page. Bold graphics – buttons and arrows and dots – provide flourishes that not only make the entire presentation more aesthetically pleasing, but also underscore the idea that you're taking part in some kind of bizarre experiment. Ambient music and sound effects fade in and out as you travel, punctuating the sinister nature of your surroundings ... but, then, what's really so sinister about a bunch of mannequins? They're just big dolls. What's to be scared of? You know, I think I'll ponder that deeper ramifications of that question from somewhere wayyyyyyy over there.

Each chapter is completely self-contained, so whatever clues you need to solve its puzzles are right there with you, assuming you know how to interpret them. Some are fairly obvious – you can pretty safely bet that a painting of an orange with the number "2001" on it is going to be significant in one way or another – but most are far less direct. You'll have to do a fair amount of backtracking through each location, which means lots of finger swiping back and forth, but chapters are short enough that traveling from one end to the other should take no more than a few seconds of swishing.

Device 6 review or Portabliss or whatever just play it already, for reals
The puzzles themselves are somewhat familiar, with plenty of codes to break and messages to interpret, but they're presented in an unorthodox, unnerving fashion. Is it relevant to the clue for a bunch of glassy-eyed sheep to be staring at the screen displaying "Welcoming Words"? Perhaps, perhaps not. Why? Do they bother you? How curious. After all, they're only sheep. Your feedback has been noted.

Solving the multi-layered puzzles of Device 6 requires a mental flexibility that magnifies the emotional rush when you do finally manage to crack them, but there's always an undercurrent of menace, too. Someone is watching you, grading your performance, assigning a point value to your accomplishments. To say more would be to betray Device 6's most enjoyable secrets.

The one downfall of Device 6's otherwise brilliant experience is that it's also a fairly brief one: Assuming you're keyed in to the right mental wavelength, you can figure out its puzzles in just a few hours, and once you know the solutions, there's little incentive to play again.

Device 6 scratches many itches, providing satisfying puzzles, a perfectly told story, and a stylish presentation that deftly blends the visual and the aural.
This review is based an iTunes download of Device 6, purchased by the reviewer.

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