Game genres are forced to adapt to new hardware and technology. But the humble text adventure hasn't really changed much since Zork. Maybe that's why, outside of indie IF and amateur Twine creations, the genre has lain dormant for decades.
But Swedish indie studio Simogo, which last made eerie wander-'em-up Year Walk, has given the forgotten genre a new lease of life in psychological sci-fi thriller DEVICE 6.
Instead of splitting the text into pages or putting separate rooms on separate screens, the game's narrative is laid out like a map and the words conform to the shape and size of amnesic hero Anna's current location.
A painting of an orange hung on the wall
Long, thin, single-line paragraphs are used to describe Anna walking down corridors, while descriptions of rooms fit into neat little squares and rectangles.
Text might bend if a hallway takes a sharp right turn, which means you must physically tilt your iPhone to follow the text. Sentences might split off in various directions as Anna comes to crossroads or multiple doors, and you can follow one sentence before doubling back on yourself to follow the other.
It's an ingenious way to frame an adventure game, and gives you the feeling of a decrypt text adventure or a gamebook, while also giving the world a real sense of place.
You don't type "Go East" or turn to page 54 to walk to your right. You just swipe right. And it leaves Simogo to describe the surreal locations, from a nuclear test facility to an abandoned chapel, without having to write about all the possible doors, exits, and pathways.
A peculiar safe box had been placed on the floor
While the navigation is daring and unique, the puzzles are far more traditional. They're the usual logic conundrums and riddles we've seen in games like The Room and Simogo's own Year Walk.
So you might come across a computer that can take a four-digit number, and you've got to scour the environment for possible passwords.
The clues for each puzzle might be hidden in the text, shown in the black and white images that flank the sentences, or even read out over gramophones and tape recorders.
But while they might be traditional, they are exceptionally well-made puzzles that require clever, multi-step solutions, a notepad, and some other hardware that we won't spoil.
They are some of the smartest puzzles since Cing's DS games - better than anything in Year Walk - and they'll make you feel like a genius when you finally figure out the answers.
The men's room was locked
The navigation is also in service to the story, which is heavily inspired by '60s TV show The Prisoner but with a little (heavy-handed) social commentary thrown in for good measure. Its unanswered questions are enough to keep you pressing on, at least.
The game's presentation must also be mentioned. The game has a diverse soundtrack - including dreamy muzak, eerie organ rock, spy movie jazz, languid strings, and moments of silence save for gravel crunching beneath Anna's feet - that fits the game perfectly.
The visual design is also a great fit. The actual game is more about function than form - it's just a readable font on parchment paper. But the Penguin-style book covers that start every chapter, and the stark and colourful tests that end them, look fantastic.
DEVICE 6 is a welcome addition to a genre we thought was dead and buried. It's got an engrossing narrative, and an ingenious design that makes the world easy and enjoyable to navigate. And on top of that, it's got a series of truly excellent puzzles.
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