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Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 3: The Oracle Review

cognition episode 3 logo

Man alive! Just when I think Cognition’s openings have plateau’d, Phoenix Online Studios fires off another one.  “Cognition – Episode 3: The Oracle” picks up immediately after “The Wise Monkey,” the previous episode. The opening to this installment isn’t as shockingly violent, but holy heck if it doesn’t throw a climax-worthy twist at you in the first ten minutes. Way to keep me on my toes.

In fact, I can say with confidence that “The Oracle” is the best entry yet in the series. It’s the most focused, surprising, and enjoyable. This series has always been good being unpredictable, but this entry tosses some Cliff Lee-curveballs. A few frustrations remain, but generally I’m happy to report Phoenix Online Studios seems to be getting darn good at this.

cognition episode 3 hat killer

“Cognition” is, at its most basic, pretty standard point-and-click fare with a nifty psychic conceit. As Erica Reed, intrepid paranormal detective, you’ll scour a number of potential crime scenes, checking clues, solving puzzles, and searching for and combining potentially useful objects. (Actually, that’s a lie. “The Oracle” is the first entry in which you play a character other than Erica, using a novel psychic-time hopping mechanic.)

The gameplay flows organically from the first two entries, but I found the puzzle-solving and clue-to-clue hunts much simpler this time around. I complained of gameplay aggravations in the earlier entries – not knowing where to go next, a glitch that would not let me progress, and getting stuck in seemingly endless click-loops – but this time I had few. (Though I still can’t say point-and-click is my favorite genre.) In general, the puzzles teased my brain just enough to make me feel like I worked to find an eventually logical solution. Another complaint: in the earlier entries I felt Erica’s powers were underused. The episodes spent big chunks explaining them and then having you use them just once or twice. Not so here. About half the gameplay involves use of Erica’s cognition powers.

cognition episode 3 erica

These improvements, however, come at a price: gone is the driving and exploration of Boston of the first two entries, as is the interaction with many previously introduced characters. You know what? I ain’t even mad. I appreciate the removed fat and improved focus. All in all, the gameplay, while not perfect, has been improved across the board.

Yet again, however, gameplay decidedly takes a backseat to story. As mentioned, it opens with a stunner of a twist, but it doesn’t stop there. This is the first “Cognition” entry to maintain the tension of its wild opening throughout the whole episode. “The Oracle” doesn’t waste time on the ‘homeless dude’- or ‘sleazy music teacher’-subplots of the first two episodes. It all takes place in one building, in one evening, with just a handful of characters. In fact, it tells you who the perp is right away. (Or does it?!?!)

It may seem like a thinner premise, but by creatively dancing between time periods and keeping the twists steadily coming, “The Oracle” is the best-paced entry yet. I have a small number of complaints. One of the character’s motivations is a bit confusing – but I’m willing to bet it’ll be explained in the next episode. Indeed, much of this episode, while cleverly tying back to the earlier episodes and illuminating some of the mysteries, seems to exist to set up the next episode, especially in its latter half. These are relatively minor complaints. (They’re mostly questions, to be perfectly honest). The good far outweighs the bad.

cognition episode 3 neck lock

The next entry, “The Cain Killer,” is the final episode this “season” and I can’t wait to see how it ends. I’m hooked. My only hope is that Phoenix Online Studios sticks to their guns and continues to deliver the same level of gruesome unpredictability. My blood is up. Don’t let Erica and co. off the hook!

TECHNICAL PRESENTATION

VISUALS – About the same as before with, unfortunately, less setting variety (a not-that-grave downside to setting the whole episode in one building). What is here, however, looks pretty, colorful, and nasty when it needs to. I experienced a weird visual glitch in the second half of the game: every time Erica ran she would shake epileptically. It didn’t effect my experience overall. Still a damn good looking downloadable title.

AUDIO – Same great voice acting, especially from Raleigh Holmes as Erica. I especially loved listened to Erica verbally bitch smack Skorobeus and McAdams. The Smith siblings banter believably, though they aren’t quite up to the lead’s level. The music remains largely unchanged: quiet and intense when required. The climactic “ohmygodsomethingsabouttogodown”- music still gets me going.

PROS:

+ The opening! Another impressive prologue.

+ Well-written, unpredictable story is jam-packed with twists and surprises.

+ Solid voice acting

+ Improved gameplay and implementation of cognition powers

CONS:

– Some point-and-click frustrations

– Minor visual quirks

FINAL THOUGHTS

Phoenix Online Studios may not yet have reached “The Walking Dead”-level goodness with “Cognition,” but in terms of delivering shocks and surprises, they are certainly coming close. I’d be loathe to ruin it for anyone, but if you like a game with a grisly, surprising story, “Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller” is definitely for you. I’m definitely hooked and looking forward to episode 4.

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Posted on June 5, 2013, in Game Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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