Cognition Episode 3: The Oracle

4 min

The first episode of the adventure series Cognition introduced players to Erica Reed, an FBI agent with psychic powers.  Erica’s ability to see into the past of locations she visited was an innovative twist on the adventure genre.  The series also tackled mature and gruesome subject matter by having Erica investigate a series of grizzly murders.  The unusual gameplay mechanics, combined with the serious themes made episode one stand out from the crowd.  When episode two arrived there was a little too much of the same, and we here at Explosion were concerned that the series would suffer from the law of diminishing returns as Erica chased serial killers all over Boston again and again.  With episode 3, subtitled The Oracle, the development team throws in some mind-bending new psychic powers, and drastically alters the typical adventure game format to give players the best episode yet.

It definitely sucks to be friends with Special Agent Erica Reed.  Because horrible things happen to everyone she knows.  HORRIBLE THINGS! The series has racked up a major bodycount of her friends, relatives, co-workers and lovers.  Even the criminals she pursues seem to end up getting worse fates than they deserve, because Eric has been hounded by a killer who preys on other killers.  The first two episodes have involved this shadowy uber-villain leaving a trail of corpses and body parts for Erica track like bread crumbs, and this left players wondering just why this mysterious villain would leave clues behind that only Erica (With her psychic powers) can decipher.

Episode two ended with Erica (And the Player) figuring out that she has been a pawn in someone else’s game for years, and episode three is based entirely around a new gameplay mechanic that explains just how the villain is always a step ahead of her.  To go into details would be a major spoiler, but let’s just say that a certain character is revealed to be able to predict the future.

Erica has the ability to see past events that occurred in places, and to see into the past of objects and people she touches.  When Erica’s powers are combined with the other character’s ability to see the future, it allows the Player to interact with the same locations in two different time periods.

Players can alternately control Erica in the present, and another character in the past.  Erica learns that time is malleable to an extent, which means that she can help characters in the past solve puzzles, thereby affecting her own present.  This plays out a lot like the last half of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but with more severed body parts.

In gameplay terms, this leads to mindbending puzzles and story twists.  One character might deliberately leave an important item hidden where it can only be found if Erica uses her powers to locate it years later.  Erica can also research events in her own past which are in the other character’s future, then convey this information back through time.  These little twists on linear storytelling are scattered throughout the episode.

It also leads to moments where the Player might sincerely wonder “How the hell can I possibly know THAT” only to realize that the puzzle can easily be solved by combining the powers of two psychics.

Both previous episodes involved Erica traveling around the city of Boston and interacting with a small cast of supporting characters.  In The Oracle the developers have adopted a new style and limited the game to just a handful of locations that are all connected. There’s no overworld map, and the adventure takes place almost entirely inside one apartment with just four rooms.

Because players can control two different characters in several different time periods this means that the same areas can be explored repeatedly with the Player having new items and puzzles to discover in each new time.  The handful of locations are used in a very efficient manner and the play time is just as long as the other episodes.

Almost all of the locations are new to this episode, and many of Erica’s fellow agents from the previous episodes aren’t around much.  Most of them are either back at HQ, missing or unconscious.  A couple of the supporting cast members return but they usually only have a few lines.  This isn’t a problem because many of those characters weren’t well-developed over the previous episodes, and players probably aren’t going to miss them.

Erica has some new features on her smartphone that let her share files with her team back at FBI headquarters.  This means that she can still access case files and get help from her techie pal, but players won’t need to run around the FBI station printing evidence request forms and navigating the FBI database.  That sort of elaborate simulated bureaucracy was an annoyance in the first two games, so the new smartphone features are a welcomed change to the mechanics.

The Oracle has one rather devious puzzle, but the episode as a whole isn’t particularly difficult once players get the hand of switching between characters and time periods.  This episode is about pushing the story forward and dropping some big reveals about the overall plot of the series.

The narrative designers have put a great amount of effort into connecting the various cases that Erica has investigated, and in the final scenes of episode three it becomes clear how they all fit together.  Players who have experienced this series as an episodic release over the last few months are likely to have a little trouble recalling important plot details from episodes that they played months ago, but after the final episode arrives the series will be released as one long game and players who go through it over the course of a few days will have an easier time following the plot (But will miss out on the nail-biting of waiting for a new episode to drop).

The Cognition series is heading to its fourth and final installment.  Players who were concerned about the franchise after episode 2 should feel confident in grabbing this latest installment.  Those who haven’t tried it yet but enjoy adventure games can still grab a Season Pass and catch up in time for the finale.

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