Cognition Episode 3: The Oracle Review
This game was reviewed on the PC.
The biggest rush that someone can get from a mystery is always at the end. It is found in one of two ways: when you reach the finale and get to either pat yourself on the back for doing such a good job and figuring it out way before the ending, or that moment when you’re totally blown away and didn’t see the story taking the turn that it did. Either way, it’s supposed to all make sense at the end, which is what carries us forward and keeps us peeling back the pages of a good book or gluing ourselves to the television. While this is not the last taste of Erica Reed we will get, it is the beginning of the end for the Cognition series. Phoenix Online Studios has released the third episode in the series: The Oracle. This third person, point-and-click mystery series is heating up, and some big story arcs will occur this time around that will really get gamers’ blood pumping. What kind of revelation is in store for you? And will you be blown away or yawn pretentiously while you tell yourself it was ‘elementary, my dear player’? Let’s take a look at what you can expect on your travels through Cognition Episode 3: The Oracle, without spoiling all the good bits for you!
You’ll be playing as FBI agent Erica Reed, a no-nonsense, redheaded Boston girl with a supernatural gift that lets her see into the past. What is different this time around is that you will also be playing (and controlling) a new character: that mysterious friend of Erica’s from The Hangman and The Wise Monkey, Cordelia Smith. In The Hangman, we are introduced to Cordelia when Erica takes a flower from a random grave and puts it on Scott’s tombstone (Erica’s deceased brother), because she had forgotten to pick up flowers that day. Coincidentally, Cordelia was on a bench watching Erica take the flower from the grave, which happened to belong to her late brother Max. She approached Erica to ask what she thought she was doing, and the two soon learned that they had a lot in common – mainly revolving around the loss of their respective brothers. Through The Hangman and The Wise Monkey, Erica grows attached to Cordelia and even attempts to protect her from danger.
Unbeknownst to Erica, there is more to Cordelia than meets the eye, and players will soon discover this as they unlock the mystery behind who has been toying with Erica and the people she loves. Among other things, Cordelia has the ability to see into the future, and Erica finds out that they share a unique bond that has a tendency to link their subconsciouses and influence each other. How this happens is not explained, but sometimes, it’s just better to let imagination take its course and not ask too many questions – we are talking about supernatural abilities, after all!
In The Oracle, players will switch between Erica and Cordelia, and these transitions are completely story-driven. There will be memories that Erica unlocks, which will allow you to control Cordelia in the past. Once these memories are unlocked, you can visit and exit them via a smaller orb on the left hand side of your screen. You can re-enter and further yourself in a memory as often as you’d like, up until that memory has been completed. However, what is annoying about some of the memories is that, if you aren’t paying enough attention (or somehow missed an important piece of information) and you complete a memory, you can get stuck, as you cannot revisit those instances to review the facts and carry on. This can corner some players into an unbeatable scenario with nothing in-game but an option to test fortune teller Rose for hints, which usually just end up sounding like moral support instead of help. Most of what Rose has to offer is “just keep looking, I’m sure there’s something around to help you”, or unhelpful suggestions of this nature. You do not need to use the hints, but for those who are new to investigatory games, this will be very frustrating and may cause them to give up altogether.
The game is also a great deal more linear than its predecessors, which may leave players feeling slightly claustrophobic. The game removes visiting Rose at the Antique Shop, going back to FBI Headquarters, or visiting anywhere you’ve been before. In fact, you cannot travel anywhere but the Enthon Towers, and once inside, you cannot exit the building, so put that thought right out of your mind. Instead of travelling from place to place, you’ll be able to explore Enthon Towers. This will include access to the Lobby, the Penthouse, the Balcony, and perhaps, if you’re lucky, the Basement (cue ominous music). While this may seem like a very small and confined play area (and it is), The Oracle does try to keep you busy exploring memories from the past that give you clues to what is happening in the present. Instead of using your work computer or visiting the Morgue as you previously would have, Cognition now gives you a “Dossier” option on your phone, where you can receive important information relating to the case. While this too is helpful, it still feels like the idea was phoned in, because you can’t go visit places that have become familiar and almost second nature. It’s too bad that in spite of these creative twists, players still won’t get a chance to feel anything but trapped while they play the game.
If there is one thing Phoenix Online Studios excels in, it’s listening to their fans and their critics. The presence of less glitches in The Oracle was, frankly, surprising and a welcome change. The only glitches intermittently present in my game were that your hands still move through solid objects as if you are a ghost, the skip function sometimes loops cutscenes, and Keith’s chair constantly twirls and disappears, only to reappear a few seconds later. While these simple glitches still do exist, the majority of glitches seen in both of the previous games are non-existent in the new release, which really makes for more immersive gameplay. The load times are also much faster, though to be fair, there are much fewer locations to worry about, as you only have access to ten rooms in total and aren’t driving to different locations.
Visually, the game keeps in step with the previous releases in the Cognition series, continuing with its stylized art theme in a real-time 3D presentation. Many of the cutscenes include flashes of images artistically strung together as if from a comic strip, with the narration done by the voice actors in the background. The voice acting has not deviated from previous episodes and makes you feel like you are in the scene, emotionally connecting with the characters. The slight Boston accent and the wavering voice of a woman in her own worst nightmare is enough to keep you clicking your mouse button. The music still has the same eerie piano background mixed with the occasional heart-pumping techno mixes, which will never cease to help the players immerse themselves fully in the game. Visually and musically, this game really helps blend itself into a fantasy that players can take hold of and enjoy the ride.
Whether you are just interested in investigatory storylines, or really want to be creeped out by soulless villains who have no problems cutting off pieces of your loved ones, the Cognition series delivers once again with The Oracle. While the game itself feels very small and stuffy in comparison to the first two Cognition games, and you’ll still come across some slight glitches, the challenges, atmosphere, and story will satisfy your mystery-bone, without a doubt. And in case that wasn’t enough, fans of the Cognition series can expect a new release of Cognition Episode 4: The Cain Killer sometime in 2013. So if you’re still left scratching your head, never fear – Phoenix Online Studios, Erica Reed, and your imagination will be near!
Cognition Episode 3: The Oracle receives a 4.25/5.0
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