Warning: this is a review of the third episode of Cognition, and as such contains spoilers for the first two parts. If you haven’t played them yet, we highly recommend picking them up. Check out our review of Cognition Episode One.
Episodic adventure Cognition has already reached its penultimate entry with Episode Three: The Oracle, and if you thought the first two were tense and messed in the head, you better get a sick bag on standby. The action picks up exactly where the second episode left off, with Agent Reed leaving Sully’s hospital bedside to race over to Enthon Towers, a plush apartment complex where the Wise Monkey killer met his end. Faced with a mangled cop car covered in blood, no apparent clues and a pain-in-the-arse superior who won’t let her inside the building, Reed has her work cut out to figure out who's bumping off these serial killers, and why.
The answer is revealed surprisingly early, but that doesn’t mean Cognition Episode Three is lacking in tension or twists. Once Reed gets inside Enthon Towers, the game gradually reveals the killer’s history and what led them to commit those atrocities, bringing together several hanging plot threads in the process. The stakes are raised as another recurring character is plunged into danger, and by the end of the episode you’ll need to take a long, hot shower just to scrub away the nastiness of it all.
Unlike the previous two episodes, which had you dodging around the city visiting various locations, episode three of Cognition is set almost entirely within the beautiful-yet-haunting halls of Enthon Towers. It keeps the focus tight and means less running around when you’re stuck, a definite bonus. You can still contact characters such as Rose via your mobile, and you’ll need external help on a few occasions, often to dig up details on previous cases. It’s a much more realistic way of handling things – after all, why would a cop drive all the way across town just to ask a colleague a question? What is this, the 1970s?
Another major change is the latest psychic ability Agent Reed acquires, which gives her a direct link to the killer. You see, it turns out (quite early in the episode) that the antagonist also has psychic powers, but while Agent Reed has the ability to see into the past, the killer can project into the future. This leads to several inspired sequences where the player controls the murderer, back in the past before the whole dang thing began. Reed gathers information from each scene to help her with the investigation, in some cases actually helping the killer to see how things play out. It’s a fresh and ingenious way of shaking up gameplay, and helped to make this our favourite episode yet.
In other areas, it’s business as usual. The art style is still attractive, with a gritty adult comic book feel, and only the occasional clunky animation to spoil things. We encountered some weird bugs as with the other episodes, but the developers have assured us that this was down to the pre-release build we played. These issues should be gone from the full retail version. Voice acting is a mixed bag, but with a plot this tight even the odd hammy line didn’t tear us out of the smothering atmosphere.
Cognition Episode Three: The Oracle is an enthralling entry in the series, which successfully shakes up the core gameplay and ties together all kinds of plot threads from the previous episodes. We can’t wait to play through the final entry, but get the feeling that when the final credits roll, it’ll be a bittersweet triumph.