Phoenix Online has been through some rocky beginnings with their Cognition series. The first episode saw a story that limped along, affixed to sub-par game mechanics and the exhausted setting of police crime investigation. While the mixture of supernatural twists and inspired art helped to deliver a moody atmosphere, the pacing dragged and the characters fell flat. Episode two managed to take great leaps and bounds in addressing these issues, concluding with a revelation that offered a glimmer of hope for the property’s future.
Their latest entry has made magnificent departures in both narrative and game play; the team behind Cognition is beginning to show off their development chops with Episode 3: The Oracle.
The usual game play suspects return, but the newest supernatural ability doubles down as a narrative tool that splits the episode between Erica and another playable character. In the interest of keeping this review spoiler free I wont say much more than this; you alternate control between characters to find clues that exist at different points in time. Sounds crazy, right? Well, much like previous episodes the Oracle asks players to willingly suspend their disbelief.
This episode felt much tighter thanks in part to a smaller area of exploration (most of the episode takes place in a single apartment building) and a better puzzle solving dynamic. There is a stronger sense of urgency than anything I’ve witnessed in the series and a shift in focus towards heavier plot twists and better story is a change I’m happy to see. Puzzles in point-and-click adventure games always fall into a kind of tedium purgatory for me so I need a solid story to keep my attention.
It has an impressively engaging plot and a more entertaining ride than previous installments. While it lacks the meaty forensic investigation elements and boasts fewer locations to explore I found myself enjoying the journey when not being force fed groan-inducing puzzles at every turn. The introduction of a new playable character goes a long way in breaking the mold of monotony I felt hardening over the prior two episodes. The story has also turned out to be less predictable than the direction I was sure it was heading in. The Oracle throws you for loops right up until the very end, once again leaving us mouth agape wondering what’s coming next in episode 4.