I Expect You To Die 3: Cog in the Machine is another solid VR escape room experience from Schell Games. But while many aspects feel like evolutions for the series it plays things safe a bit too often and some of the traps are getting old.
Levels are full of interactive details
Amazing opening credits theme
Low puzzle difficulty
The story could be longer
Traps are starting to feel samey
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Blown to bits, lasered through the chest, and electrocuted by a lemon; these are just a few of the ways I’ve died while playing through I Expect You To Die 3: Cog in the Machine – the latest entry in Schell Games’ James Bond-inspired VR puzzle game series.
Platform reviewed: Meta Quest 2
Available on: Meta Quest, SteamVR
Release date: August 15, 2023
Agent Phoenix – having miraculously survived their last mission facing off against Zoraxis in I Expect You To Die 2: The Spy and the Liar – is back to continue their work for The Agency. Their latest mission is to find the missing Dr. Prism; she’s a former Agency scientist that left to focus on her robotics work, but her knowledge about her former employer and being the architect behind the telekinetic implant in every agent's head makes her a target. But she doesn’t need Agent Phoenix’s help – she has her robot army. Prism is ready to show once and for all that her inventions are superior to every other agent, and she’ll eliminate anyone who tries to prove her wrong.
This adventure feels like Phoenix’s grandest yet. The story was the series’ most compelling yet. There’s a variety of engaging new locales to visit – including snowy mountain tops and underwater lairs – each one of them filled with puzzles, traps, and other interactive elements that are a delight to play with in VR. And when the game does harken back to a classic I Expect You To Die mission, it takes the concept up a gear; we’re no longer solving puzzles in a stationary car, we’re tackling Prism's traps while driving at speed down a highway.
A major success of I Expect You To Die 3: Cog in the Machine is that the series’ puzzles continue to feel like fun challenges rather than infuriating roadblocks. My failures always felt like my own, and the blow of dying is softened by the game’s humor. It helps that a number of my mishaps would inspire solutions to puzzles I faced later in the level, making it feel like I was learning and improving rather than simply stumbling my way through my adventure.
And given the game’s spy-theming, I appreciated that the best advice for finding a solution to a puzzle I was stuck on was always to ask WWJBD? What would James Bond do?
The James Bond similarities go beyond just the game’s setting and traps with I Expect You To Die 3 featuring a stupendous opening theme and title sequence that feels like it could have been lifted straight from a classic spy flick. Every opening theme in the I Expect You To Die series has been great but Cog in the Machine’s is on another level – and I can’t help but take a break every few minutes while writing this review to listen to it one more time.
Unfortunately, I Expect You To Die 3 suffers from feeling a bit too repetitive – not only in terms of being too similar to what has come before but there not feeling like there’s enough variety within the game itself.
I Expect You To Die is at its best when there’s a freneticism to its puzzles, and that’s no more true in the final segment of the sixth mission. Without giving too much away you’re tasked with managing an ever-changing board of buttons and switches while also trying to solve a series of unrelated puzzles that demand your attention. It’s chaotic. I love it.
While Cog in the Machine does tread some new ground for the series, several of the predicaments Agent Phoenix faced gave me déjà vu. I had to deflect lasers to damage important equipment, defuse a bomb under tense conditions, and hastily brew an antidote for a toxin before it killed me, predicaments I’ve found myself in before while standing in for Bond.
I know these are spy-movie tropes – and exactly the sort of puzzles you should expect in a spy-themed puzzle series – but after a few entries, I hoped Schell Games would find more unique ways of presenting traps that we’re becoming familiar with. As once formidable predicaments are losing the stakes they once carried, and trending towards trivial.
Case in point, during one mission you’re presented with a surprise grenade. When something similarly happened in I Expect You To Die 2: The Spy and the Liar I panicked, hot potatoed it a few times between my hands and blew up at least twice before discovering a clever solution. In I Expect You To Die 3: Cog in the Machine the grenade appeared and I dealt with it within five seconds – with barely a blip on my Fitbit’s heart-rate monitor.
It also doesn’t help that several of the missions feature Prism’s mass-produced robot agents as your adversary – with each one coming with an identical set of skills (read: tools of Agent Phoenix destruction) at their disposal. Again, while each engagement had unique elements there was also a lot of similarity that made the situations feel like I was going through the motions rather than solving a puzzle.
Perhaps in part because of this repetitiveness, I felt Cog in the Machine’s missions were simpler than previous entries in the series. The game’s side missions do help to provide some of the challenge I was craving when the main game came up short, but I wish I struggled a little more – I adored the trial-and-error gameplay that was delivered by previous entries and was disappointed by its absence here.
Your bonus mission, should you choose to accept it
If you want to hurl your way through the game’s story – which consists of six main missions – you can wrap everything up in a few hours or maybe even less (it entirely depends on how quickly you can solve the puzzles laid out before you). But there’s plenty of replayability for those of you that want to become a bonafide super-spy.
Every mission comes with six bonus objectives to keep you coming back for more. Firstly, there are three side missions that give you special tasks to complete that are unique to each level; they include finding alternative (typically unintuitive) ways to solve one of the main mission puzzles, serving your accomplices the correct food or drink, or taking a less destructive approach when facing off against Prism and Zoraxis.
Then there are the hidden robot statues and phantom coins in each level. The statues are usually hidden in plain sight; simply explore the level while keeping your eyes peeled (paying particular attention to obscure nooks and crannies) and you should stumble across all six eventually. The phantom coins are a little trickier to find and usually require you to solve a hidden puzzle or two to earn them. If you’re having trouble just look out for the Phantom’s mark – that’s the best place to start your search.
Finally, every mission has a target time that you’re tasked with beating. Some of these time limits are no joke, and you’ll need to know the stage inside out and backward if you want to finish quickly enough.
Speaking of finishing to tick off any of these extra-special assignments you’ll need to finish the level successfully. Leave the mission early or die before you get to the end and it won’t register that you completed a challenge – forcing you to try the whole thing over again.
I Expect You To Die 3: Cog in the Machine is one of the most accessible VR games around.
For a start, just like the other titles in the series you play the entire game while sat down – you never need to get up and walk around to solve any of the problems Agent Phoenix faces. Plus, as Agent Phoenix you can interact with the world using your telekinetic powers which helps to further reduce the amount of mobility that’s required to complete your missions.
There’s also a solid suite of audio accessibility settings that includes subtitles and audio visualization, as well as a chat log so you can read through what was said at your own pace. Plus, while there are no colorblind settings, you don’t need to identify any colors to solve the game’s missions.
As for VR comfort settings, this game helpfully features vignetting to reduce motion sickness when yore moving in vehicles like the car and gondola. As someone who can get easily motion sick I found this do more than enough to keep my queasiness at bay – I could play for hours at a time and only needed to stop when my Quest 2 ran out of charge.
How we reviewed I Expect You To Die 3
I played I Expect You To Die 3: Cog in the Machine on my Oculus Quest 2 with my playthrough taking me about eight hours. This included finishing the entire main story and attempting to complete as many of the bonus challenges as I could. I played with the comfort controls on their default settings. I found that performance wise the game ran well with no noticeable hiccups, and the loading times weren't super long, though they were noticeable.
Hamish is a Senior Staff Writer for TechRadar and you’ll see his name appearing on articles across nearly every topic on the site from smart home deals to speaker reviews to graphics card news and everything in between. He uses his broad range of knowledge to help explain the latest gadgets and if they’re a must-buy or a fad fueled by hype. Though his specialty is writing about everything going on in the world of virtual reality and augmented reality.