I Expect You To Die 3: Cog in the Machine review

For your eyes only.

Release Date
17 August 2023
Schell Games
Schell Games
Meta Quest 2 (tested), Steam

The I Expect You to Die series has always been one of my first recommendations for friends with a new virtual reality headset. Low hanging fruit still abounds in VR, and too many games still revolve around shooting guns endlessly, usually at zombies. But as their previous work shows, developer Schell Games understands the potential of virtual reality to transport you to other worlds, and to interact with them in creative ways. I Expect You To Die 3: Cog in the Machine is no exception. It’s another perfectly enjoyable collection of spy-themed puzzle rooms, but is that still enough?

I Expect You to Die 3: Cog in the Machine review

Remember escape rooms? Maybe you have a hazy memory of one from a hen do or an office Christmas party. They hit a fever pitch around 2013, locking groups of tipsy friends in a themed room until they solved enough puzzles to unlock the pharaoh’s cursed sarcophagus or whatever. The craze came and went, as crazes are wont to do. But as I Expect You To Die 3 proves, the escape room is still alive and well in virtual reality.

From high-tech mansions to volcano lairs, Cog in the Machine delights in placing you in perilous scenarios that will be familiar to anyone who has ever watched a spy movie. Each of the game’s six missions take heavy inspiration from James Bond and Mission: Impossible, tasking you with stealing secret research or blowing up enemy strongholds.

Success doesn’t come easily, though. Standing between you and your objective are locked doors, encrypted computers, murderous robots and faulty equipment. You’ll have to figure out how to get past them all if you want to save the world.

I Expect You to Die 3 is best enjoyed while sitting down, and protagonist Agent Phoenix apparently thinks the same of spycraft. You cannot physically move in this game; and spend each level frozen in place. Luckily, Phoenix is equipped with a telekinetic implant in his brain. What this means for you as a player is that while you can’t explore the game’s environments, you can interact with objects from afar or pull them closer to you.

By pulling a trigger on the Quest 2’s Touch controller and moving your hand, you can manipulate switches and levers and grappling hooks from a distance to achieve your goals. It takes a little getting used to, but you’ll need to get used to it in order to solve the game’s dozens of miniature puzzles.

Die and Let Live

You’ll likely fail often in Cog in the Machine. In fact, that’s sort of the point. I Expect You to Die lives up to its name: whether by nerve gas or sizzling lasers, death is waiting for you around every corner. If I’m really being honest, most of my untimely demises were my own fault. It turns out that excessively jiggling a cocktail shaker full of explosive liquid is dangerous; who would have thought?

But there were also instances where I found myself fighting against ungainly controls in time-sensitive situations, hitting all the wrong tiny buttons on a control panel and ensuring my termination. The game’s physics are fairly impressive, and objects respond to your touch much as you might expect them to in the real world. But that also means that the clumsy and cack-handed among us are at something of a disadvantage.

By and large, though, the game plays fair with its puzzles. All the clues you need to progress are within arm’s reach (albeit with a telekinetic helping hand). They might be hidden in a secret compartment or written in invisible ink, but you can uncover them with a little trial and error. It’s immensely satisfying to finally figure out how to distract an enemy robot or stabilise a volatile crystal, especially when you’ve been trying to do so for the last 10 minutes. But while experimentation is necessary to solve Cog in the Machine‘s puzzles, there’s not much room for creativity. Each stage of the game has only one right answer, and two dozen wrong ones.

Like previous games in the series, I Expect You to Die 3‘s missions are fairly linear; you usually need to solve one puzzle before moving on to the next. Cracking a safe gives you the tools you need to unlock a computer, which contains information on how to produce a poison antidote, et cetera. Each level is almost like a slow motion Rube Goldberg machine, and while it’s incredibly gratifying to figure out how each puzzle box works, the format is well-worn at this point.

Schell has attempted to shake up this familiar formula; a mission set in an underwater research station gave me a choice over the order in which I completed my objectives. That’s not a radical change, but it’s a small step towards allowing greater player agency.

A Field of View to a Kill

I Expect You to Die 3 might not reinvent the gameplay wheel, but its presentation has certainly improved. The aesthetic is cartoony rather than photorealistic, but beautiful lighting effects lend each locale a distinct mood and vibe, and later levels fill the screen with explosions and dozens of robots without the game chugging to a halt. Given that the Quest 2 essentially has the processing power of a midrange Android phone strapped to your face, Cog in the Machine‘s graphics are pretty admirable.

Those appealing visuals serve a so-so plot. I Expect You to Die has never been strongly narratively-driven; it’s story isn’t much more than an excuse to string together a series of increasingly high-octane scenarios, not unlike a Mission: Impossible movie. In Cog in the Machine, you go up against former Agency scientist Dr. Roxana Prism. She invented the telekinetic implant that sits in your head, and now she’s on a mission to prove that her robot creations make better secret agents than humans do. It’s up to Agent Phoenix – that’s you! – to prove her wrong.

The story’s twists and turns, such as they are, can be spotted a mile away. But they’re delivered with an irreverent, jokey tone that makes inhabiting the game’s world a joy. Schell Games knows that you’ve probably seen a whole bunch of spy movies, and relishes using that knowledge against you. I Expect You to Die‘s knowing, winking comedy is genuinely well written, even if it’s not quite laugh-out-loud funny. It certainly helps to have an excellent voice cast to bring the game’s characters to life: Daisy Lightfoot gives a winningly villainous performance as Dr. Prism, while Jared Mason’s returning Support Agent ensures you’re never short of dry quips and slightly boneheaded commentary in your ear.


Puzzle games don’t tend to offer much in the way of replay value; you can’t exactly wipe the solution from your mind and start afresh. Still, I Expect You To Die 3 does make some effort to give you reasons to come back. Completing optional objectives within missions will unlock new hats, gloves and watches to your collection, letting you choose a custom outfit at your HQ. Each level also keeps a record of how long it took you to beat it, and challenges you to shave that time down to just a few minutes. Once you already know how to beat a mission, though, this becomes less of a test of your intellect and more an exercise in memorisation and quick execution.

Replaying missions also highlights my biggest frustration with the game, which is the total lack of a checkpoint system. Failure in a level, even in its final moments, means restarting from the very beginning. Cog in the Machine offers the ability to immediately complete your current mission within its accessibility settings; I don’t think an option to save your progress would go amiss either, even if it were only granted after you’ve already beaten a level. It would certainly make hunting for collectibles a lot less irritating.

I’d also be more inclined to play through the game again if I were able to move from my fixed position and truly explore the game’s beautiful environments. Free movement is hard to pull off in VR without making half of your potential player base queasy, but games for traditional consoles like Escape Academy have shown what fun it can be to traverse a larger space as you hunt for clues. While a standout mission gives you limited control over a speeding car, I still found myself starting to chafe against my lack of freedom a little more rapidly this time around than in previous I Expect You to Die games. The series has become familiar, and familiarity can easily breed (mild) contempt.

Final thoughts

I Expect You to Die 3: Cog in the Machine lives up to the series’ reputation for devilishly clever puzzles and charming humour. It sits comfortably among the best games I’ve played on Quest 2, but at the same time, it’s working from an increasingly visible blueprint. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the closing credits promise that I Expect You to Die will return; I look forward to an eventual fourth game, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. I just hope it surprises me a bit more when it arrives.

I Expect You To Die 3: Cog in the Machine review
Satisfying puzzles
Pleasing visuals
Great atmosphere and writing
Finnicky controls in places
Frustrating lack of checkpoints