Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 2 The Wise Monkey
Publisher: Reverb Publishing
Developer: Phoenix Online Studios
Release Date: 01/30/2012
While the first episode of four was a nice surprise story wise as a sort of supernatural noir story-telling that seems to work extremely well with the adventure game in general, the second episode gives you a brief recap that works a little less at bringing a new player up to speed leaving you scratching your head if you never played episode one, but is a nice refresher for those of us that played the first episode back in October of last year. Like the first episode, this one starts off with a punch to the gut and then keeps you moving. Is it worth buying stand-alone? No. Is it worth it as part of the overall series of four? Yes. Since this is an episodic title, parts of my review for the first episode that apply in this review will be repeated in italics. Let’s take a look.
The story starts off with Erica getting ready for a debriefing from her temporary boss, the Director of her division who doesn’t like her much, especially after the ending of the first episode. Sully is trying to both comfort her and hit on her which is kind of awkward but in a cute way. She gets called in to give her summary of what happened and gets called on a few things even more so depending on which dialogue choices you pick. She goes back out, under two different circumstances depending on your choices up to that point, and finds Sully being taken away. Depending on your choices you’re either helpless to stop it as you pas out or you get a neat sequence to go after the killer before they escape, but either way, the serial killer that likes to mutilate people has one of the FBI’s own and while her boss doesn’t like it because of her sporadic fits of genius followed by lackluster performance, Erica is on the case to find him before something bad happens to another good friend.
This episode is far from stand-alone, as I imagine they won’t be from here on out. It does however build on the events of the first episode and rewards players for remembering events properly from the first game and dumps on you if you don’t. It’s more summarizing the bad guy’s motivations than actually remembering events, but if you make a bad choice, which shows people Erica has no idea what’s actually going on which is bad for someone who’s supposed to be good at figuring things out, they call you on it. I do like where they’re going with the story, but I think it plays a little fast and loose with the structure of the FBI which might annoy some people. It does work within the world they’ve set-up for the game which is great. If you’re looking for accuracy here though, you might as well toss that out. It does do supernatural creepy crime noir quite well otherwise and feels like a graphic novel which is exactly what they’re going for.
Much like the first episode, I’ve got mixed feelings with the results visually. Character mouths don’t always sync properly, the cel-shading, while making a valiant effort to mesh with the backgrounds doesn’t always cut it, and there are some bizarre animation errors with some of the characters where parts of their bodies will rotate in circles randomly. I had that happen to me in the interrogation room with a female suspect and it was centered on her chest with some truly bizarre results. Most of the time, the look works really well and gives off that comic book or graphic novel feel. When they do switch over to full on art work though the deficiency of the character model really shines through and leaves me wondering if this would have been better off being completely animated in 2D instead of the 3D hybrid we have now. The effect isn’t quite as jarring as it was in the first episode, nor as immersion breaking.
The trend in keeping decent voice actors and delivery continues. While some of the dialogue feels a little cliché, belonging more to the genre than anything else, the voice actors do a good job keeping it in character which helped me move through the game immensely. The music fits as it did before and none of It really sticks out as being too out there helping you keep involved when the visuals aren’t sending the right message.
Control wise this time around I didn’t even bother with the keyboard and stuck with the mouse for everything. You still set-up your keyboard shortcuts and everything when the game first loads and most adventure titles you can play with just a mouse anyway so I went with that. You click on objects to interact with them and select options that are available. Your menu and options within the game like selecting objects in your inventory are also done with the mouse as well as entering into your Intuition mode to see past events.
The Intuition is what really sets this apart from other adventure titles set in the same kind of detective noir vein. Erica’s ability to see events that have happened and her visions of the future are a nice tool for discovering new clues and foreshadowing future events. Other than that your gameplay is typical adventure fair; point and click and interact with objects and carry items around with you that may prove useful. There are some puzzles that take a little bit of thinking to get around and using items in somewhat unconventional ways. One of the things that stands out a bit more are subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, hints from using Erica’s ability the characters in the game refer to as Intuition. It lets you see events of the past by interacting with objects that glow with a blue flame when Intuition is active, so you can see what’s happened before. There’s also a cellphone to interact with to text message your Dad for helpful hints on what might be best to do next if you’re stuck.
Different areas and ways to get around blocked doors or areas present themselves. There is a bit of running around using the map, as not everything you need for every set piece will be in that area. Being able to work things differently or go at a dialogue differently each time is a nice tactic, and will add to the replayability of a genre that I normally consider a one and done, especially if the story doesn’t grip you all that much. I completely redid my playthrough using different dialogue options to get screenshots and things played out very differently in the opening while still winding up where I’d been, kind of. I like what I’ve seen here, and it’s an interesting take on a detective story. I think this gives it a little more staying power. Unlike the Walking Dead however, your actions only count within each episode. Your game saves do not carry decisions over but will affect your character dialogue and action within a given episode.
Much like Telltale Games The Walking Dead, Cognition has a season pass, where you can get all four episodes cheaper than you can buy them individually when they come out. Overall, it’s a great price for the whole set, and even piecemeal it’s still not a bad price for the content and quality. The puzzles are a bit challenging as they go, some forcing you to go to all sorts of places before they finally play out, but it’s a decent set difficulty to get through. I’ve played through detective stories before, and even ones where the detective is after something supernatural, but I think this is the first adventure game where they’ve incorporated the lead character having a power that moves you through the game and makes you better at your job like this. That being said, the basic formula for an adventure title isn’t mucked about with too much, and while they give you easy access to the hints in the texts from your Dad, you don’t have to use them and they still require you to work through the problem on your own.
As far as wanting to play, the game managed to hold my interest despite my frustrations with trying to figure out my keyboard issues and just accepting the mouse. This episode it took me a few tries to figure out what evidence I wasn’t glancing at to get out of the main HQ the first time. I thought for sure I’d looked at everything but I was still denied my exit to start talking to people. I think that part might get frustrating to people as I did it again my second time trying to grab screenshots. Right after work is not the best time for me to be trying to get through a game involving thinking apparently. I do think that episodic adventure titles are catching on. The game being available on a few platforms will help as well. The artwork used looks great, and the game offers an interesting character and a decent price. I’d like to hope it will do well, despite what I consider hang-ups.
Despite my issues with the mouse and the way the key bindings are set and how they don’t seem to work at all, I really do like this game. It’s a different take on the detective side of adventure games, which I usually don’t go for, despite liking Law & Order, which tacked on having to actually take the cases to trial as well as investigate them. I’m all for incorporating the supernatural side of things into games like this because it is a neat angle, and to see someone who has had this ability all her life still struggling to come to grips with it and tackle getting over certain events in her life really makes the lead seem even more human than she would have normally. It makes her relatable and makes me want to keep playing it.
Short Attention Span Summary
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Episode 2 provides a n excellent follow-up in the four part episodic series. While there are some technical issues running this on the PC, none of them are game-breaking and won’t lead more than annoyances for some players. It has a neat take on incorporating a supernatural element into a detective adventure story and a very human lead that makes the game very easy to relate to. The case details are interesting and the puzzles a bit more complex but easy to navigate once you figure out what’s needed. Overall, I’d recommend it especially as a change of pace, and am really looking forward to the next episode.
Tags: Cognition, Law & Order, The Walking Dead