Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 4 The Cain Killer
Publisher: Phoenix Online Studios
Developer: Phoenix Online Studios
Release Date: 09/19/2013
While the first two episodes focused more on specific cases Erica was working on, the third took a bit of a detour with her next case and dove us headlong into the over-arcing plot that left the third case cold and drove us full bore into uncovering more of the secrets both Erica and the player had been looking to solve since that first episode and her brother’s murder. Assume at this point if you haven’t played episodes one through three you’re getting spoiled here with this review. We got more than a taste of who was behind it and the circumstances, piecing together what had happened and the truth of the FBI’s involvement as well as Erica’s superiors and her friend. We found that Erica was somehow linked to Cordelia and that Cordelia was majorly involved but when it all came down to it, Cordelia’s brother was ultimately the one we were after. Left hanging with a huge cliffhanger at the end of episode three, episode four mostly picks up where that left off to drive us closer to the conclusion of this four part season and while I wasn’t as enthralled as I was with how it played out with episode three as we know the players, there were still plenty of twists and turns through Cordelia and Erica’s abilities to keep you guessing as to what was really going to happen. Let’s take a look.
This episode has a theme right from the start, and that’s trust. Part of that is a new mechanic they’ve introduced that gauges the amount of trust a person has in you that effects the outcome of certain events later on but it’s all story and dialogue related. It’s an interesting change to mix things up a bit. We start out three years ago with Erica on a sting operation going undercover to try and get information out of a suspect. John is with you and McAdams is giving you the brief before you head in. He asks that you try and protect the person who tipped you off for all of this as she’s still inside. Erica can either do really well here or it can go really badly which has repercussions later but this is what tips Erica off that the killer is going after her brother and she and John race to her house to try and stop it. We know how that ends up playing out, however.
We jump over to Cordelia and her arriving at a lake house, three years ago but after Erica’s brother had been killed. Cordelia can’t believe what her own brother has done and she sets out to stop him but intentions aren’t always clear and as we’d found out before Cordelia isn’t completely with it. We jump ahead to present day and Erica is looking for some guidance from Rose at her shop. There are clues Erica needs and Cordelia had said that Rose was part of it and we come to find out more about Rose as Erica tries to use her abilities to piece together some of Rose’s forgotten memories for clues. Erica ends up tying into that to get some of Cordelia’s impressions from Rose as well and finds out that Skorobeus, the caretaker of the Tower that Cordelia lived in is involved and can point her in the right direction. The only problem is Erica is being forced to go on leave while they sort out the case and events from episode three.
Erica doesn’t let that stop her and goes to confront Skorobeus and depending on how you play it here you can seriously end up changing how things happen later on. You use the same ability you did with Rose to get information from the caretaker and find out where Cordelia has fled to. McAdams bursts in and Erica escapes to the lake house we saw in the Cordelia flashback and Erica confronts her there. Cordelia has unfinished business with McAdams, feeling she got her revenge on Erica’s other boss already. Erica has issues with this but the two of them have to work together to try and stop her brother from finishing his murders The two have to use their abilities to solve several puzzles and piece together what Cordelia’s brother Keith is up to. Erica was followed and the two have to separate but it’s all going to go down where it ended for Erica’s brother three years ago as Erica is forced to face what happened again in the cemetery and put her trust into someone she feels is only out for revenge.
The season comes to a satisfying although truly bittersweet ending, and while I won’t spoil it, there is some great puzzles and dialogue between Cordelia, Keith and Erica and even some good back and forth between Erica and McAdams. While this didn’t engage me as much as the last one when we were discovering so much about Cordelia and Keith, the continuation of the two using their abilities together really added to the detective portion of things and the trust system was an interesting addition. Id’ be interested to see where they take Erica if they do another season but this season definitely closes things if they don’t continue on with it so you’re not left hanging.
Much like the other episodes, I’ve got mixed feelings with the results visually. I really loved some fo the cutscene artwork in a number of scenes. It was less a painted style and a little more of the comic book feel but felt more in line with what they were doing here overall and the expressions the characters conveyed really hit home the situation and emotions they were going through. In the 3D cel-shaded land we had issue though. 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 a few instances where a character’s head didn’t quite load properly and twitched insanely for a brief second. Most of the time, the look works really well and gives off that comic book or graphic novel fee, but the meshes really stand out, especially against some of the cleaner artwork and could have used a little tweaking to make them more in line with the art or vice versa. 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. I did have a few instances where the voices were extremely muffled. Twice on Cordelia which made her mouth move hardly at all and twice on McAdams. Both times it sounded like they were talking in a large room and really far from the microphone or maybe talking through a shirt. It was a little odd.
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. Honestly, don’t bother with the keyboard because it’s barely functional in this game.
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, 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.
The swapping between Cordelia, who can see the future, and Erica, who can see the past, really works well in this episode in trying to figure out puzzles and work through clues. It’s an interesting mechanic I would have liked to have seen more of in the series to be honest but I guess what we got with this episode and the previous will be it for awhile. They’ve added regression into this where you can go in and play a bit with the memories as well. Rose remembers events from her past but not all of them and it’s a key clue for Erica to what Cordelia wants, so she goes in and get into the bits and pieces of Rose’s story to get all the details right so she can remember one key conversation and tip Erica off. It involves some hunting around Rose’s shop and talking to her as well so you can’t just randomly rummage through Rose’s memories and hope to get it.
They also introduced a trust system I’d mentioned earlier. You can earn trust with different people throughout the episode and the game does retain it and it will in fact affect events right away and towards the end. Say the wrong thing and you may end up dead or a character won’t trust you enough later to let you keep your gun. It does eventually come into play at the end of the episode and you can see your trust with a person when you’re talking to them and outside a conversation as you say things that will either increase or decrease that trust.
The Cain Killer is a bit more linear experience as far as dialogue goes, however some of those choices can have actual changes right away within that moment or come back to bite you on the ass later. Most of your options of doing things differently come from the way you play through events and put things together, but the trust system also comes into play now and that can really change how things end up for Erica towards the end. This does add in some replayability but if you do too awfully during a conversation it leads to a game over. Despite the options here the story does paly out pretty strongly and ties all the events of the four episodes together nicely. I felt the way everything tied together this go round was brilliantly handled and made me want to play through this episode all over again, just to pick up on the subtle clues each of the characters drop that I missed but picked up on later and to go back and try to do things differently to see what kind of ending I end up with or how badly I could screw up and still come out alive.
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 overall there’s a decent set difficulty to get through. I’ve played through detective stories before, 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 friends, you don’t have to use them and they still require you to work through the problem on your own. In this episode they’ve changed the ebb and flow of the game a bit, leaving most of the detective and case work far behind and letting the player work with the puzzles and Erica’s and Cordelia’s abilities to really solve what’s going on. It makes things feel far more immediate and keeps you in the action until the end.
This episode kept me engaged from start to finish in one three hour-ish romp. It feels a bit shorter than the others but it doesn’t involve a lot of detective work since we know who the culprit is and are simply trying to track him down before it all comes to a head. Most of the puzzles flow pretty well, and the game moves along, which makes it a lot of fun to play. The trap puzzles around the middle of the game do slow things down quite a bit, especially as you’re trying to piece it all together and having to flip between Erica and Cordelia to solve it but that’s part of the challenge and I think makes up for the lost detective work feel. 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 set of characters 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 relate-able and makes me want to keep playing it.
Short Attention Span Summary
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Episode 4 is the second best entry in the four part episodic series, the third I feel being the best but this part manages to tie up all the loose ends without feeling like that’s its sole purpose. Tying Erica and Cordelia’s abilities together and forcing the two to work together to get to their goals even though their goals put them at odds with each other was a great move. All the plot threads that were seeded throughout the other episodes and especially the third come to fruition here with a driving plot to this episode that really keeps you involved and wanting to see it all through. While I say it’s the second best entry, really that’s all because we know most of the details already so the investigation is just about getting around hurdles to get to your prey instead of discovering who your prey is. While it’s still compelling much of the mystery has been sucked out to tie everything up but this episode does this amazingly well so you’re not left wondering what will be. You will be entirely lost with what’s going on here if you’re using this as a jumping on point, but it offers a great reason to play the other three entries to get through this one as well. I’m looking forward to playing this episode again and even going through the season again, and if I was on the fence about recommending the series to adventure fans, this episode and the previous one cleared that all up. Definitely check this game out.
Tags: Cognition, Erica Reed