Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Episode 2 – The Wise Monkey

Last year a new franchise entered the adventure game arena.  Cognition combines a gritty police drama with the supernatural by putting players in control of a psychic detective named Erica Reed.  Erica’s first outing in Cognition Episode 1: The Hangman was a promising debut for the project, and now that Episode 2: The Wise Monkey has arrived players can get a better handle on what to expect from the four-part “season.”

The Wise Monkey picks up immediately after the events of The Hangman, and Erica is almost instantaneously swept up in the chase for a new serial killer.  This time, the killer is called “The Wise Monkey” because she cuts out the eyes ears and tongues of her victims.  It’s a gruesome case and reminds players that Cognition is a damned serious game.  In fact one of the first items to inspect is the severed ear of Erica’s friend.

As with the first episode, Erica has a handful of supernatural powers that will help her solve crimes by seeing what occurred in the past of each location she visits.  She can also read people’s memories, or learn what happened to objects in the past as well.  In this episode, Erica has access to all of the powers she developed over the course of the last game, and Episode 2 doesn’t waste much time on tutorials.  This gets the plot moving quickly, which it should because Erica is racing to find a kidnapped FBI agent who faces immanent death.

The case she follows has plenty of twists to it, and the puzzles make players use a combination of Erica’s special powers, and plain old-fashioned detective work.  Many scenes function as a sort of quiz to test how closely players have been paying attention to the plot and to make sure that they genuinely understand what evidence Erica has gathered and why it’s significant.

For most of Episode 2 these puzzles have a balanced degree of challenge, but it ends with a “Boss Puzzle” that requires an extensive amount of inventory management.  It does require players to think about the case and figure out how Erica’s unique powers can be used to solve it, but once they figure out what to do, the puzzle then requires a very long anti-climactic process of shuffling items around.

Occasionally the developers fall into the sort of logic that is only seen in adventure games.  Erica’s investigation grinds to a halt because she needs a screwdriver at one point and (Apparently) the only screwdriver in Boston is hidden away by the killer.  Another puzzle involves the Adventure Game Logic of “Surely this blank tape will come in handy if I carry it around long enough”.

The supporting characters from the first game get very little screen time in The Wise Monkey.  Erica’s nerdy tech friend is entirely absent (With a clever “AFK” sign on his desk throughout the entire game).  Most of the supporting cast was rather 2 dimensional when introduced, and the writer put the focus on Erica this time rather than devoting game time to developing the supporting cast. This lets players spend more time solving crimes with Erica instead of taking time out of her investigation to chat with co-workers.  Hopefully Erica’s pals will get more to do in the next episode, though.

Erica has excellent voice work, but some of the supporting characters are lifeless.  This is especially true for the characters that are introduced in this episode and clearly won’t be coming back in episode three.

As an episodic story each episode puts Erica on a new case while still keeping her on the trail of her brother’s killer.  In the final parts of Episode 2 a much larger story begins to unfold.  Some of the mysteries left behind by the killer can only be solved by Erica and her special powers.  As the Player wonders “Why would someone leave a clue that only Erica can decipher?” the game’s designers are already well on their way to answering that very question.

Even though there are some clear flaws in Cognition Episode 2, the franchise is still full of potential.  Episode 1 remains a great new twist on the adventure genre, and with Episode 3 arriving in April players might be able to overlook some of the troubles with Episode 2 in order to join Erica in her longer storyline.  The first two episodes of Cognition are available now; Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Episode 3 – The Oracle is scheduled to release in April.

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