Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 2: The Wise Monkey
If there’s one benefit to the episodic, season-style method of game development, it’s that the developers have elbow room to gradually engage players over time versus having to amaze them in the first few moments of gameplay. The other benefit is that once introductions are made, they’re free to get into the thick of things with the second installment. Cognition’s latest episode, The Wise Monkey, is a textbook case of this strategy and Phoenix Studios uses it to great effect.
Now that Erica’s backstory and powers are explained, The Wise Monkey wastes no time throwing yet another case her way after briefly dealing with The Hangman murders in the first episode. With her boss dead, FBI headquarters sends Reed’s obnoxious former supervisor to take care of things and much to her frustration, tables The Hangman case for the time being. She has more pressing matter to worry about with The Wise Monkey killer on the loose, whose modus operandi is to remove the sensory organs from their victim in a nod to the ancient Japanese proverb—see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. The killer’s next victim is none other than Erica’s love interest, kidnapped during the game’s opening moments.
Any lingering questions and plot threads left over from the first episode are quickly swept aside as this new mystery absorbs all of Erica’s attention. Unlike the slow pace of the first, this episode establishes early on that every second wasted means that another ear or eye goes missing from Erica’s boyfriend. Whether or not Cognition is going to adopt a ’serial killer of the week’ approach has yet to be determined, but The Wise Monkey is a step up from the previous antagonist as they’re a credible threat with a sick method of execution that calls to mind something out of Se7en.
The breakneck pace turns out to be a double-edged sword. The Wise Monkey feels shorter in comparison to the first due to its swift, urgent nature and there’s never really a moment to catch your breath, which considering some of the cheesy dialogue, might be a good thing. Before you know it you find yourself at the killer’s hideout and the episode ends. It’s hinted that this case is connected to the previous one and is just one salvo of many waiting to be dropped on Erica from the shadows by a sinister mastermind.
Cognitive powers take a backseat to good, old-fashioned police work as suspects in the academic and music world are questioned in regards to The Wise Monkey killings, appearing to be motivated by a personal vendetta against the victims. Erica’s primary resource this time around is the lengthy case file on the victims and forensic clues that give a few crucial details on the scene of the crime and the killer themselves. The music motif works on a basic level, even if it doesn’t always mesh with the killer’s MO, but it’s mostly done for the sake of giving them a unique gimmick and a method for introducing a new power.
Erica learns synergy, and it’s the only power that gets any mileage in the second episode. By combining several related items in her inventory, Erica can conjure up the image of a crime scene and take note of the details therein. Choosing the wrong item to combine will result in the memory turning to static and having to try again. It’s an easy enough power to figure out and use, as are most of the game’s puzzles. They’re not as esoteric as the first and require little thinking outside of the box.
The final sequence involves what can only be described as a boss fight with puzzles in the killer’s lair. It’s a series of challenging little quizzes to see if you actually paid any attention to all the information the game throws at the player in a surprisingly clever, if elaborate to the point of ridiculousness, manner. It’s a test of memory, Erica’s synergy power, and observational skills that stands in stark contrast to the rather easy puzzles that players breezed through previously.
The Wise Monkey is overall a better installment than its predecessor, but it still has its work cut out. Characters and dialogue are once again rather tin-eared and jerky animations can take players out of the experience. It’s far too early to tell how the overall plot is shaping up as Erica swiftly moves from one case to another, and hopefully future episode will tie things together more neatly, but at least things have been stepped up in terms of establishing a series of dangerous, sick serial killers that enjoy toying with Erica just as much as their victims.
Six out of ten