Posted on January 30, 2013 AT 04:21pm
The second episode of Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is here, and Erica’s second case on the series is even more twisted than the first. If you aren’t familiar with Cognition yet, and haven’t read my review of the first episode, take a peek before continuing on. Otherwise, let’s get right to it. I’ll try to remain as spoiler free as possible, but as is the nature of reviews, a touch of spoilery exposition is inevitable.
Episode two hits the ground running, picking up directly after the not-so-happy ending of episode one. Agents Reed, Sullivan, and McCoy are reporting in to the new temporary head of their department, the no-nonsense Samuel McAdams. We learn of the serial murder investigation that one of her colleagues is working on, which they have dubbed ‘The Wise Monkey’ case. The Wise Monkey cuts eyes, ears, and tongues from the bodies of her victims and leaves behind a small silver charm. Through a series of events, Erica’s colleague ends up in the hands of this killer, minus a body part that they were likely rather attached to.
Shock! Action! Guns! Blue suits!
Similar to many police procedural television shows, some of the hardest hitting action takes place in the opening moments of the episode. This is obviously going to be a habit for Cognition, but I really don’t mind. It grabs a hold of you, and doesn’t make any attempt to let go.
Since most of the major characters have already been introduced, and the player has been familiarized with the abilities that Agent Reed has available to her, the game can concentrate primarily on the story. One new ability is introduced, Synergy [See? It's not just a buzzword!], which allows Reed to glean ‘shared memories’ from items she holds in her inventory. Her other abilities appear to have been streamlined, somewhat. Using the Regression ability in the previous episode was a bit of a bear, and now it’s a great deal simpler.
There are a handful of new locations to explore, and you’ll also find many of the ones from the previous episode popping up on your map. I’m still not a huge fan of the two level map system, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much that can be done to the map without creating a huge, cluttered mess. Regardless of the map issues, though, it’s interesting to see how some of the revisited locations come into play as the episode moves forward. Usually, when an episodic series reuses locations, it feels like it’s just to save time by reusing assets. Cognition is doing something a bit different with them. I can’t say any more, as that it could potentially spoil some of the most interesting twists of The Wise Monkey case. Believe me, there are some twisty twist twists happening.
She didn’t see that one coming, did she? … I’m sorry.
I’ll reiterate what I’ve said from my review of the first episode, The Cain Killer: The art, music, and voice acting is all fantastic. I’m not certain, but it looks like they’ve enhanced the cel-shade rendering since episode one; The lines ‘drawn’ on characters look clearer, making the comic book look they’ve been going for stand out even more. There was only one character whose voice I didn’t care for, but I suspect she was meant to be irritating. I have no doubt that you’ll spot her within seconds of her first spoken line. Speaking of voices, I noticed that Erica’s Bostonian accent has improved quite a bit as compared to the first episode, wherein her accent seemed to be a bit here-and-gone.
It looks like they’ve roped in some of the stiff animations that plagued the first episode, even though the facial animations are still a little bit janky. I still see lip sync issues, and when characters smile big, it’s just… creepy looking. On the other hand, it looks like Erica isn’t suffering from ‘Terminal Bitchface’ as she was in The Cain Killer, which makes me endlessly happy. I’d also like to mention that some of the nitpicks I had about the gameplay are still there: Unskippable cutscenes, selectively unskippable dialogue, long load times, and… Everybody still seems to have the Cain Killer case on their computer screens at FBI HQ.
It’s a cover-up of the Cain Killer case! No, really, you’re covering up my view of the monitor, Sully.
SUMMARY: Since the game is ever-evolving and we’ve got two more episodes to go, I’ll refrain from scoring this time around. What I will say, though, is that the series is going in a great direction, and I hope that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Erica Reed even past the end of this four episode outing. Even if we don’t, Phoenix Online Studios is building a great story, and I can’t wait to play more. They’re still working on balancing between story, puzzles, and abilities
You can buy episode 2, or the whole season of Cognition directly from Phoenix Online Studios, or check out their list of ‘other places to buy’. If you bought episode 1 without a season pass, you can purchase a discounted ‘Upgrade Pass’ for $19.99 directly from POS. As a bonus, the upgrade pass also includes an mp3 copy of the Episode 1 soundtrack. I don’t think you can beat that deal!
- THE GOOD: With introductions out of the way, the story takes a front seat. Abilities have been streamlined.
- THE BAD: Unskippable dialogue/cutscenes and not-so-great loading times.
- THE UGLY: Hippie hipster ‘singing to the spirits’. My ears hurt just thinking about it!
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