Fresh off the heels of Episode One, Cognition Episode Two: The Wise Monkey is now available for download. For those unfamiliar with the series, Cognition is an episodic point-and-click adventure game from Phoenix Online Studios. It follows the protagonist, FBI agent Erica Reed, as she uses her psychic abilities to solve gruesome murder cases while secretly investigating the cold case involving her brother’s murder. Unlike many stalwarts of the genre, Cognition takes a more somber approach to storytelling, and that tradition is carried on in Episode Two: The Wise Monkey.
Not much has changed in terms of gameplay between Episode One and Episode Two . Control-wise, it’s a fairly orthodox point-and-click adventure that requires a whole lot of pointing and clicking. Erica Reed’s post-cognitive abilities also add a fresh dynamic to the standard point-and-click model. Certain objects throughout the game must be investigated using Reed’s special ability and this presents a unique challenge to some of the puzzles. Episode Two also introduces a new psychic power called Synergy. This enables Erica to use her post-cognitive vision on her inventory items. An entertaining new addition to the series, Synergy allows Erica to collect information on the items’ previous owners.
The game offers a healthy amount of puzzles to keep the player busy. Most of the puzzles in the game are fairly straightforward and the difficulty of the harder brain-teasers is somewhat balanced by the in-game hint system. However, the series of puzzles at the game’s climax is notably frustrating. Without getting into the details, it somewhat harkens back to the days of the hair-pullingly difficult, nonsense puzzles that were commonplace in the early days of adventure gaming.
The Wise Monkey opens with a dramatic cut scene that catches the player up on the events of episode one. It serves as a good refresher for those who haven’t played lately, but may not be enough to get a newcomer entirely caught up. At the start of the game, Agent Sully, a friend and colleague of Erica’s, is brazenly abducted from the FBI headquarters. Sully was in the midst of an investigation into the brutal slaying and dismemberment of several music students and teachers from Berklee College. Erica takes over the case, dubbed The Wise Monkey, while continuing her hunt for the Cain Killer, her brother’s murderer.
Episode Two is every bit as exciting and suspenseful as Episode One. The story draws the player even deeper into Erica Reed’s dark, gritty world. Like its predecessor, Episode Two does suffer the same pitfalls of cheesy dialogue and clichéd cop drama moments.
Just as with Episode One, Episode Two’s graphics are hit or miss. The cut scenes and backgrounds are wonderfully rendered pieces of art that helps to draw the player into the game world. The character design and animation, however, suffer from awkward facial expressions and stiff, unrealistic bodily movements. While certainly noticeable and almost humorous at times, it’s not enough to detract from an otherwise good game.
Music continues to be a strong point of the series as it truly adds to the drama of the narrative. The game’s soundtrack manages to turn animated comic book art sequences into a cinematic experience. The voice cast is also on top of their game for Episode Two. Rounded out with quality sound design, the developers clearly pay attention to what can be easily overlooked details.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, Episode Two, The Wise Monkey is every bit as clever and well put together as Episode One. Yes, there are some flaws, but they are easily overshadowed by the quality of storytelling and overall entertainment value. It’s a must-have for anyone who played through and enjoyed Episode One. The series continues to head in the right direction and hopefully continues progress down that path.
Note: A copy of the game was provided to Gaming Illustrated by the developer for the purpose of this review.