An unwise continuation
When Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller‘s Episode 1: The Hangman was first released it showed the promise of a unique adventure game. I was a fan of the first installment, and was looking forward to where the story was going, and how the characters would develop. In Episode 2: The Wise Monkey, the case heads south as it fails to match the first episode’s standards, while also being a technical mess.
The game is an adult old school point-and-click adventure game. You return to play as Erica Reed, an FBI agent with the ability to tap into psychic powers. Cognition is your traditional detective story that allows the player to piece together clues found at crime scenes to solve cases. In the second episode, the stakes are much higher than before.
Reed’s supernatural ability is the centerpiece of the game. In the bottom lefthand corner of the game’s screen there is a button that will allow you to see objects or potential doors that your human eyes couldn’t have seen. It’s primarily used for puzzles, which are a breeze to complete. However, if you’re confused by a puzzle, an in-game hint system will appear, allowing you progress through the story. Most of your crime solving will be done using Erica’s phone, which stores the clues that you have found. Puzzle solving is not an original concept, I just wish it was fleshed out more.
On the presentation front, Phoenix Online Studios fails to deliver. The calling card that the game identifies itself with is its comic art style. However, the color pallet just didn’t hold up by the time I finished the episode. In-game cutscenes just don’t deliver a proper narrative tone for a detective mystery, and the manner in which they’re presented doesn’t make things better.
The game attempts to have a dialogue tree of sorts, but there is no payoff. Every time you are in a conversation, two to three choices will appear, however you won’t have to sweat your decision. The game forces you to see each conversation option, which made me care less about the story arc. I wish my choices had some weight to them, or conversations were told in a manner that was immersive. During a cutscene none of the characters will move, they just talk. For the most part you will only see a character’s upper torso move if they move, which looks ridiculous.
The voice acting in Cognition is all over the Richter scale. Raleigh Holmes, the voice of Erica Reed has a mellow demeanor that players can follow. However, the surrounding cast is obnoxious to listen to, and takes away from storytelling. Most of the dialogue in the game sounds like it was hammered out at the last minute. What makes the dialogue stand out as awkward is the old school adventure game mechanics that the game supplies. I just don’t think you can tell a convincing story in this format. It disconnects the player from the game, which is never the sign of good design.
Austin Haynes returns to score the series, and he is once again the highlight of the package. His music creates a dark setting that the game is aiming for. He knows how to score what the scenes needs, and supply the dramatic flair if need be.
Cognition Episode 2: The Wise Monkey feels like a misstep. The in-game cutscenes are some of the worst that I have seen in an adventure game. I like the art style, and the music that is behind it, but Cognition isn’t a fun game to play. The potential is still there for this to be great series, but if you were holding off I would continue waiting to see how other episodes develop.
Review copy supplied
Tested on PC