More realistic puzzles
A new psychic ability
Bad voice acting
The extreme gore might upset some stomachs
Final score: 8 / 10
Controller support: No
OS: Windows XP/Vista/7/8
Processor: Minimum 2.0 GHz
Memory: Minimum 2 GB RAM
Video Card: ATI or NVidia with a minimum of 512 MB RAM
Hard disk: 2.5 GB free space
Phoenix Online Studio announced the launch of the second installment in the Erica Reed adventure series and I must admit that I’ve been looking forward to it.
The first episode was initiatory, a tutorial-like game where you got to meet all the characters, familiarize yourself with the gameplay, learn about what it is like to be a psion and use the special abilities that come with the title.
Cognition Episode 2: The Wise Monkey brings significant changes to the table. The game lives up to its crime/horror adventure puzzle genre by introducing a new wave of serial murders accompanied by all the blood and gore you'd ever want to see.
The game picks up right where the first one left off and it starts really fast and really scary. The main character is still Erica Reed, an FBI agent scarred by the death of her brother.
After not being able to save her sibling from the Hangman murderer, Erica also witnesses the death of her boss. The emotional scars pile up and when her colleague lover is also kidnapped by a serial killer, Erica must do her best to make sure that things don't take a wrong turn again.
... and talk to key witnesses
After the kidnapping, you put the cut-off ear and the small bracelet charm together and realize that the criminal is actually the main suspect in a case your colleague was working on: the case of the Wise Monkey killer. You must thoroughly examine the evidence and start investigating before it's too late.
The story is one of the game's most valued assets, as it encourages the players to progress and to actually finish the game. Being an episodic title, the story is much more important because it has to flow from chapter to chapter keeping old elements and adding new exciting ones.
The game starts with a short cinematic reminiscence scene from the last episode and its tragic ending. With no warning at all, you are tossed into the middle of the action with a new case, a new killer and lots of blood.
The flow of the game has improved considerably; puzzles are not "impossible" anymore and solving them does not include boring tasks like giving three kinds of treats to a homeless guy, having to enter and exit the interrogation room every time.
Solving a puzzle now feels natural, like you're a part of the story. Due to this decreased difficulty, this episode takes somewhere between three to five hours to finish.
Being a psion means Erica Reed has special abilities. Our review for the previous episode covered most of them: Cognition, Projection and Regression. This episode brings a new special skill that will help her solve the murder case with ease: Synergy.
This new feature allows you to combine two or more inventory items and then see the last time they were together. It will really come in handy through this episode.
Find the Wise Monkey's lair ...
... and save the FBI agent in time
While in the last episode, these abilities were quite a drag and using them meant wasting a lot of time, The Wise Monkey brings an obvious change. Mental powers are now integrated in the game story so well that using them feels almost like second nature.
Talking to a character is easier and more rewarding. Almost every conversation ends up with a clue and requires you to investigate a new scene. This continuity, almost inexistent in the first episode, makes the game more thrilling and a lot more addictive.
The finale is one that might consecrate the series. Just like in the Hangman episode, Erica is faced with a puzzle (a quite difficult one that makes good use of psychic abilities) that determines the fate of the victim. The ending also allows you a sneak peek into what can be expected next.
Video and Audio
The visuals, just like in the previous episode, are stunning. Although you might be familiar with most of the scenes (the FBI Headquarters, the Morgue, the Post Office), the game also introduces new locations, mostly apartments with boring layouts.
The Wise Monkey's lair is a treat filled with all the right things to bring out the detective in you: horror sketches, jars filled with human body parts and evidence of a stalker.
The hand-painted backgrounds again look fantastic, but the character animations still have that un-natural and awkward feel.
The music created by Austin Hayne is enjoyable, not at all annoying, blending with the dark setting of the game, but nothing to write home about.
On the other hand, the voices of the characters are a definite disappointment. Besides sounding very uncanny, they are inconsistent with the characters. For example, the voice of the young female hippie feels like she's a vegetarian blonde cheerleader that has just found out that chicken is actually meat.
The Erica Reed thriller is definitely more mature and a lot more user-friendly, which makes it more enjoyable and more open to a larger audience. The puzzles are quite challenging, the gameplay is very enjoyable and even if the characters suffer from bad voice acting, the game is a successful point and click adventure.
The second episode of Cognition is an obvious improvement/evolution and if the guys over at Phoenix Online Studio keep up the good work, this could turn out to be an amazing series.