Published on January 30th, 2013 | by James Kulas
Cognition: Episode Two – The Wise Monkey
My first encounter with Cognition seems but a fleeting moment away. In your version of reality, it’s been more than a month since I grappled with a combination of joyful enthusiasm and spleen-venting frustration. And so, I return once more to pass judgement, and discover if the second instalment can unearth the rich vein of potential beneath.
We rejoin agent Erica Reed immediately after The Hangman’s desperate finale, director Davies is barely cold and her killer still at large. Here’s a brief recap to get you up to speed:
Our feet have barely touched the ground when we’re plunged once more into a world of cryptic clues and crime scene investigation. Erica’s love interest “Sully” has been abducted from right under her nose, and she’ll be damned if she’s going to lose another peripheral character.
Initially, the crippling load times that plagued the previous instalment appear greatly reduced, and I slip comfortably back into my sleuthing shoes. Perhaps my contentment came from knowing what to expect this time around, but my satisfaction was not to last.
After a brief respite, my loading related nemesis makes its entrance with a swift kick to the teeth, quickly eroding my previous optimism. Unfortunately the issue only worsens as I progress, reaching an agonising minute-long crescendo of frustration in the final room. During one such incidence I’d wandered away to make tea, returning to find I’d failed a timed section. “I need to act faster!”, Erica barked. My thoughts exactly.
Such a fundamental flaw makes most interactions tiresome, and retreading ground is almost painful. Compounding the issue hefty chunks of dialogue and cutaways, while well executed, are entirely unskippable. Unless you have an impeccable memory (I most certainly do not) or take copious notes, you’ll need to revisit case files and clues frequently. So determined was Cognition to dissuade me from my cause, that by the end all that stood between me and resignation was my defiance. Every plot-twist revelation, and puzzle-solving epiphany is counterbalanced by a concerted effort to drive the player away.
Raleigh Holmes turns in an increasingly assured performance this time around, further widening the gulf between Erica and every other character. Rose only has to introduce one new ‘cognition’ ability, and is considerably less rage-inducing as a result. Likewise partner John stays behind his desk, as far from a microphone as possible. In their absence the new additions are mostly equally strangle-worthy, new-age hippy stereotype Melissa in particular would certainly make my “top ten most likely to smother with a pillow”.
Visually, it’s once again a double edged sword. Beautifully painted scenes uneasily accommodate awkward 3D models, and animations lack subtlety even when not performing ghastly contortions. It begs the question why Phoenix Online opted for a mixture of styles, rather than playing to their obvious illustrative strengths.
While puzzles are generally logical, there are a few items which decide when you can acquire them seemingly at random. Somewhere in my travels I’d trigger the “pick up” option on something in a totally different area, but since I’d already checked everything I didn’t think to revisit them. Likewise the parameters of my ‘cognition’ abilities seem to be arbitrarily modified for each situation. A highlight from the first chapter was interacting with memories to modify details and piece together timelines, this time the same ability is limited to basic observation. Having anticipated more complex and intelligent puzzles as the story progressed, it’s deflating to see the opposite.
Cognition delivers some interesting and unique ideas accented by an atmospheric score, which makes the lack of polish all the more disappointing. I hoped the issues highlighted in my last review would at least be conservatively addressed here, instead each shortcoming appears magnified by comparison. From the inconsistent 3D and voice-over work to the unreasonably lengthy loading times the game just gives the player too many excuses not to persevere.
‘Cognition: Episode 2 – The Wise Monkey’ is available from January 30th via Phoenix Online Studios for $9.99