Special Agent Erica Reed is back with another case to crack…and this time it’s personal. Episode 2: The Wise Monkey continues Erica’s story with a mystery that tests her investigative skills and her mental strength.
If you haven’t played Episode 1, you should really do so before you even read this review. Go on, play the game, or at least check out the review for The Hangman, then we’ll talk.
Right, if you have played the first episode, I’m happy to say that the second is every bit as captivating. When we last met Erica, she was working on the case of a hanged man, while also trying to track down her brother’s killer and deal with her increasingly distracting supernatural powers. Erica’s new case, dubbed The Wise Monkey, is originally assigned to her friend and colleague Agent Sully, and features the gruesome murder and dismemberment of some music students and teachers from the Berklee College. But early on, Sully is abducted right from the FBI headquarters, and the culprit leaves behind a human ear as a souvenir.
Following Sully’s disappearance, Erica takes over the case while she continues secretly investigating the mystery of the Cain Killer, who took her own brother’s life years ago, as well as a murder left unsolved at the end of the first episode. In short, Erica has her hands full with cases that reach deep into her personal life.
Once again, though, Erica has her supernatural powers to fall back on when she needs a little extra push in the right direction. In episode one, Erica struggled to learn to control her powers of Cognition, which gave her the ability to see into the past and into people’s memories. The second episode makes it clear that she is starting to come to terms with her powers and beginning to learn how to control them better. While she’s made progress, though, she is still shaken by a recurring vision that plays when she’s stressed like a bad dream.
Expand your mind
Erica’s special powers are leaned on heavily for the puzzles, so you’ll be using some of her old tricks to make sense of clues and uncover new information. Her arsenal of abilities has also expanded since the last episode. Erica’s mentor and psychic expert Rose will walk you through how to use some new Cognition methods, like using the items in your inventory to uncover an image of the past. The game manages to avoid straying too far into crazy territory, though, as even after finding out details in a supernatural manner you’re still required to gather some physical evidence to convince others of your knowledge. This means that while you might know that a certain Dean is guilty of writing an incriminating letter, you still need to find more compelling evidence against him than “the visions in my head told me so.”
Unfortunately, in part due to the fine line between reality and the supernatural, some of the puzzles in Episode 2 are not as strong as in Episode 1. The opening puts the game into motion beautifully with some thought-provoking puzzles, but certain later parts can grow sluggish. While the first game pulled you along through the plot with many “Aha!” moments, this one suffers from the kinds of puzzles that seem to be in place solely to slow down your progress. Obvious options open to you only after you’ve done certain actions, while others remain elusive as you try to figure out what Erica is missing, even after you know what to do yourself.
One puzzle, for instance, consists of finding an excuse to touch a girl so you can use your power to find something she misplaced. It’s not a particularly challenging puzzle, but it feels like an unnecessary extra step. Cognition’s determination not to sacrifice reality is admirable, but it results in a few sub-par moments that were not present in the first episode.
Luckily, only some portions are like this. Mostly the game progresses smoothly thanks to the strong story and an even stronger cast of characters. The case of the Wise Monkey creates a more prominent emotional connection than The Hangman did, by introducing you to the suspect and victims soon in the game. The current victim is a character you know well, and with parts of him continually turning up for Erica to find, the sense of urgency is heightened. The first game was just a normal investigation – this time it’s personal.
There are plenty of familiar faces, as well as some new personalities to love – and hate. Erica’s new supervisor MacAdams, for instance, is an angry, mean man who acts like he hates her for no good reason. Rose provides shelter from the storm, and things feel calmer from just stepping into her antique shop and hearing her kind voice.
Most of all, in an industry lacking good female protagonists, Erica Reed herself is a ray of hope. Her character is well-developed, relatable, and above all, realistic. She is strong enough to face danger and her own fears, but she is also human – when she finds another of Sully’s body parts, she momentarily loses her cool. Over the two episodes, Erica has shown her strengths and flaws, and grown as a person. She is a large part of why Cognition is such an enjoyable series.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 2, by Reverb Games and Phoenix Online Studios, is available now for PC (reviewed) and Mac.