By Marty Mulrooney
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 2: The Wise Monkey (PC) is the second instalment in the Erica Reed series of episodic point-and-click adventure games created by Phoenix Online Studios. Following on directly from Episode 1 (which Alternative Magazine Online described as “a good old-fashioned adventure game like they used to make”), the game once again puts the player in control of Boston-based FBI agent Erica Reed. In Episode 2 she must face her most dangerous adversary yet – The Wise Monkey, a serial killer whose calling card involves removing the eyes, ears and tongues of her victims.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 2: The Wise Monkey (PC) has a fantastic opening that immediately sets the heart racing – those wishing to avoid spoilers should skip this paragraph entirely. Still reading? After drinking some spiked coffee served by a woman who they think is the new office assistant, Erica collapses and is rendered powerless as she watches her kinda-boyfriend/fellow FBI agent Sully get his ear cut off before being kidnapped from the FBI station. (The player can also skip drinking the coffee, which makes the scene play out in a slightly different manner, albeit with the same end result).
Still reeling from the murder of her former boss Director Davies, Erica is now faced with her greatest challenge yet – she must find Sully fast before she loses him forever, just like she lost her brother to a serial killer three years prior. There is no doubt that the kidnapper is ‘The Wise Monkey’, a serial killer Sully had been investigating who removes the eyes, ears and tongues of her victims. The killer also leaves a silver ‘charm’ at every crime scene. Erica must track the killer down and stop her before it’s too late.
The sudden change in direction with the story from the first game is masterful – it isn’t immediately clear how this latest case ties in with the previous one, but suffice to say the various plot threads overlap in many exciting and unexpected ways. The storytelling is fantastic. You really do get the impression that you’re investigating a case, driving from one location to the next, interviewing people, finding clues and building up evidence. By approaching the previous plot threads sideways rather than head on, the game continually surprises with the directions it takes.
Erica’s post-cognition abilities from the previous game all return, along with a brand new ability called ‘Synergy’. This power allows multiple items in the inventory to be clicked upon at the same time. If you find enough items that were all present during the same event at some point in the past, hidden memories can be unlocked and remembered. Clicking inventory items to make a staticky image come more into focus never gets old and the comic-panel style cutscenes are as gorgeous as ever.
The in-game graphics are vibrant and beautiful despite the dark subject matter, with the detailed backgrounds being of particular note. The animation of the character models can admittedly still look pretty clunky at times, but the overall presentation is rock solid. The music by Austin Haynes sees familiar tunes return alongside fresh tracks, with each song a winner. In fact, the entire soundtrack is incredible and brings the whole game to life, with the voice acting also of a high standard.
Some characters do sound better than others, but it’s Raleigh Holmes as Erica Reed who once again steals the show with her authentic Bostonian twang. She’s kicking ass and taking names throughout. It isn’t easy to create a memorable video game character – especially within the adventure genre – but Erica Reed is exactly that. The team at Phoenix Online Studios has created a multi-layered protagonist that expresses genuine emotion and will evoke the same from players, with Katie Hallahan in particular deserving praise for her directing debut.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 2: The Wise Monkey builds upon the success of the first episode to deliver a masterfully woven point-and-click adventure thriller. The plot thickens and the body count continues to rise as Erica Reed hits the streets (and the streets hit back) trying to make sense of it all. Strong puzzles are complimented by a clever hint system where the player can ‘text’ Erica’s dad from her cell phone if they get stuck and the entire experience screams quality like an alleyway murder victim. The cliffhanger ending is just as much of a killer as ‘The Wise Monkey’ – Episode 3: The Oracle is now poised to be blisteringly good.
9 OUT OF 10
GAME PREVIEW – Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 1: The Hangman (PC)
GAME REVIEW – Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 1: The Hangman (PC)
INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Raleigh Holmes (Erica Reed, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller)
INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Cesar Bittar (Phoenix Online Studios, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller)
INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Jane Jensen (Pinkerton Road Studio)
GAME REVIEW – Gray Matter (PC)
INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Katie Hallahan and Cesar Bittar (Phoenix Online Studios)