By Marty Mulrooney
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 4: The Cain Killer (PC) is the final instalment in the Erica Reed series of episodic point-and-click adventure games created by Phoenix Online Studios. Following on directly from Episode 3 (which Alternative Magazine Online described as “a potent murder mystery where questions continue to arise”), players once again take control of Boston-based FBI agent Erica Reed. Only this time, she is operating outside the law to finally bring the Cain Killer to justice…
Cognition Episode 4 is the shortest episode of the series and the most ‘on-rails’, but it’s also the most tightly focused and dramatic. The episode opens a few years prior to the events of the series so far, showing Erica on a police operation with her partner John. Erica must impersonate a potential buyer to a criminal who has been supplying shipments to a serial killer known as the ‘Cain Killer’. Although the fact that you can die so easily during these opening moments (pressing retry again and again) can frustrate, it’s great to control Erica one final time as an FBI agent. In the present, her badge and gun are turned in to FBI Director McAdams and she has to continue to investigate without the full power of the law behind her.
In another section of the game that takes place a few years prior to current events the player is given control of Cordelia, who has cognitive powers similar to Erica (they’re both ‘Psions’) and is the sister of the Cain Killer – it was also revealed in the previous episode that she had been lying to Erica all along and was actually working with her brother. Yet here, the goal is to stop him, visiting the family lake house and setting up a careful trap to disarm him. Cordelia is another wonderful multi-layered character, much like Erica. She obviously blames the police for not helping her after she was plagued with troubling visions of the future and was forced to kill someone she dearly loved, but there is so much more to her than just an avenging angel.
A new gameplay mechanic in Episode 4 is the use of a ‘trust meter’ that shows how a character feels towards Erica at any given moment. Although this lacks the depth of the relationship system used in The Walking Dead series by Telltale Games, it works well in the context of the situations where it does crop up and if there is a second series of Cognition, I very much hope it returns in a far greater capacity – there is so much potential here. Elsewhere, the puzzles are much the same as in previous episodes, offering a mixture of intuitive traditional point-and-clicking and inventory puzzles, alongside brain-teasers that utilise Erica’s cognition powers. At one point Erica uses her ‘Regression’ power on antique shop owner Rose and the results are both enlightening and heart-breaking.
It’s the strength of the characters that always helps Cognition to rise above any issues caused by budgetary constraints, stiff animations or momentary lapses in logic. After four episodes, we’re still learning new things all the time about the diverse cast of characters and it really helps them to come alive – you’ll truly care about what happens next. The voice acting is great as always and helps to smooth over any graphical cracks – in particular, Raleigh Holmes as Erica Reed does the impossible and raises her performance yet another notch. When she pins a suspect against an interrogation room wall and snarls right in their face, you’ll believe it – this performance is the glue that holds the entire experience together and makes Erica Reed a truly memorable adventure game hero alongside some of the true greats of the genre.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 4: The Cain Killer (PC) is a pleasing – albeit brief – denouement to a very special indie adventure game series from Phoenix Online Studios. It isn’t the most technologically accomplished adventure game of recent memory, nor does it have the best puzzles. Yet the writing is consistently strong and the voice acting, along with the highly memorable score by Austin Haynes, brings the entire experience to life. The story has taken many twists and turns along the way and Episode 4 ends on a note that is both fitting and right. Launching the same week as Grand Theft Auto V hasn’t hurt Cognition Episode 4 one iota. Adventure game fans won’t want to miss out on this series. Show your support by playing now and let’s keep our fingers tightly crossed for more Cognition adventures with Erica Reed in the future!
8.5 OUT OF 10
GAME REVIEW – Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 1: The Hangman (PC)
GAME REVIEW – Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 2: The Wise Monkey (PC)
GAME REVIEW – Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 3: The Oracle (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 Katie Hallahan (Phoenix Online Studios, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller)
INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Jane Jensen (Pinkerton Road Studio)
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INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Katie Hallahan and Cesar Bittar (Phoenix Online Studios)