Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller draws to a close with its fourth series entry, The Cain Killer. Everything players have been building toward in previous installments comes to a head in this episode, and I must say, what a satisfying end it delivers. It’s unfortunate, however, that this particular entry doesn’t quite live up to the standard of previous episodes as small glitches and repetitive dialog are in abundance; it’s especially noticeable due to the game’s short runtime. Series fans may be willing to overlook these blatant cons, but others may find them irredeemable.
After the previous episode’s revelations, Erica’s now on a witch hunt to apprehend The Cain Killer. But, oddly enough, the beginning of this episode takes place a few moments before the first installment and introduces a new mechanic called a “Trust Meter.” This meter indicates the trust Erica has with specific characters and determines the options you’re given during certain situations. Many gamers will assuredly compare this to Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead and its use of conversation trees to build relationships with other characters — and they’d be right, as it works in almost the exact same way. It’s a great gameplay addition, especially when you consider that Erica is an FBI agent tasked into coaxing people into her hand during any given circumstances. The only thing about the Trust Meter that disappoints is that it’s introduced in the very last installment. It feels like a mechanic that would have made past experiences even more thrilling and tense if it were around.
Later on, the state of affairs see Erica and Cordelia teaming up once again, but this time side by side. Players are given the ability to switch between each character on the fly, interact with different objects, and open different sets of dialog and interpretations associated with whatever you inquire. Given Erica and Cordelia’s abilities, you now have the capacity to look into the past and future, respectively, which keeps puzzle solving fresh without forcefully adding another sub-ability to Erica’s repertoire. The pairing is a classic “enemies coming together to vanquish a common enemy” set up, but still retains a fun experience while even giving the characters an opportunity to build their relationship beyond such a black and white association — especially with the new mechanic. In fact, other characters like McAdams who is depicted as a two dimensional hard-ass and somewhat enemy of Erica, is able to be seen in a new light with this Trust Meter mechanic. These character developments, from Cordelia, to McAdams, to even Skorobeus are factors that implements the satisfying ending this series delivers.
Unfortunately, glitches and narrative annoyances take away from the experience this time around. Usually, floating guns and small awkward sequences are things somewhat overlooked by reviewers, but they are so major and noticeable in this brief episode that they have to be pointed out directly. There was a moment when I had to close the game entirely to play again. My character would stay in place after attempting to open a car and the command HUD would vanish, rendering me no other options but to close the window of the game entirely. Also, the flashes between the past and the future muddles the narration during the beginning half of the game. Another moment is a particular portion of a puzzle both Erica and Cordelia have to solve together. You rely on Cordelia’s vision of the future to solve a certain puzzle as Erica; while that’s good and dandy, you hear Cordelia’s explanation dialog over and over again.
Another section of that same puzzle proved so difficult that I had to resort to a walkthrough for the first time ever in the series. What’s worse is that once I learned how it was solved, instead of feeling like a knucklehead for not seeing what I was doing wrong, I still really didn’t understand how the clues provided coupled together. It also came across as a time suck that artificially lengthened this short episode. And finally, there’s a bad first person QTE fight sequence that proved to be the most awkward bit of gameplay I’ve come across in the entire series. Everything about it was stiff, and could have been executed a lot more gracefully in addition to looking a bit more aesthetically pleasing.
Now, as brutal as the latter was, I don’t want to shy off people interested in experiencing this series as a whole solely based off this episode review. As the installment closing a series, it does what it needs to do. It ties up loose ends, it pulls off some last minute character developments, and it doesn’t cheat you out of a solid, satisfying conclusion. You’re introduced to another mechanic to keep gameplay fresh the fourth time around, and despite the glitches and annoyances, still deliver some satisfying gameplay moments. Phoenix Online Studio’s ambitious title has soared the skies, plucking heartstrings and delivering thrills while sticking a clean landing at its end.