Cognition: An Erica Reed Story Episode 2: The Wise Monkey, the second in Phoenix Online Studios new adventure game series, improves upon the previous episode in nearly every way. Erica’s new case and the related mysteries make this go around extremely personal for our Psion detective. With a new psychic ability in Erica’s arsenal and great storytelling, the $9.99 The Wise Monkey is one to pick up.
Erica’s superior — a new character named Samuel McAdams — investigates after the last case’s revelation/shootout/murder trifecta and acts as the new director of the Boston field office. And just like any job, nobody quite enjoys the presence of a superior. Phoenix Online Studios exceptionally reflects that feeling, too. Whenever you speak to McAdams — or anytime he enters a scene — a sense of dread falls upon the scene. He’s the perfect blend of hard-ass and intimidating, and that really makes you feel the pain of every detective in the building who has to deal with him — Erica, especially.
A horrible incident befalls Erica’s love interest in the game, fellow detective Sully, a few hours after McAdams’ arrival. He gets kidnapped directly from the main floor department, so Erica takes over his case — The Wise Monkey — to find out how his kidnapping is involved. Phoenix Online Studios, this time around, improves characters’ relationships and makes potential suspects more sinister. New characters like McAdams may still suffer from being completely one-dimensional, but they come across much more human than as scripted, formulaic and oversimplified as the characters in Episode 1. Some suspects come off as complete scum before you discover if they’re truly guilty of the crime, which makes you emotionally invested as the player and gives you more initiative to want to nail the individual to the ground. However, there are moments where you may surmise a matter and be completely wrong unlike the first episode where characters’ motivations and intentions were so obvious that you could predict the ending within the second hour of the game.
Erica gains a new psychic ability, Synergy, that allows her to look back at past events as long as you have an item that’s directly tied to the happening. There are charms left at the crime scenes in this episode that you can use to see the moments in which the incident occurs. Synergy is well implemented into both the narrative and gameplay, unlike last episode’s psychic abilities that were forced into mysteries for the sake of keeping the player busy.
As matters are so personal for Erica, it leaves her a bit vulnerable in some moments. Her voice actress, Raleigh Holmes, nails Erica’s emotional range. There’s a very intense, anxiety-driven scene between Erica and her father that carries realistic weight as the heroine devolves from a driven psychic detective to a woman in need of her father’s calming words.
The game isn’t without issues, however. There are many decision-making moments that affect the game’s outcome, but they aren’t always handled in a way that provides a thrilling narrative. For example, if you make a particular decision, a few minutes later a cut scene appears that shows the suspect kidnapping Sully. If you don’t make that decision, however, you simply hear a crash and Erica rushes to the area. The result, however, is still the same; Erica somehow knows the kidnapper’s appearance.
There are a few glitches during playthrough, but they do not affect the great story that The Wise Monkey narrates. There are a few moments of Erica standing/sitting awkwardly, or objects not moving accordingly, but this only happens during short interaction animations and do not affect the general point-and-click gameplay. The Wise Monkey is also quite short, clocking in at around three hours. Perhaps if there were one more mystery, the play through wouldn’t have felt as rushed. It’s the illusion of choice.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Episode 2: The Wise Monkey is a great follow-up to the opening episode and is easily the better of the two release thus far. I implore anyone to pick this episode up if you were on the fence. Cognition is developing into an excellent adventure game series.