Here we are for the second installment of Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. After playing the first installment, I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on this one. I was incredibly interested to see what was going to happen with the story and to see how things were going to progress for our poor beleaguered protagonist and what I saw and experienced was both relieving and disappointing.
Once again we have the same great cinematic approach to the game, though it actually didn't come across quite as strongly in this one. Wise Monkey seemed more direct and to the point than The Hangman. A few less cinemas, but more getting the player to work on the mystery, trying to piece together the puzzle. Considering that the game starts with someone close to Erica getting kidnapped, it makes perfect sense within the game itself. There's no time for self discovery, beyond the necessary tutorial for a new ability. The clock is ticking and Erica has to help her loved one before it's too late. Because of this, you really don't feel as if you have time to simply sit around. You've got to move around the city, picking up clues and finding the next step to take, quickly. There were some moments in the game where I found myself starring at the screen, trying to figure out what to do next, but I always felt guilty doing it. Time wasn't a luxury here.
We've got the same bad lip syncing as the first, but the voice acting sees a bit of an improvement with the secondary characters introduced. We've got a lot less of Momma Rose and more of some new folks who aren't quite as bad. Erica still steals the show with her intensity and genuine care for the role. However, there was one major point of contention with the game's animation that I can't quite forgive them for. During a fairly dramatic scene, Erica lifts up her fist, turns her head to the side to close her eyes and....shakes her fist in the goofiest manner imaginable. She does it multiple times. I can forgive some bad animation when I know that a games budget wasn't in the huge figures that a lot of major studio releases see these days. But I can't forgive a silly animation like that. I started cracking up in the middle of a scene that was supposed to be gripping my attention. Now, if I ever see someone make the motion in real life while shouting that they "want the truth, dammit!", I'll bite my tongue. Barring that ever happening, it was a really bad animation choice on top of clunky game animations to start off with.
There's also an interesting new addition to Erica's powers in this game that I thought was really cool. When she picks up items in her inventory, she can use her abilities to get a memory from them. They say every item tells a story; in this game they really do. When looking at the right objects in her inventory, she can concentrate to get a static image from them. Sometimes that image reveals itself to be a memory held by the item. I found it quite fun to combine the different items to try to make the image clearer and reveal the clues she needed to help her. Interestingly enough, at least one of the powers introduced in the first game was only really used once. I'm curious to see if any of the later installments require the player to swap back and forth between all of her cognitive powers more consistently, which could make for an interesting puzzle solving experience.
But before we get to the third and fourth installment, we have to make our way through this one, which was very enjoyable until the end. I was able to progress fully through the game without any sort of difficulty until I got to the very last few puzzles. One of the puzzles required a lot of back and forth over the screen and the use of a power within a power that I didn't quite pick up on at first. It made the puzzle a little frustrating. The prize for frustrating puzzle though, goes to the first part of the final puzzle. It's game show time, kids! And if you don't look at a piece of background in a room, you won't have the answers you need to complete it and someone dies. That's right, a piece of background. Now, in the first game I spent a lot of time taking notes and writing things down in case they were needed. I didn't, so I was a lot more lax in the second, figuring that all of the information I needed would be at my fingertips. When I got to the final puzzle, I was asked questions about things in the game that I never remembered being brought up. Then it dawned on me: I saw the answers on a piece of background at one of the locations. Erica makes a mention about it, but I thought it was more of an offhanded comment than something I would need to remember later on. I had to go look up the answers in order to progress and get to the second part of the final puzzle. That royally pissed me off. If I'd neglected to look at the background at all, I would have no clue where to get the information from and I'd be stuck at that last puzzle, or stuck replaying the game to try to get the answers.
The story was still incredibly engaging and very interesting and I've got to say that it's the strong point in this game series. It's what makes me want to keep coming back for more. However, I got a little frustrated with the story in this installment. Yes, we've still got a great murder mystery on our hands. But we still have the first murder mystery. And now this one is tied in. And now this clue suggests something else. And so on and so forth. After playing this installment, I felt like I had just finished watching the second season of Lost. For those of you who never watched it, the first two seasons of Lost introduce one mystery after another without bothering to give any real explanations for any of them. They expected you to keep going in order to eventually find out the answers. And that's what Cognition is doing here. It's great that they've got this mind boggling immersive mystery they're building up to. But I was hoping for a little explanation or two to satiate my curiosity. Instead I got a game with a twist inside of a twist inside of another twist. And I'm not sure if I want to be angry at them for not giving me any definitive information or if I want to applaud them for growing the mystery further.
The Wise Monkey is a really great game and a really great follow up the The Hangman. I could have hoped for some more story reveals and for the final puzzle to be a lot less frustrating than it was, but I managed to get through. We've still got the same animation issues, but the rest of the game still manages to shine it's way through. I'm really not sure when the next installment is due out, but you'd better believe I'll be right there, hoping for at least some of the mystery to be cleared up and waiting to see where they take the rest of the story they've been buildling.