Review: Cognition: Episode 4 is a satisfying finale that’s over too soon
Phoenix Online Studios’ episodic adventure game Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller has improved with every new release. The headstrong FBI agent’s powers have grown, and the mystery has turned more gruesome.
The last episode clued us in to the real killer and his accomplice and put us in the shoes of the melancholy Cordelia, a psion who can see the future and shares a psychic link with Erica.
Now episode four, The Cain Killer (out today on Steam, GOG, CognitionGame.com, and more), focuses on how the two women can use their abilities together. It also tests players’ conversational skills through dialogue options that either raise or lower a character’s trust and goodwill, making them more likely to align themselves with Erica or turn against her. In the latter instances, bad negotiations can lead to literal dead ends: the death of Erica or someone she’s trying to protect.
I liked both new dynamics. The emphasis on conversation made each scenario feel important and heightened the overall tension. This is, after all, the final chapter. It should feel like life or death.
Unlike episode three, which tasked players with controlling Erica and Cordelia separately in the present and past, respectively, The Cain Killer puts both in the same room. This forces players to mentally tease out how their powers can fuse and overlap to reveal new discoveries and enable Erica to outsmart the killer, who’s been one step ahead from the beginning. The mechanic is confusing and hard to grasp at first, but players should adapt quickly enough.
The story is well-paced, moving from one scene to another without lingering too long. It feels right and makes use of Erica’s different powers: regression, where she delves into someone’s mind to help them recall an important event; synergy and projection, where combining objects reveals a common memory; and simple cognition, or scanning an object or person to see traces of activity. I especially like that we finally learn more about Rose, who has been Erica’s psionic guide since episode one.
Where the game suffers is length. It’s incredibly short at three hours — about half a normal episode. Succeeding or failing to build relationships through dialogue affords some measure of replayability (you can save or lose a key character at the end, for example), but it might only unlock a brief extra scene.
I also found one encounter near the end — where you choose where on a particular character’s body to attack (in a multistep sequence) — awkward and annoying. It felt out of place among the rest of the puzzles. On that same note, a kiss comes out of nowhere, too, and the more I reflect on it, the more I’m convinced of its empty shock value.
The Cain Killer isn’t a major step down in the series’ incrementally positive climb, but it’s not a step up, either. While the ending is bittersweet but enjoyable, the episode is over too quickly, serving as a reminder of how much more intense and involved the conclusion could have been. The incredible, dramatic, sickening three episodes that came before are proof of that.