Cognition: Episode 1 was a game so confusing that I couldn’t tell if I liked or hated it. It fluctuated between moments of brilliance and remarkable terribleness on a minute to minute basis, like two different teams took turns developing parts of the game and the second team was staffed only by concussed chimpanzees. Luckily, Cognition: Episode 2 resolves these issues by dedicating all of its efforts towards being terrible. Like the first game, it is an intense crime drama combined with point-and-click adventure game mechanics and puzzles, something which on the surface sounds excellent. Unfortunately, the iPad version of the game is hampered by technical issues and fundamental flaws so severe that this just isn’t worth playing.
The game starts off with a bang, and within the first five minutes an individual in the FBI is kidnapped and has their ear cut off literally in the middle of Boston’s FBI headquarters. To make matters worse, this kidnapper is a serial killer known as the Wise Monkey who mutilates their victims by removing the eyes, tongue, and ears. You chase after the kidnapper, only to find a vehicle barreling straight towards you, shown in the style of a comic book style cutscene. After the cutscene, Erica raises her gun and is promptly ran over and splattered across the pavement. The game booted me right back to the same location, and this time once she raised her gun I tried clicking on the car once it appeared to get her to shoot at it. This somehow exploded her brain and she just stood there as the car ran her over again. By the third time she was just mocking me and when I tried to click on someplace off to the side to get her to move the half a foot it would take to get her out of harm’s way, she took to admiring a spot on the pavement that the car soon made her intimately familiar with. It was at this point I turned the game off and tried to fashion some sort of catapult small enough to fit in my backyard but large enough to jettison the iPad into the neighboring town.
Eventually, I came back to the game and through much guesswork found out that what I was supposed to do was shoot at the car in the animated cutscene, which is something that isn’t hinted at as even being possible and occurs BEFORE Erica pulls her gun out. Erica misses the driver, but shooting in that direction at least causes the driver to veer slightly and keeps Erica alive. Before you can find a vehicle to commandeer to give chase, you hear weird muffled noises coming out of the locked trunk of a nearby car. Luckily, she happens to have a lockpick in her inventory that I never even picked up, because sometimes puzzles are better when they just solve themselves.
I tried to use the lockpick on the the locked trunk, and Erica tells me that those two things don’t go together. YES THEY DO ERICA. They are literally meant to go together. You have a lock and an de-locking tool, and you somehow can’t see the connection between the two. The actual solution to this puzzle is to use a tire iron you find in the trunk of your car to open the locked trunk. Take a look at a trunk. Now look at a tire iron. Try to figure out any way you could use a tire iron to open a trunk. Erica apparently knows some secret where you wave a tire iron a couple of inches away from a locked trunk and the thing pops open out of fear, because that is what happens. Then the trunk opens and you see…nothing. Well, I saw nothing anyway. This was when the game crashed on me for the first time so I had to do everything over again. This is an amazing amount of fail to pack into the first five minutes of a game. Things did get slightly better from this point, but honestly the iPad could have exploded at this point and things would have gotten better.
The plot is for the most part fairly dull, as the game seems content with having Erica meander around calling friends and checking out things not at all related to the Wise Monkey as the killer removes some of my favorite parts of the human face from one of Erica’s friends. The biggest issue with the story is that there is absolutely no sense of urgency to anything. An FBI agent has his ear cut off right in the middle of FBI headquarters by a suspected serial killer and they think the best course of action is to send out only one agent out to check things out, who happens to have literally been the agent on a case not two days before this one where someone kidnapped an FBI agent and killed her before Erica can get there. This is somehow less than the least they could do. In the office, there are three characters that are literally sitting around for THE ENTIRE GAME doing absolutely nothing, including your “partner” who sits at his desk and offers words of encouragement. He has all the skills of a fortune cookie but is less useful in solving a murder because at least you can eat a fortune cookie for nourishment. It feels like I’m solving a case of a serial jaywalker instead of a serial murderer and if it wasn’t for a last minute surge of intrigue near the end of the game the story would have been entirely forgettable.
The puzzles also are not as interesting as the were in the first game and the variety, quality, and quantity are all noticeably worse. Erica still has those poorly defined cognition powers that basically let her do whatever magic thing she needs to do to advance the plot. Last time around this lead to some fairly clever puzzles, like organizing things around a room to trigger a memory or diving into someone’s mind to manipulate fragmented memories to match actual events, something that was both unique and clever. This time around they opted to go another route, because good puzzle design is hard. The new power involve unlocking new memories by linking items together in your inventory. Essentially, this is just a slightly more complicated use object on other object option, and the items that can be linked are highlighted meaning the whole thing is even easier than it initially sounds. All of the cognition puzzles this time around are absolutely brainless, which is disappointing considering how interesting they were last time around.
There are other puzzles, but none of them are particularly noteworthy in any way. They are essentially standard point-and-click adventure game puzzles and most of them are no more complex than using a screwdriver on screws. Like the story, there is a last minute flurry and the final set of puzzles in the game are halfway decent and amazingly gross, a combination that I’m always a fan of. Essentially, if the entire game was just the last ten minutes of gameplay, I would have liked it significantly more, as that is when all the interesting stuff actually happens. It doesn’t help either that the whole game isn’t more than a couple of hours long, meaning you’ll breeze through the entire thing in an afternoon with enough time left over for a solid nap.
To top it all off, the game is a hot mess to look at and the presentation is just embarrassing. With a little more work, the visuals might have actually been fairly impressive, but it looks like they stopped before they got to the final texturing steps so a lot of the faces end up with this weird glossy look like someone rubbed their faces with chicken grease. There is this hilarious gesture done whenever Erica wants to show frustration where she shakes her fist, but the whole thing is so awkwardly animated that it made me laugh out loud each time. In the middle of a sentence, her character will freeze up, suddenly jettison her first up and angrily glare at it while she shakes it back and forth. All of the animation looks a bit off, giving the game this weird unfinished feel. The voice acting is laugh-out-loud bad at times and most of the voice actors seem to have taken lessons at the William Shatner School of Acting. The game’s collision detection is remarkably bad, and I had Erica walking through walls, dumpsters, and sofas into some nether realm beyond the game, possibly in the bizzaro world where tire irons can be used to open trunks.
Cognition: Episode 2 fails to live up to the standards of Episode 1, which wasn’t exactly a lofty bar to aim for in the first place. The game seems content to meander around for most of its duration, giving us a handful of dull puzzles and a plot that lacks any sort of acceptable pacing and hoping that the solid last ten minutes is enough to save it. The Wise Monkey is a bad combination of weak puzzles, poor storytelling, and an awful presentation that leaves it hard to recommend to even die hard fans of the point-and-click adventure genre. There are flashes of promise, like in the first game, but ultimately it fails to amount to anything noteworthy.
Version Reviewed: iPad