The Wise Monkey managed to do what I had previously thought impossible by piquing my interest enough that I’m actually looking forward to the next episode, albeit in a cautiously optimistic sort of way. Although the first installment was largely dead on arrival, it pulled out an impactful ending that provided the game with something resembling a pulse. Hot on the heels of the jarring tragedy at the conclusion of The Hangman, episode two thankfully wastes little time on long-winded overtures or tiresome foreshadowing and things get interesting in a hurry with a startling infringement on the presumed sanctuary of FBI headquarters.
The stakes feel higher this time around, the circumstances surrounding the new case are significantly more vicious and admittedly intriguing than before. A serial killer whose MO is removing the eyes, ears and tongue of her victims while leaving various silver charms shaped like musical instruments with their corpses makes for a creepy and compelling backdrop. The casework is a good deal more engaging and I found myself pressing on this time out of genuine interest in learning more about the killers’ identity rather than my obligation to both editor and journalistic deadline. While puzzles are still not consistently appealing in their execution as I’d like, they’re done in a way that rewards logical thinking with success more often than before.
Unfortunately there hasn’t been any sign of improvement in the way of animation or voice acting, nor does it seem we’ll be seeing such changes for the series’ duration. It’s a shame because any immersion I begin to feel while going through evidence and piecing together missing links is smashed to bits the moment I have to engage in dialogue with another character. The continually stiff and canned delivery of already so-so dialogue makes any attempted drama or character building completely lost on me; I care about the case, but not those involved in it. While the high-caliber environment artwork and painted cinematic elements maintain their hauntingly beautiful allure, the 3D aspects of the game are still brutally lackluster. Animations continue to feel rough and contextually awkward especially when Erica Reed smiles and her mouth transforms into that of Jack Nicholson’s rendition of the Joker, only without the clown makeup… it creeps me right the fuck out. But I digress; the real strength of Cognition lies in its story and not the majority of its aesthetic qualities.
While applying previously learned psychic powers from the first episode you’ll get to use a newly introduced ability in Erica’s arsenal. Dubbed ‘synergy’, it involves the matching of multiple objects to unlock their shared memories and how they relate to one another. It’s a cool concept that has an elegance and finesse to it when utilized in simple deductive matters, but falters in a few instances when it gets shoe-horned into the games’ more grandiose puzzles. There is more quality sleuthing to be had here and that’s a very welcome change. I hope to see this trend continue as we move forward into future episodes, with more content focused toward letting the player be the detective and less of the clumsy ‘go here do that’ Ad nauseam tasks that marred the overall experience in the past.
Even with its numerous flaws and missteps, The Wise Monkey makes a notable (and critical) set of improvements since the debut episode. While I could do without the shallow attempt at personal relationship building and occasional dead-end puzzle hiccups being a minor annoyance, there’s no denying the guys and gals over at Pheonix are honing their craft to an increasingly greater effect. There was some diamond-in-the-rough potential to be seen in the first episode of Cognition. While that potential remains largely obscured by problematic design flaws, I can still make out the glimmer of excellence amidst it all, and I think its getting brighter.