Cognition has continued to capitalize on it’s strong suits of beautiful art, haunting atmosphere and a gripping story. But it always managed to falter in equal part with ham-fisted game mechanics, wince-inducing dialogue and a failure to put each episode through its paces when it came to quality assurance testing that left much to be desired. Cognition’s grim, suspenseful episodic adventure series comes to a somewhat unceremonious conclusion with its final installment: The Cain Killer.
In the opening cinematic we are treated to a long-winded rehash of what has happened in all the previous episodes before being thrust into what basically equates to a theme park ride of linear game play. Aspiring digital sleuths beware, as any trace of detective work has all but evaporated from the equation. Also gone are the variety of map locations to travel between, instead you are ushered to a new location the moment you achieve your current objective.
Another major departure is the newly introduced mechanic which turns out to be of a mundane and wholly non-cognitive nature. The guided style of this episode has you constantly in the thick of an interactive dialogue with one character or another. Whoever that currently is shows up as a portrait on screen acting as a litmus test for how well your doing in the given conversation. This turns out to be a very one dimensional mechanic where if you screw up and say the wrong thing too often it’s game over by way of you or someone else of importance dying. The choices of response are all so binary and painfully obvious that what could have been an intriguing aspect to the formula just ends up getting in the way.
Luckily the core arsenal of Erica’s cognitive abilities are still intact, with each being utilized in puzzles that I can only imagine were dreamed up for someone with the patience of a Buddhist Monk. One continues to stick out in my mind as particularly frustrating (you know who you are). I might have had a better time with it if not for the feeling of being completely shoe-horned into the middle of the episode. I can’t help but think it existed solely to fluff out the already bare bones content and had no real bearing or impact on the story. The entirety of the episode tops out at around 3 hours, securing its title as the shortest episode in the Cognition series to date.
The best parts of the episode make their mark in the final moments where things really come to a head. Despite a pretty wonky first-person perspective sequence the story still manages to wrap itself up in a very satisfying way. With a wink and a nod, I walked away from Cognition with the notion that despite its many blemishes and my myriad misgivings throughout the series, these guys have definitely got their storytelling chops down-pact. While Phoenix Online still has a lot to improve on as a young studio, they’ve crafted a fairly compelling piece of work with Cognition. With a lot of self-reflection on what they got right and what fell short, I believe we can expect to see great things from this developer in the future.