The finale of Phoenix Online Studios’ thrilling epic Cogntion: An Erica Reed Thriller has just been released last week and it’s an ending to remember. As mentioned in my review on the previous three episodes (which can be read here), the series was ran on Kickstarter two years ago and they’ve managed to create an experience unexpected from the amount of money they got from the campaign. The series can be purchased form their own store, Steam, GoG, and other digital distribution platforms.
If you’ve been following the story so far, then you’re aware that the series revolves around Erica Reed, FBI agent and psion that can see brief glimpses into the past, and her Ahab-like obsession to take down the Cain Killer, a serial killer that takes siblings and makes them do unspeakable acts to try to save themselves and each other. And it all comes to a head in the aptly named finale. At the end of The Oracle (the third episode) we found out who the killer is, which is a revelation that came as quite a shock to me. And the hunt is on.
So, we know what happens to Scott, Erica’s brother, at the very start of the adventure. But, how did it end up with him dieing to the madman? We actually find out in a flashback at the very start of episode four. Erica and John McCoy, her partner, were already on the case and working to take the killer down. During a tense undercover operation we discover that Scottie has been taken by Cain and that he had planned on having Erica join him as part of his sibling-killing MO.
But, of course, we’ve already figured all that out. It’s the added touch of what happened leading up to that moment that makes the Cain Killer start out with a bang. And watching the funeral just leaves you speechless.
We also are introduced very early on (actually during this sequence of events) to a new addition to the UI. As I mentioned in the preview, if you’re at all familiar with the likes of Mass Effect or TellTale Games’ The Walking Dead series then you should feel right at home with their “relationship tracker”. There are several times when, in conversation, a small portrait of the person you’re talking to shows up in the lower right-hand side of the screen.
Say something to get on their good side and the “meter” will fill up just a bit. Say something to piss them off and their trust in you will drop accordingly. In a number of instances this can literally mean the difference of life and death. It’s a nice little touch to add to the already tense narrative. The best part is that, like the aforementioned examples above, these can have lasting consequences throughout the episode. Even up to the ending.
As part of the ending of the journey, The Cain Killer is a fast-paced race to the finish line. And the puzzles help move the narrative along without being too cumbersome. Most of them are pretty intuitive and logical to the point that you can get past most of them with relative ease, even without the hint system. As I mentioned in my preview, there was one that had stalled the game about halfway through. I’m glad to know that they listened to my feedback and added some subtle hints as to what you should do to solve it…something that I found lacking in my earlier playthrough.
Now that I got the mechanics out of the way, I’m free to talk about the main reason why you should finish the series. As you know by the end of The Oracle, the stories and destinies of Erica and Cordelia, the precog psion that she met back in The Hangman (episode one), are intertwined in such a way as their ultimate fates are tied together. I won’t spoil what happens in the ending, but it is such a tragic and somber end to their relationship that you can’t help but wonder “what if?”
And speaking of relationships, you learn a lot about the remaining cast and their role in the Cognition universe. Of particular note is discovering a piece of Rose’s (the antique shop owner who’s helped Erica develop her psionic powers) past. You not only find out why she’s helped Erica and Cordelia but also help piece together a rather painful memory that you can’t help but want to shed a tear for her.
Even McAdams, douchebag director of the Boston FBI office, has his time in the spotlight. You find out things about him that actually make him seem like a decent person. Really, I actually started feeling for the guy by the end credits.
I'll have to pause here to grab a tissue, which is something that you'll need to have plenty of handy when playing the final episode. It's an emotional roller-coaster ride that keeps you on your toes and just wondering what will happen. Few games these days make you feel. In an era where mindless first-person shooters and grindy MMOs only have your fingers twitching, it's a refreshing change of pace to make your MIND twitch.
I was left speechless and in tears by the time my experience was over, and I find myself longing for more. Cesar Bittar, CEO of POS and co-writer of Cognition, has hinted that there might be a second season of Erica's journey and I plan on being there when and if it happens. If you haven't played it yet, I highly suggest you do so.