Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 4: The Cain Killer

Posted by Mervyn Graham.
First posted on 05 October 2013. Last updated on 25 May 2014.
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Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 4: The Cain Killer
Erica stakes out a waterfront warehouse.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 4: The Cain Killer
Cordelia arrives at her family's lake house.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 4: The Cain Killer
Cordelia kisses Erica in a flashback.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 4: The Cain Killer
Erica and Cordelia discover a torture chamber where the Cain Killer mutilates his victims.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 4: The Cain Killer
Is the end near for Erica?

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller

The season is comprised of 4 episodes:

Episode 1: The Hangman

Episode 2: The Wise Monkey

Episode 3: The Oracle

Episode 4: The Cain Killer

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is a psychological thriller and crime mystery from indie game developer Phoenix Online Studios, created in collaboration with veteran game designer Jane Jensen. This episodic series represents the first commercial game project for the studio, though the studio has previously released a non-commercial episodic fan game called The Silver Lining based on Sierra's King's Quest series. The project is also notable for being among the earliest adventure games to be successfully funded on Kickstarter. Episode 4: The Cain Killer is the fourth and final episode of the series, tying the stories of all the previous episodes into perspective and culminating in a climactic confrontation with the sadistic serial murderer known as the Cain Killer.

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is a classic third-person point-and-click adventure. In this episode, you take on the dual protagonist roles of Erica Reed (the heroine in previous episodes), a hardnosed FBI agent specializing in serial murders, and Cordelia Smith, a young woman whom Erica meets (in a previous episode) when investigating the murder of her own brother Scott years earlier. Both Erica and Cordelia possess special psychic powers (though neither of them are unaware of each other's ability initially) and are linked psychically through an intermediary named Rose who works in an antique shop. Like Erica, Cordelia also has a brother murdered by a serial killer. Unlike Cordelia, Erica is hell bent on seeking revenge and justice, believing that the Cain Killer is ultimately responsible for both of these murders as well as a number of other serial murders which she has been investigating. Erica also blames the Cain Killer for the deaths of other FBI agents whom she has once befriended at the bureau. With Erica next in line, it is up to her (with help from Cordelia) to finally outwit the Cain Killer before she herself becomes the next victim.

The game begins with a recap of the previous episodes in which the identity of the Cain Killer is revealed. A flashback then takes the story back to the night just before Scott's death. Erica is seen inside a waterfront warehouse with an FBI informant named Jetta meeting Stelios about a shipment of guns from Russia. Stelios has ties with the Cain killer who is also seen in the flashback to be inside the warehouse. Once the game proper begins, Erica and Cordelia begin their chase on the Cain Killer, using their supernatural powers of cognition, projection, regression, and synergy to try to predict the Cain Killer's next moves.

The game installs without any glitches. Upon starting the game, you are presented with options to adjust the screen resolutions, change the graphics quality settings, and select whether to play the game in windowed or full screen mode. From the Main Menu, you can select New Case, Continue, Load Case, Settings, Visit Our Website, and Quit. As you can easily die in this game, saving regularly your game progress is highly recommended. The game supports an unlimited number of manual save slots. An autosave is also made whenever you quit the game. There is an optional tutorial which you choose from Settings to learn about the game's interface.

The game is built using the Unity engine as well as a number of propriety development tools created by the developer. The graphics use stylized art akin to that used in old or classic comic strips. The only fault is the styling of Erica's hair which is very bland. While facial expressions are very good, the poor lip-synching evokes the image of an amateur ventriloquist in which the teeth are visible through the lips with very limited movement. Character animations are solid but lacks fluidity.

The plot dives deep to explore both of the protagonists' pasts to explain their connections with the Cain Killer. It is intriguing to switch between playing Erica and Cordelia to learn of their different perspectives and motivations. Erica's character, in particular, is very convincing, as her tortured past adds much drama to her current and already tense predicament. Still, some new allusion in this episode to Erica and Cordelia's relationship with each other seems too farfetched and does not appear congruent to what is previously known of them from previous episodes. There are a lot of interactive dialog sequences in the game. The choices you make in these sequences can have immediate (and often life and death) impacts on the characters with which you are conversing. For the first time in the series, the game features the use of a trust meter. When Erica or Cordelia speaks to a particular character, the trust meter is displayed for that character. Depending on the answer you choose, you can gain trust from that character or lose trust from that character just as easily. If the trust meter ever falls below 50%, Erica or Cordelia will die.

The voice acting is professional. Raleigh Holmes (who, incidentally, is the daughter of Robert Holmes, Jensen's husband), playing the role of Erica, is brilliant. Her voice expresses a lot of emotions and really helps to bring to life a sympathetic character. Holmes even sings a song during the game, showing her prowess and talent as a singer. The music is nice and complements well with the melodrama that plays out in this game.

The game features only a few puzzles, none of which are too difficult. These include setting up a tripwire, opening a sarcophagus, placing the right figurines onto a wheel table, and escaping from a crematorium table. There is also a timed puzzle in which Erica has to physically fight the Cain Killer by hitting him at various body parts in a specific order. Doing so out of order at any time will result in Erica's immediate death. There are no mazes. You do not have an option to skip over any of the puzzles.

The game takes about 6-10 hours to finish. Gameplay is very linear, in that solving a puzzle in a particular location triggers the next puzzle to be solved in the next location. Hints are given to remind you when a location requires psychic powers to explore.

In sum, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 4: The Cain Killer provides a fitting end to the series. The game does a good job tying up loose ends to the main narrative. The final scenes revealing the fate of Cordelia, the Cain Killer, and Erica are what you expect and provide a decent closure to the story. Although you can play this episode as a standalone game, playing the other episodes is recommended if you want to get the most out of this series.

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