"...the series still has a little ways to go before I say, 'Wow.' Right now, I'm saying 'not bad.'"
Cognition's first episode was one that made me hopeful; the developers were passionate about their work, they had artistic chops, and there was an engaging CSI-meets-X-Files plot brewing. Unfortunately, it was also clear that the developers were still a bit green, with the game suffering from quite a few technical foibles that definitely took it down a few points for me, although they didn't spoil the experience entirely. Overall, Episode 2: The Wise Monkey is an improvement, though it's not quite the step-up I had hoped for.
As is the case with most episodic games, The Wise Monkey picks up very shortly after the end of The Hangman, with a new killer on the loose. The overall plot arc is fleshed out nicely. In fact, this is perhaps the strongest aspect of the game: Phoenix Online has set up a paradigm in which things don't (thus far) revert back to the status quo at the beginning of a new episode while still introducing new threads from which their characters hang. Erica Reed is still an engaging and charismatic lead, and while the voice acting is still pretty hokey at times, the supporting cast is well-developed enough that I enjoyed a few more hours with them.
Gameplay-wise, not much has changed. The puzzle design is still solid, though I found myself puzzled on a few occasions until I caught on to the dev team's logic. For example, there was a puzzle that required me to use a tire iron, rather than my set of lockpicks, to unlock something. Fortunately, though, the team has gotten more capable with the game engine, and things feel much tighter this time around. The visuals are consistent with the previous episode: ugly and awkwardly animated character models on top of gorgeous backgrounds. The cutscenes are also the same stylish comic-book panels with voice-over, again a wise decision in light of the rough 3D models in the game. As for the music, Austin Haynes produced some of his most mature and gorgeous work to date with the first episode, and everything in episode 2 manages to capture the same level of quality.
So what's the take-away? The Wise Monkey is a good follow-up. The developers are getting better with their engine. The art, music, and writing are just as good as they were last time around. The same foibles exist, with the exception that the technical aspects of the game are just a wee bit tighter. So while episode 2 is certainly an improvement, the series still has a little ways to go before I say, "Wow." Right now, I'm saying "not bad."