Cognition feels like the start of a new standout adventure series. The people at Phoenix Online Studios recruited Gabriel Knight veteran Jane Jensen to pen the adventures of Erica Reed – an FBI agent on the trail of the brutal Cain killer. The tragic events of Erica’s past have woken her dormant telepathic abilities, though she struggles with them just as she does with her lingering personal trauma. With the help of her colleagues at the FBI, and under the tutelage of the enigmatic Rose, Reed must overcome her demons and apprehend a dangerous serial killer.
Cognition is a point and click adventure game with some modern elements. In addition to the standby ‘look, use, and combine’ options, Cognition employs context sensitive menus, quick time events (albeit sparingly), branching story paths, and supernatural elements. The result is an experience which maintains the endorphin rush of puzzle solving without getting bogged down in frustrating, or less exciting elements of point and click games.
There are some contrived puzzles towards the beginning, but you never have to calculate your weight in coconuts or play Moonlight Sonata to open a hidden door behind a bookshelf. Most of the puzzles in Cognition rely on good-old fashioned detective work. Or maybe ‘old-fashioned’ isn’t the best term, since Reed leverages her computer and her smartphone in a very novel way. She can cross reference names against the FBI database, search the internet, and even text her father for hints. Not that we used that last feature extensively…*ahem*
Where Cognition really shines is the interplay of Reed’s detective skills and her psychic abilities. At first she can only glimpse the past, though as her powers grow she can cast projections and even reconstruct memories. While you examine a crime scene, you can switch into Reed’s Eagle Vision, er, Detective Mode…no, wait, ah well you get the idea. When you do, elements of the environment will glow if they carry some sort of emotional importance or relevance to your case. The color of the aura emanating from these items indicates which power you can use on them. Needless to say these abilities prove helpful when the lack of physical evidence seems to bring progress to a halt.
Erica’s relationships with her colleagues are believable. We were relieved to see a female character who has well-conceived platonic relationships with male characters. Though the story touches on Reed’s previous romances, they aren’t the focus of the narrative and they primarily serve to flesh out her character. Reed isn’t defined by her dependence on others, but by her own impactful story and her abilities. She’s conflicted, but capable. She’s human, she makes mistakes, and she’s easy to identify with.
As good as the writing and delivery were, we still had a few chuckles here and there. The writers seemed to realize about halfway through production that the game is set in Boston. It’s as though they were watching an episode of Family Guy and realized that their game needed more ‘ahs’ and ‘wickeds’. It was amusing, to say the least, when Reed’s accent suddenly changed to match.
As desensitized as we are to violence, there were some moments in Cognition which made us flinch. There were some cutscenes which were a little difficult to watch. The violence was presented in a very real manner. Reed is on the trail of a serial killer who murders his victims by hanging, and when her telepathic abilities show glimpses of the killer at work, well, it’s not pretty. We’d sooner watch a monster get turned into giblets by a gun with a chainsaw on it. On a lighter note – the game gets points for proper grammatical use of the word ‘hanged’.
We were impressed by the game’s presentation. The cell-shaded graphics and comic book cutscenes sound like they might clash with the mature story, but that wasn’t the case at all. There were some hiccups – particularly in Rose’s shop which had a static background. The three dimensional characters felt out of place in the two dimensional static environments. The facial animation is hit or miss, and at times Reed tilts her head down while her gaze is focused forward. She also has knees which bend like a ragdoll’s.
As the first entry in a serialized tale, Cognition does a great job of setting up the story. It’s ingenious of the developers to have each game focus on one particular case while progressing the overarching story of the Cain killer. Right now there are four episodes planned, and it will be interesting to see how Reed’s powers grow, and how her story turns out. We’d recommend Cognition to any fans of adventure games or detective thrillers.
- Name: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller
- Available on: PC, Mac OS
- Developed by: Phoenix Online Studios
- Published by: Reverb Publishing
- Release Date: November 2012
- Elder-Geek Score: 4 out of 5 / Worth Buying