Review: The first episode of COGNITION: AN ERICA REED THRILLER takes you on an adventure where you will solve mysteries, avenge murders, and get some help from a supernatural power while you’re at it. Should you follow the trail of clues, or is it better to leave this case unsolved?
If style were the most important aspect of a game, Cognition would be game of the year. Reverb Games and Phoenix Online Studios have created a visual feast in the first episode of this murder mystery adventure game. Most of the cutscenes are partially animated artworks. Whether this was a budget decision or an aesthetic one, it works, and gives Cognition an atmosphere that sets it apart from other games.
The hand drawn art style carries over to the actual game as well, combining gorgeous background artwork with character models that really pop. Once you get over the initial “wow” aspect of the style, you may be tempted to lay the game aside. But if you stick with it you’ll be pleasantly rewarded by the way the story builds and turns into one of those late night reads you just can’t put down.
The prologue of Cognition: Episode 1 throws us into the life of FBI agent Erica Reed, who’s hot on the trail of the Cain Killer – a man who tortures and kills siblings. His latest victim happens to be her brother Scott, who Erica fails to save despite her best efforts. The opening tries to set the mood for the rest of the game: full of drama, tension, and a sense of urgency. Unfortunately, it tries a little too hard, and comes off as just being over-dramatic.
Luckily, the main episode is better paced and less dramatic than its opening. Three years after the prologue, Erica, still haunted by her brother’s unavenged death is assigned to the murder case of a hanged man. Yet, the agent also has another problem that’s starting to interfere with her work and life – increasingly volatile visions.
Murder, mystery, and a bit of mysticism
Erica has the ability to see the past by touching certain items – a useful skill in her line of work. To use the Cognition ability, you just have to click on the big blue circle in the lower left of the screen, then select any glowing areas. Of course, Erica can’t always see something, and of course the things she does see are often vague and don’t show important details like, say, the faces of certain killers. That would be too easy. Still, even if the visions don’t always seem useful in the beginning, they do open new actions or items to interact with.
As the game progresses, so does Erica’s ability to control her powers. With the help of the kindly antique shop owner and psychic Rose, Erica learns how to see specific moments in the past and in people’s memories. With these “upgrades” comes a whole new way of solving puzzles. Generally, the path you have to take and things you have to do to progress the story are clear and intuitive. And if you ever need a hint you can always have Erica text her dad for some advice on her phone.
But the Cognition feature might have you thinking a bit differently. Instead of just looking around and letting the story take you along for an interactive ride, you have to figure out the things Erica needs to summon images of the past to help her solve the current case. The Cognition system adds a layer of interactivity that would otherwise have been lacking in this story-heavy game.
And Cognition is definitely one for story fans: the game is heavy on dialogue and text. There are a few not-quite-challenging puzzles and some action sequences thrown in, but most of your time will be spent talking to people, examining objects, and breaking quite a few regulations. Still, despite a somewhat rocky start, Erica and the cast of characters around her quickly begin to grow on you.
The game plays more like an interactive novel than an adventure game, which may be an annoyance to some and a welcome feature for others, depending on your taste. If you’re looking for a good read that sucks you in slowly but surely, I recommend losing yourself in this interactive book. But if you prefer your adventure games more puzzling and action-filled, I’d save this one for a rainy day.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 1, by Reverb Games and Phoenix Online Studios, is available now for PC (reviewed), Mac, and iOS.