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Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Leaves Lasting Impression [Review]

Posted on January 21, 2013 AT 06:45am

A shadowy, hooded figure is lurking behind you. Before you know it, you have been thrown to the ground. He is hovering over you, reaching for the instrument of your demise. In this moment you have only one option: put an object between you and the threat. You have only a curtain and a candelabra in your reach. Which do you choose?

This is one of the first encounters you get in Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller.

Initially, I got my first taste of the female FBI Agent at the first Boston Festival of Indie Games. I was intrigued and wanted more.

The story takes place in my own backyard of Boston –- and not the “Fringe” Boston. Phoenix Online Studios did their homework and made sure to showcase some landmark places in good ol’ beantown. Even the voice actors did the Bostonian accent some due justice with a little jest on the side — more about that later.

In the game, you take control of the protagonist, Erica Reed. She is no ordinary Boston FBI agent. Her keen perception is downright supernatural. Three years ago, her younger brother Scott had fallen prey to a serial killer. Erica’s boss Madison Davies has officially labeled it a cold case. If that wasn’t enough, Erica and her doughnut-eating partner John McCoy have started working on a mysterious murder that leads them in various directions that may or may not be connected. Every character we interact with has a need they want met: closure, respect or both. Achieving this need is solely up to you.

Now you would think that the game mechanics would be simply: point, click and interact. Basically, that assumption would be accurate, but the element that makes it more than that rests on the objects you choose to interact with. Some of the icons are misleading, and can lead to early confusion even for the most seasoned point-and-click gamer. To me, it’s the puzzles that stand out for their excellence. They require Erica to use her cognitive abilities. They demand the player’s attention and I was more than happy to give it.

The first of four adventures, the story is engaging and entertaining. There are some attention-grabbing, character-establishing moments that make them relatable to the player. If replay value is important to you, there’s a ton of it here. That value comes from finding out how all the stories bleed into each other. The world of Cognition is believable and doesn’t feel forced or fixed in place, which is a strong positive. The high dramatics aren’t campy and are delivered flawlessly.

Graphically, Cognition: Episode One: The Hangman is far above what I anticipated to see for the genre. If you were thinking low resolution sprites then rub your eyes and look again. All the sprites are 3D while living and interacting in a 2D environment. During some of the cutscenes, you get to see more of the fresh art style reminiscent of the pages of a comic book.

Cognition‘s sound quality was top-notch — no sound came out of left field or sounded like it belonged in a cartoon. They were appropriate and precise. The ambient background music helped enhance the setting. There isn’t anything more to say about that. The voice-over work was stellar. It was mentioned earlier in the review that the Bostonian accent was done in jest and due justice. This is absolutely true. Every time I heard Erica say “Gallagaah” when referring to the lead medical examiner I would chuckle first and then remember that I have a friend who sounds just-like that. Once Mama Rose gets introduced I became obsessed with her voice actress. That timbre female voice — I’ve heard it before. But where? I could easily be wrong and also be exposing myself to some ridicule but I have to ask this: Doesn’t Mama Rose sound just like Zecora from My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic? Go listen to her again if you don’t believe me.

For all the good this game possesses, and it definitely has a lot going for it, there are some not-so-great things as well. They are small hiccups. In no way are they deal-breakers, but they have to be addressed. First, the reaction time is a little slow between the action the player chooses and when Erica’s sprite will actually do it. During an instance when I was looking to fend off an attack, I set it up so that Erica would throw a brick to send the attacker’s gunfire away from me. This was to give me a safe path forward. Because of the slow reaction time, Erica was injured instead. This is mainly seen during times when Erica is directed to walk from point A to point B or when Erica is equipped with an object. The frame rate struggles to keep in sync with the graphics. It is distraction, but not rage-quit worthy.

Another little hiccup comes during conversations. Sometimes conversational prompts would not show up. Erica would have done the task she was asked to do and still the reward would not be given. This could be irksome and require the player to have to re-listen to the prior conversation multiple times before it would unlock. These instances would immediately rip me out of the experience of the story. If it could happen to me, it most certainly happened to other Cognition players.

Be patient. The effort is worth it.

Overall, Cognition: Episode One: The Hangman gets a 4 out of 5. It is refreshing and innovative for its chosen genre. Many like to stick to what they know, where Phoenix Online Studios chose to explore outside the box. Cognition‘s story is realistic, gritty and enticing enough to make me excited for the next installment. If you are curious, you can play a demo here. Cognition: Episode Two: The Wise Monkey is set to be released on January 30 for both PC and Mac users. Each episode would set you back $9.99 USD, however buying the season pass would get you all four episodes (once they are available) at a reduced price.

You can find more Cognition related news here

I’m no Erica Reed, but even I can see Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller leaving a serious impression in its wake.

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