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Review: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 1: The Hangman

episodic Phoenix Online Studios Reverb Publishing PC Greenlight adventure

Developer: Phoenix Online Studios
Publisher: Reverb Publishing
Platform: PC (GamersGate, GameStop, RainDG)
Release Date: October 30, 2012
ESRB: N/A (M suggested)

A download code was supplied by the publisher for this review



Adventure games have seen some pretty interesting developments over the past year. Until more recently, most have drawn in only their genre audience. With the release of The Walking Dead, though, it seems many more people are realizing that adventure games are worth looking into. Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is a modern adventure game in certain respects, but still falls squarely within most genre conventions. Does it succeed at being an accessible title or is it one only adventure fans should explore?

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Cognition is a new episodic series which focuses around the title character FBI agent Erica Reed. The first chapter, titled The Hangman, sets up the precedent for the rest of the episodes to follow. As Erica, you begin the game during the peak of tailing a known killer who has your brother. The dramatic scenes play out and then you are fast forwarded three years to Erica who can still not forget about how she failed her brother that day. From there, a new case crops up which seems unusual and maybe even connected to her brother’s death.

One of the best things about the game is its story. Although some of the secondary characters are one-dimensional, Erica herself carries the show. She is a very multifaceted character who does not fall into any stereotypical female game role. She is smart, driven, and willing to put her life on the line to save others. All the same, she still has a sense of humor and quirky interests like remember random statistics. Overall, although other characters pale in comparison, Erica stands up as a very interesting character who players will want to get to know.

Some longtime fans of the genre may find this game to feel ever so slightly familiar. In a way, it seems to hearken back to Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. Although it is obviously a very different game, it does help that the illustrious Jane Jensen was a story consultant for the title. She of course crafted stories for Gabriel Knight as well as other adventure games. With her on board, it makes sense that the two games feel like cousins.

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Visually, the game has 3D character models which is a bit more modern than cartoony adventure games, but it does not help or hinder this game. Strangely, the game takes a bit longer than expected to load up parts, which may be related to the visual style. If so then it would have probably been better to go with less ambitious visuals but it’s not a huge issue. During certain cutscenes the game switches to moody drawings, some of which look better than others. Overall, it is an acceptable visual aesthetic but nothing noteworthy.

When it comes to gameplay, it also manages to stand up well enough, with a few truly exceptional evolutions of genre conventions. It is in a few puzzles that the game shows that there are still new ways puzzles can delight players. For the most part, the game is standard with puzzles where you put objects together or find the right one for the circumstances. However, there are additions done to make it an easier process. When you wish to combine objects, they will specifically light up letting you know they can work together.

Where does this supposed evolution in puzzle design come in? It is found in the form of Erica’s “cognition” abilities. She unlocks various parts of this ability through the game which allows her to solve puzzles that would otherwise be impossible. Basically, Erica has had a strange ability for her entire life where she is able to see the past. However, as she faces these new trials, she is able to see even more, such as the future and regress into someone else’s memories. It is an incredibly handy skill which makes for the most creative and entertaining puzzles in the game. The last big one in the game was a personal favorite that made me recall why I adore adventure games so much.

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Unfortunately, there are many more typical puzzles than innovative ones. Still, you won’t find yourself getting stuck for long thanks to a neat hint mechanic. Whenever you don’t know what to do, Erica can simply text her father for ideas (aka hints). Sometimes it seems a bit implausible, but it is still a neat way to keep players from getting too stuck. If they don’t want to ever receive help then they can simply avoid using the text feature all together.

Although this is only the first episode, The Hangman is still a meaty chapter. It sets the scene for everything we need to know and what will be the thread tying through to the next episode. Overall, it is crammed full of puzzles (maybe too many, actually) and takes around 4-6 hours to complete. It offers a very competent story and an interesting protagonist with supernatural abilities. The game also manages to inject some new life into stale puzzles and comes out with some really fun mechanics. Adventure fans new and old will both find something to like with this first episode of Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller.

 

Pros:

+ Fantastic lead character
+ Some truly creative puzzles
+ Moody story which reaches an interesting conclusion

Cons:

- 3D visuals feel a week tradeoff for the game’s loading issues
- Characters other than Erica aren’t nearly as lively


 

Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
Great


The first episode for Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller has set a high bar that the rest of the series will hopefully be able to follow.




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