November 3rd, 2012 | By Sam Adonis
The first episode of Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is a crime-drama point and click adventure game from Phoenix Online Studio just released on GamersGate and Impulse. Phoenix Online Studios is also the development studio behind Kings’ Quest spinoff, The Silver Lining. Cognition introduces the story of psychically gifted FBI agent Erica Reed in modern day Boston. With its comic book art style and crime drama storytelling, Cognition intends to thrill.
Cognition is mostly typical for the point and click adventure genre. The player solves puzzles by interacting with other characters, finding items and using them in the correct context. The twist on the genre is the psychic ability of our protagonist, Erica Reed.
Erica is able to interact with objects and people using her psychic powers to remember events she was not present for. Erica uses this gift to help solve cases for the FBI. In this opening episode of Cognition, Erica is solving the case of a man murdered by hanging.
What seems like an unsolvable case is slowly unraveled through mysterious messages and clues left behind. Even with Erica’s paranormal intuition, all – and I do mean all – of the clues seemed far too convenient, leading to my disbelief towards Erica’s character.
The problem wasn’t with the clues themselves or the way Erica found them. It had more to do with the way she reacted. Every time the killer pointed our protagonist in a direction, she would immediately jump into the next stage of her investigation. Never once did Erica think to herself “This is too easy,” even in this case where the only clues were intentionally left by the killer.
Just because Erica is flawed does not mean the entire story is ruined however. The entire cast of characters reminds me much of a crime show like NCIS or Psych. Each character has their quirks, and reasons to love them.
Take for example a puzzle involving the team’s forensics specialist, Terrence and the coroner Dr. Gallagher. Erica needs to review evidence to solve the case. Instead of just giving it to her, Terrence asks that she help convince Dr. Gallagher to let him store equipment in the building. Dr. Gallagher finds Terrence obnoxious, and Terrence sees Dr. Gallagher as a snob. The issue was resolved by Erica impersonating her boss through email, and ordering Dr. Gallagher to play nice.
It’s this sort of high school drama that made me so conflicted over the game. On one hand, I enjoyed the interactions between characters. It almost felt like they were a big dysfunctional family. At the same time this took away from the seriousness of the crime drama.
The presentation of the game is beyond a doubt, the best aspect of Cognition. The comic book visuals are great and really add to the crime drama feel Phoenix Online went for. The voice acting is enjoyable, except for a couple minor characters who sounded a little cartoonish.
There were some minor technical problems where sometimes when I performed an action, there would be several seconds of Erica standing there as she waited for the next animation to load.
Some of the more dramatic moments in Cognition reminded me a lot of the strong atmosphere and storytelling in Telltale’s Walking Dead, although other scenes more closely resemble a stereotypical point and click adventure.
With a unique twist on both crime dramas and the adventure genre, I can see the first season of Cognition doing well. If the developers expand on the story and address the issues I mentioned, I predict greatness. You can purchase Cognition from GamersGate, Impulse, and Rain DG. You can also upvote Cognition on Steam Greenlight.