The first episode of Cognition is a seat of your pants emotional thrill ride.
After receiving a review copy of Cognition Episode 1: The Hanging Man, I was immediately excited. It has been a really long time since I have played a good point-and-click adventure game, and Cognition had a premise that intrigued me right off the bat. It also had Jane Jensen’s (Gabriel Knight) name in the credits as the story consultant, so how could I refuse?
So I downloaded Cognition and fired it up. The first thing that struck me was the music – it really grabs you from the get-go. The opening song sets the tone of what to expect and the ambient music to each scene has been carefully thought out. But it was the final song during the end credits that really appealed to me – it had a very nice Aimee Mann vibe to it.
But what’s Cognition about? The game’s story revolves around Erica Reed, an FBI agent who just also happens to have some psychic powers. Yes, it’s a supernatural detective game. Seriously, what’s not to love? With the use of her powers, Erica can do cool things like see the past, link memories together to form a full memory, and sometimes, even see the future (and, as expected, it’s usually pretty scary). Erica learns to control these powers and use them more effectively throughout the course of gameplay with the help of a mentor named Rose.
The game is set in Boston, which is wicked killer, as I used to live there. I was very impressed that the voice actors actually tried to nail the accent and did a pretty decent job of it. It bugs me to no end when I’m watching a t.v. show or a movie that’s set there and the actors sound like Midwesterners! So kudos to Phoenix Online Studios (and the voice actors) for getting it right.
Also, there’s a serial killer on the loose. But this serial killer doesn’t just attack random victims – he/she also goes after people that Erica is close to.
What really drives this game is its story. Every single character, including NPC’s, have back stories and emotional baggage. Erica herself is one of the most fully-realized protagonists I’ve seen in recent games. She’s both confident and self-doubting, making her extremely realistic. Because of the wonderful way that she is written, you cannot help but start feeling an emotional connection to her, giving Cognition a serious amount of depth.
I also found myself extremely attracted to the character of Detective Jared Sully. He and Erica have a bit of a romantic past and he happens to remind me a lot of Kaiden Alenko from the Mass Effect series. And I loved me some Kaiden Alenko (as did my Commander Shepard). I seriously hope to see some romance pop up in future episodes of Cognition. I am ALL over that.
The plot has a lot of twists and turns with many unexpected moments. I found myself cursing a few times, being so surprised at the ways the story played out, my hand covering my mouth as I shook my head in denial. But, obviously, with any good game, I wanted to play more and find out what happens next. This one was hard to put down at the end of the night (Sleep? Who needs sleep?).
This first episode ran me about six hours total, but might be shorter for others. I ended up getting stuck on an interrogation scene (what do you mean I can’t just slap some sense into the interviewee?) and had to do a lot of backtracking to different locations in Boston to figure it out (There’s a key? What key?).
The puzzles are also excellent in Cognition. Each one can involve multiple ways of tackling and solving it and combine both Erica’s detective skills and psychic powers. They are challenging and it’s easy to miss little things here and there and have to go back and figure out what you’ve missed.
Fortunately, the game also has a good hint system. And yes, I used it – so sue me! When Erica (or me, in this case) is stuck, you can use Erica’s phone to send a text message to her Dad, who is a cop. The hints don’t give everything away, though, and are just that – hints. Usually, even after receiving a hint, you still have to figure out what it means. I liked this in that the hints stay in-game and don’t pull you out of the setting. They also don’t give you the full answer – you still have to seek it out.
The artwork and animation of Cognition feels like a graphic novel. If you’ve ever played Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, it will look a bit familiar. The perfect rendering of every scene lends itself to the emotion of the game, even pulling you further into the character and her story. And when you get to those surprising – and often, shocking – scenes, it’s the art that drives the emotional intensity of each scene home.
As a whole, Cognition is a solid game. My only complaint is that it is too short. Fortunately, there are three more episodes to Erica’s story and the second episode’s release is right around the corner – January 30, 2013.
Cognition Episode 1: The Hanging Man is available at Phoenix Online Studios’ shop for just $9.99 per episode or $29.99 for all four. For a sneak peek of the game, check out the trailer below.