Cognition sticks you in the titular role of Erica Reed. She’s an FBI agent who has the ability to see into the past by touching certain objects. Episode 1 begins with Erica and her partner, John, frantically racing toward a cemetery to save her brother from the clutches of a serial killer. It’s not a spoiler to say that the situation does not end well, and Erica still feels the effects of it three years later.
The cemetery segment serves as the game’s tutorial. You’ll be taught the basics of the point-and-click interface as well as how to use Erica’s cognition ability to see past events. It’s standard point and click fare: left-clicking an object brings up a radial menu, which allows you to look at, interact with, or use an inventory item. Erica’s psychic ability can be activated by clicking a glowing sphere on the bottom left of the screen, which highlights objects in the scene that have memories attached to them. Initially she can only see into the past, but she’ll learn a couple more tricks as the story progresses.
As is the case with most adventure games, the story takes center stage. After the tutorial ends, you’re transported three years into the future where Erica and John are summoned to investigate a murder dressed up to look like a suicide. This event propels Erica on a journey that isn’t going to amaze you with its creativity, but provides a fun ride nonetheless. Cognition is the gaming equivalent of a CSI episode. It hits the right beats to keep you entertained for an evening, and that’s fine because sometimes you just want some semi-serious fun.
A semi-serious mindset is essential for enjoying this game, because it has uneven production values throughout. The characters you meet are all one-dimensional stereotypes. Erica plays the skeptic, even though she clearly has paranormal powers. John is a middle-aged veteran of the Bureau who’d much rather sit at his desk than go into the field. Sully is the sincere yet desperate lover who doesn’t know how to deal with Erica’s on-again-off-again affection. There’s a perpetually angry coroner, a wise-cracking tech geek, and a mystical black woman. Basically, if you’ve seen a character-type in a procedural drama, you’ll see it here.
Many of the puzzles exist for the sake of having puzzles. FBI support staff won’t help you with your murder investigation unless you run errands for them. An interrogation suspect won’t let you speak to him until you give him food, but he has a very specific diet. Then he still won’t talk because you didn’t make him “feel welcome.” The simplest of tasks require you to jump through hoops and backtrack through a half-dozen locations to perform.
Some hotspots are easy to miss as well, and I got stuck several times because I didn’t notice some tiny item I needed to pick up. There’s a built-in help system you can turn to when things get tough, but it’s useless exactly half of the time. I had to consult a walkthrough a couple times in order to figure out what I missed.
Special mention needs to go to the game’s art. The backgrounds are hand-painted 2D while all the characters are 3D models textured to look like they’re painted. The effect works nicely, but those characters are unapologetic in their 3D-ness. By that I mean they move with stiff, unconvincing animations. There’s a fair bit of clipping too, including one hilarious moment where Erica literally reached into her chest to retrieve an item to show a witness.
Conclusion – Is It Worth The Money?
So, yes, you’ll need to keep a light-hearted air about you while playing this game about a murder investigation. You’ll need it in order to forgive all the technical and creative sloppiness in the game. If you can do that, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller: Episode 1 will be quite the worthwhile diversion for your $10. It’s not going to blow your mind with its awesomeness, but it is a good way to spend ten bucks and a half-dozen hours.
- Time Played—5.75 hours
- Widescreen Support—Yes
- Resolution Played—1280×720
- FOV Slider—No/Not Applicable
- 5.1 Audio Support—No
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered—None
- Control Scheme—Mouse
- DRM—None (I was given a serial number upon checkout, but the game never asked for it)
- System Specs—Win7x64 Ultimate, Core2 Quad @ 2.66 GHz, 4GB RAM, Radeon 4800 1GB
- Game Acquisition Method—Review Copy
- Availability—Official Site
- Saved Game Location—“C:\Users\%USERNAME%\AppData\LocalLow\Phoenix Online Studios\Cognition _ Episode 1”