In our latest review, Nathan from Indie Game HQ takes a look at Phoenix Online Studios’ adventure title, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Episode 1.
GAME NAME: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 1
DEVELOPER(S): Phoenix Online Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Reverb Publishing
RELEASE DATE(S): Oct. 26, 2012
We would like to thank Reverb Publishing and Phoenix Online Studios for giving us the opportunity to review their latest title. For more, please check out Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller’s website at POStudios.com
About Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, is a chilling point-and-click adventure that follows Erica Reed, a Boston-based FBI agent, haunted by the unsolved case of a serial killer who took her brother’s life. Taking a turn for the strange, Erica unravels her cases with the help of her post-cognition abilities – seeing an object’s past with a touch. But things take a dangerous twist as it becomes clear that someone knows Erica’s secret. Who are they? How do they know what she can, and what do they want from her?
- Engrossing, Episodic Narrative – As a fully narrative-driven game, Erica’s story is rife with intrigue and suspense over four episodes of thrilling mystery. Supported by voiced narration, this story is truly engaging.
- Fully-Realized Characters – A very talented cast of voice actors rounds out the diverse characters with complex motivations. Each new character makes the game that much more dynamic.
- Mind-Bending Challenges – This game is easy to pick up and play, but it certainly doesn’t skimp out on the challenging aspects of puzzling. Uncovering clues and putting pieces together make for a trial of one’s intuition and savvy.
- Stunning Art – The breathtaking, hand-drawn art evokes the mood of the narrative. Intrinsic to the atmosphere of the game, dark hues paint gruesome scenes vividly.
- All-Star Dev Team – Developed by a true indie “dream team,” the lineup includes comics artist Romano Molenaar and renowned designer Jane Jensen (Gabriel Knight, Gray Matter) lending her expertise to the story.
- Your Choices Matter – Each episode features branching paths, different ways to be complete and solve key puzzles, ensuring different paths for Erica to take to solve the mystery.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is a point-and-click adventure mystery game. With the mouse being your only tool, you navigate through crime scenes, dark alleys, and various buildings looking for clues and interacting with various objects and people. When clicking on items or people, you’ll usually be presented with 3 options. You can either: look at the item/person in question, talk to the person/pick the item up, or use an item you have equipped. An added bonus is the ability to double click on an object or person and Erica will sprint, much needed but less noticed feature.
The UI in Cognition is simple yet intuitive, giving the player many options without leaving the screen looking cluttered. In the top left of the screen, there are 3 icons. The first icon, a computer, will allow the player to open the pause menu. Second, a mobile phone, gives the player the ability to call co-workers and friends for advice or help, as well as search the web (to some extent), take down notes, and text Erica’s Dad A.K.A “The Hint System”. The third icon has the same design as the in-game cursor, adorned with a question mark. Clicking and holding will show every interact-able item along with its name. On the right side of the screen you can access your items as well as interact, look, and use them. The icon in the bottom left of the screen is very important. Clicking it will send Erica into a “Cognitive” state, (Cognition? Get it? No? Alright..) allowing you to basically see short clips from the past. You may see how the item was used, or how the item got to where it was. Further in the story, you’ll be able to use this ability to connect with 3 items at once and see back further and clearer.
In some cases, I found the hint system absolutely necessary. Without it, I’d have been stuck for hours trying to figure out where to go/what to do next. This is where the backtracking comes in. I often had to visit every place, talking to everyone, using items on them, looking at items, trying to piece things together. Don’t get me wrong, I want games to be challenging, especially adventure/mystery games.
Lastly, I wanted to make a point to mention the fact that I felt some of the decisions I made throughout Episode 1 made no difference on the outcome story wise. I’m positive I found every clue, and covered all the bases. It may be, perhaps, that Ep. 1 is more of a set story line to set the background for future episodes. If that is the case, it should at least be stated somewhere.
To start off the audio section in this review, let’s talk a little bit about the ambiance, or background music, as it’s very important to set the stage and immerse the player. The background music in Cognition varies depending on your location, and plays on a constant loop while exploring said area. While the music is looping endlessly, it ties in so well with each place that you hardly realize it’s playing. Overall the ambiance in Cognition is very well done and fits the mysterious tone.
In many cases, during cut scenes, the audio picks up and gets more intense. Not only does this add to the immersion, it also pumps up the player, readying him/her for what is to come. Cognition, in my opinion does this almost flawlessly. Whether a time of distress or a sudden realization, the music quickens its pace accordingly. The soundtrack in Episode 1 only made the game better and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Episode 2.
The last thing I’ll cover in the Audio category will be, you guessed it, voice acting. Whether the situation calls for seriousness, sarcasm, or jokes, Cognition delivers on all fronts. There are moments where you will feel the emotion, laugh at the jokes, and taste the sarcasm. Yeah. Taste it. The acting doesn’t feel forced, making it seem more natural. Yet again, another thing to add to the immersion.
While the graphics are not always important, it’s good to appreciate the detail that even some AAA titles are missing. Even though Cognition isn’t a very intensive game, the graphics options are very limited. Besides using the standard Unity options ranging from “Fastest” to “Fantastic” and allowing you to change the resolution, there’s only one in-game video option: changing the Anti-Aliasing to 0, 2, 4, or 8. Depending on your set-up you may take small performance hits by raising the AA.
Moving on to the “eye candy”, we’ll first do the usual thing and compare the art style to something else. Cognition‘s aesthetics are similar to Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead in the fact that they both have a distinct comic book-esque look. To make it more interesting the cut scenes even look like they’re pulled from a comic book. The hand drawn frames, in some cases, appear around the playing area showing different viewpoints, and it works very well.
Down to the Nitty Gritty
In conclusion Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is definitely worth the purchase. From the comic book-esque visuals to the amazing and immersive soundtrack, I have high hopes for the future episodes.
Cognition is great for those who love a thrilling adventure or a spine tingling mystery. There are a few moments in the game where strong adult language is used, and a few scenes with death and blood. If that doesn’t bother you at all, then this game is worth a look.
Episode 1 is currently available at a number of retailers, with Episode 2 releasing today. If you’d like to save a few bucks, then I’d recommend the Season Pass, which pre-purchases every episode to be available for download as soon as it’s released. If you’d like to buy Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, head to your preferred distribution service below. If you’ve got an extra minute, Cognition is currently on Steam Greenlight awaiting approval and could use your votes.