The Ninjabot

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller REVIEW

Posted on November 9, 2012 at 1:20 am by Justin Cavender

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is a point-and-click adventure developed by Phoenix Online Studios and brought to us by Reverb Publishing. We have been keeping a close eye on this title ever since our first encounter with the game a few months ago at PAX. In recent weeks we have watched it climb the ranks in Steam Greenlight, and finally got our hands on the first of four episodes called The Hangman.

The story so far…

Cognition puts the player in the shoes of Erica Reed, an FBI agent working out of Boston. Erica has a unique ability that allows her to see images and brief moments in the past when she touches an object. She is haunted by the escape of her brother’s killer, and after three years the trail has gone cold. Before she can put the past away, she is called to a brutal crime scene that is all too familiar. With the help of her partner, Erica must uncover clues to solve this murder mystery. Who knows, it might bring her one step closer to finding her brother’s killer.

Episode One starts off with a rather engaging opening. It begins with Erica and her partner, John, hot on the trail of her brother’s kidnapper. The moment we have control of Erica we must figure out how to break into the cemetery. The answer is quite simple, we shoot the lock off the gate. Once inside, Erica must look for clues to find out where her brother Scott is located. Clicking on objects will cue Erica to interact with them. You will know if you are going about things the correct way based on her actions or verbal response. Throughout the game Erica will experience visions, which is a good indication something horrible happened at that location. Hitting the “cognition” button will cause certain objects on your screen to glow. After you click the a glowing object a cutscene or flash will show Erica what happened near the item.

After spending a few minutes clicking my way around the cemetery, I was able to figure out what I had to do next. This is where things got REALLY interesting. The kidnapper went through a lot of trouble to make things difficult for Erica to save her brother. As it turns out the door will only open with an offering of her blood. In order to gain entry into the mausoleum, Erica must turn a wheel which impales her legs with spikes, spilling the required blood. Yowza! Injured and angry, Erica goes in alone to save her baby brother. Next we see Scottie strapped to a table rigged to execute him in 10 minutes unless we find a way to stop it. Using her “cognition” ability, we can see which order to cut the wires and save Scottie. This is our first opportunity to make a choice in the game. We can do things the easy way and just start cutting and possibly kill Scott on accident, or we can take the time to do it right and save him. Before long the kidnapper makes an appearance and and tries to stop you. After a quick battle that ends with him running away on fire, your poor baby brother dies, and the story begins.

Cognition can be boiled down to a point-and-click adventure, but there is really a lot more to it. I wasn’t prepared for the amount mental strain the puzzles put me through. Primarily your job is to solve a murder mystery by uncovering clues at several locations. I say several because I felt like I was traveling all the time. Going from place to place doesn’t take very long, in fact the load times are extremely short. I just felt like I was visiting the same places over and over. There were times when I would go from the FBI Headquarters, to the morgue, back to the Headquarters again, over and over. It would get a little frustrating when I missed something and would have to go back and forth. Not really a deal breaker but I hope the travel time is cut down in the next episodes.

Erica is equipped with her gun, cellphone, and cognitive powers. Throughout the game you will collect evidence and use special items to help with solving puzzles. These items will remain in your inventory and are accessible at anytime. Items in your inventory can be examined, combined, and interacted with as you progress through the story. Adding a cellphone to the game mechanics was an interesting touch. Just like our everyday use, Erica uses it to take photos, search the web, play music, and mark her calendar. Don’t leave home without it.

By the end of the first episode, Erica will have three different cognitive abilities. I already mentioned “cognition,” which is the ability that allows Erica to see the past while touching an object. The second ability she learns is “projection.” This allows her to combine three objects in a room to project an image or vision of what happened in the past. “Regression” is her third and final ability. It gives her the power to dig deep into the mind and retrieve lost or forgotten memories. Erica’s Cognitive powers sound like an awesome idea in theory, but after awhile they started to drive me crazy. Specifically with the interrogation puzzle, which involves identifying the John Doe murder victim. Remember when you were in grade school and your teacher would ask you to put on your thinking cap? Well I hope you didn’t throw it away, because you’re going to need it.

I give Phoenix Online Studios credit for coming up with a game that is so involved and has a ridiculous attention to detail. However, there were a few occasions that possibly went too far. When I needed to retrieve evidence the nice lady at the front desk required a completed evidence form. This means I had to go back to my computer and print the form. Sadly, it took me a minute or two to find the printer. Remember, the space bar is your friend when you need to find points of interest. I mentioned earlier I had a problem with all of the traveling back and forth. During the interrogation puzzle I had to use the elevator way too many times. The game was forcing me to run errands while trying to conduct an interview in the interrogation room.

The soundtrack went along with the story quite well and does an excellent job setting the mood for each scene. It’s hard for me to comment on the voice acting. Erica is from Boston and the accent is laid on pretty thick at times. It never took me out of the story, but I did catch myself calling a character a “scumbag” in a terrible Boston accent.

Overall I had a pleasing experience with Cognition. Players get to make choices on how the story unfolds. That’s a huge plus in my book and certainly adds to the replay value. It seemed a little long for my taste, but I suppose that’s better than being too short. The story took me nearly six hours to complete. I’m curious to see how Erica will handle herself after what took place in the final moments of episode one.

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is available now for download on PC and Mac at Rain Digital Games, GamersGate, and GameStop. Purchase the first episode, The Hangman for $9.99 or a season pass (all four episodes) for $29.99 and receive a digital comic book.

Review Rating 7.5/10

Pros: Stylish graphics, sweet soundtrack, easy controls, and engaging story.
Cons: Backtracking, trivial tasks, and a bit too long.


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