I can’t remember a time recently when a game had me as emotionally engaged as much as Phoenix Online Studio’s series Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. Everything about the characters and the story had me hooked to the point where I literally had to see the series through to its end. It was completed within a few days. The entire series takes indie-gaming to a whole new level, and at the end of Episode 4 (the latest and final chapter) I was still sitting there taking it all in.
Although the game has been released episodically over the last year or so, the latest episode was released recently on September 19th 2013, and is perfect for gamers who are looking for a point and click adventure with enough plot-twists and cliffhangers to keep you hooked to your PC. Even better, now that the whole series is available on Steam, fans of the original and players who are new to the game will get all four episodes in one go from the very beginning, which as an added bonus, means not having to wait for the next episode to be released.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is a detective mystery thriller with a unique twist. Playing as FBI Detective Erica Reed, you are on the hunt for a serial killer called The Cain Killer. When The Cain Killer kidnaps Erica’s brother, things become a lot closer to home. Erica’s goal throughout the series is fixated on the pursuit of The Cain Killer and putting him right where he belongs, behind bars, and she won’t stop until she sees justice. A few years on, and Erica is doing her thing, when a new murderer comes on the scene. The difference with this one is, this new killer seems to know Erica’s secret. You see, Erica is no ordinary detective. She has the ability to see into the past upon touching someone or something, and can use this special ability to her advantage by using it to piece together the many clues of a crime scene. It becomes apparent that somebody else knows about her special powers, and so the mystery as to who this person is and how they are linked to the ‘Cain Killer’ continues.
Erica’s talent is one of the most interesting aspects of the game, and is used greatly to advance the story forward. Every glimpse of an item, every memory from a person’s past becomes an indent or impression of a bigger picture, and eventually when the story starts opening up, everything that Erica has seen, examined or felt, cognitively or otherwise, becomes a part of something so much bigger. Throughout each episode, and as she starts to learn more about herself, Erica’s powers begin to evolve, which in turn takes the game in some interesting and riveting directions.The game starts off at a reasonable pace, with Episode One more about exploring Erica’s powers and the people she surrounds herself with in her everyday life. Much of the time is spent getting to know the people she works with, and acquainting herself with the world surrounding her. Although the story doesn’t flesh out until the end of the first Episode, I actually preferred the way in which the game started planting the seeds of mystery, and found it a joy to experience and uncover the world in which she lives. This made the character’s seem a lot more real, and had so much more emotional impact when it truly mattered. The only other time this has truly happened, has been when playing the Mass Effect Series, and it’s remarkable to see how another game can truly hook in and emotionally engage the player to the point where every moment throughout the series is of sheer importance. Cognition, without a doubt, is a series that most definitely gets better as you play.
The writing and dialogue in Cognition is first-class, and remarkably well presented. Every character throughout the series feels very real, and each conversation had is very believable. The voice-acting is outstanding, and this is all topped off with a fantastic soundtrack that needs no introduction; the band in the game is none other than ‘The Scarlet Furies’, and the music fits together with the game’s dark tone considerably. The aspect of the game which blew me away the most, however, had to be the game’s fantastic art style, and its incredible cut-scenes, that brought the game alive and created the most enthralling atmosphere throughout.
Unfortunately, Cognition, is fantastic a game as it is, doesn’t go without it’s flaws. Being glued to the game from beginning to end made it easy to highlight a few of the issues that had a slight negative impact on the overall experience. The characters animations, especially when walking and moving, were on the awkward side, and sometimes the animations were so broken to the point that they would literally have the character disappearing, or sliding across the floor in a crazy manner. The Steam version, however, has since been patched.
Furthermore, though the majority of the puzzles in the game were well-designed, and complex in the best way possible, there were a few puzzles throughout that literally were so frustrating that it was beyond impossible to not use the handy hint system to figure out what was going wrong. The greatest feature of the game has to be that if you get stuck, there’s always somewhere to turn to help you along the way. “HEY DAD, HELP ME.” (Erica’s Dad has the answers to everything, apparently. This is not a bad thing, the guy knows his stuff.) So, in any case, for the gamer who loves a challenge, the puzzles in this game will certainly go down well. Though I, on the other hand, struggled with some of the more complex ones, it was quite the enjoyable process to figure out the solution and the process never got old, especially since there was a whole variety of different puzzles and challenges to overcome.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is without a doubt, one of the most accessible story-driven point-and-click adventure games that I have had the honor of playing, and I believe anyone who loves a good mystery story, with some interesting and unique elements of gameplay will fall in love with this straight away. The game’s overall presentation outshines any potential issues, and if you’re someone who loves a good emotionally-driven story, you will not want to miss this masterpiece of a game.
Emotionally engaging and remarkably well-written story
Great overall tone and presentation
Beautiful art style
Stiff animation styles
A couple very obscure and complex puzzles
Overall rating: 4 out of 5