Game Review: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, Episode 1

[tw: suicide mention, especially suicide by hanging, racism]

I don’t really get the whole episodic games craze right now. Yeah apparently The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us (and Telltale Games’ stuff in general) are the shit and everyone must play them, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s just like watching TV only you have to wait months instead of days for the next episode, that is, if the company even finishes the game at all.

Please note that this is just the review of episode one, next week I’ll do episode two. it’ll be just like doing recaps of a TV show.

Cognition is one of those games that kept popping up on my radar and I never paid it much attention until I realized it had a Steam demo, I tried it, saw that it was on sale at GOG.com, and thought “What the hell, I have $8,” and bought it. I’ve played some really crappy demos, but this one was solid and I definitely recommend it to get a feel for the game.

Here’s the setup: you are Erica Reed, an FBI agent, and your job is to catch serial killers. Each episode features a different serial killer. In episode one, Erica is on the hunt for the Hangman, a serial killer who makes their murders look like suicides.

Cognition is yet another point and click adventure game that seem to always end up in my library, and, in that respect, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. You can click on objects in the environment to bring up options to look at it, investigate it further, or use an object in your inventory on it. Cognition‘s unique feature is Erica’s cognitive powers. She starts with the ability to see past events, and as the game goes on she picks up a couple more powers: the ability to “project” an image of something that’s missing from a scene using objects related to that scene, and “regression” which helps subjects regain lost memories. Each power is color-coded (blue for seeing the past, green for projection, pink for regression) so you’ll always know which powers can be used on which objects. The trick is knowing when to use them. For instance, an early puzzle has you using precognition to cut a bunch of wires in the reverse order in which they were connected to disable a trap. The game is also not afraid to force you to think on your feet (with bloody consequences for failure) fortunately autosaves are frequent and you can save almost anywhere.

Cognition takes the other favourite indy game graphics style route and goes for comic book style graphics with few animations. The graphics are very bright and colorful, in-game animations are very fluid. The music does get a bit repetitive, but I particularly enjoyed the main theme, a melancholy piano piece.

I did have a couple issues with this first episode. The first is that the voice acting really is a mixed bag. Erica’s voice is tolerable, but Rose’s (the lady who runs the antique shop) is not. The dialogue can get really awkward at times, and the characters are the typical stock characters you’d find in any crime drama: the overbearing boss, the grouch in forensics, the nerdy tech guy, the magical black lady (yes, the game has a magical black lady) and apart from that last one, they’re not horrible characters, they’re just….typical.

The other major issue I had with this game was the lack of prompts. The game definitely doesn’t hold your hand and it requires you to read between the lines a bit, but oftentimes I didn’t realize I needed to do a thing because there was absolutely no indication whatsoever that it was something I needed to do (for instance, talking to a certain character to get a new gadget at a certain point). In a particularly frustrating moment, i had to interrupt what could have been an intense interrogation to hunt for items I needed that the game wouldn’t let me get before that point. Fortunately, the game has a hint system in case you get stuck, that said, the fact that I was stuck at a few points was more me not being observant than Adventure Game Moon Logic. This episode is also a bit slow, the very beginning is action-packed but then you spend most of the time wandering back and forth between locations looking for clues.

The other place the game fails is how it treats its black characters. There are three, one of the police officers working the crime scene who gets a few lines, Rose, who is the aforementioned magical black lady, and your boss, who promptly exits stage left for most of the episode. Seriously though, racist tropes are racist.

Overall, despite the presence of some fired old tropes, I liked the first episode of Cognition and I look forward to playing the rest. See you next week with a new episode!

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