Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller was one of the early gaming Kickstarter successes, pre-dating the current wave brought about by the Double Fine Adventure. It marks the first commercial release from Phoenix Online Studios (creators of the Kings Quest inspired project ‘The Silver Lining‘) in collaboration with Khaeon Gamestudios. A series of four episodes; Cognition follows FBI special agent Erica Reed as she divides her time between the cases she’s been assigned to, and one much more personal to her, through classic point-and-click gameplay.
Episode One: The Hangman nails the feeling of a police procedural show, but adds on a layer of supernatural abilities. Erica can use a special power to see brief scenes of the past, which aids her investigations quite a bit. These powers expand throughout the episode, allowing her to see further, while also adding interesting gameplay elements. The puzzles are fairly straight forward, but the ones involving Erica’s ability are the strongest. Certain aspects of the game remind me of Cing’s Again: Eye of Providence, specifically the power of seeing the past. Cognition handles things far more smoothly though, and has me curious to see how they’ll utilize the toolset going forward. However there are instances where you can see a puzzle solution or item use, but aren’t allowed to act on it until the game wants you to, requiring backtracking through locations, which I found disappointing. Hopefully this will be addressed in future episodes.
Cognition blends gorgeous 2D backgrounds, with 3D characters that look like a mix between Telltale’s Law & Order: Legacies, and The Darkness II. There are also motion comic cutscenes that are really well done, mixed in with a lovely soundtrack (seriously, go listen to these samples). Step-daughter of adventure gaming legend Jane Jensen (who serves as story consultant for the series) Raleigh Holmes provides her voice for Erica Reed, to great success. Some of the characters that inhabit the world of Cognition seem to play into certain stereotypes (see the nerdy forensic guy, or your gumshoe, reluctant partner), but it seems intentional, almost as if the developers are paying homage to the genre. The presentation of all of these things put together is quite impressive.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is off to a really intriguing start. A police procedural style is a natural fit for episodic gaming, and the added supernatural elements complement it nicely. The presentation of a wonderful soundtrack, and a blend of 2D art with 3D characters makes the game world come to life. Most importantly it sets the stage for a much larger story, that I’m very curious to see the outcome to.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller can be purchased individually by episode, or as a complete season pass through Rain, GamersGate, Gamestop.com, Green Man Gaming, and Gamefly. Additionally there’s a Steam Greenlight campaign, and a demo of the first episode.