I don’t know about you, but I have a vice for mystery games. Ever since I played my first Nancy Drew game as a kid, I’ve loved solving virtual crimes and puzzles. So I’m always keen to try out new titles.
In a recent search for a new game to sate my thirst for mystery, I stumbled upon Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, a game which seemed to blend the classic detective game formula with supernatural elements. I quickly became interested and downloaded the first episode, The Hangman on my Android phone. There are four episodes in total and they are all available for download from the Google Play Store.
The game was designed by indie studio Phoenix Online Studios, which was until a few years ago a group of dedicated hobbyists scattered throughout the world, working on their fan tribute to the King’s Quest games. The Silver Lining was developed over many years and faced a lot of turmoil, but eventually it got released in four chapters. Fast forward to the present, and the studio playing a big part in the resurgence of adventure gaming with games like the Erica Reed series.
For this mystery thriller, they brought on board Gabriel Knight-creator Jane Jensen as a story consultant. Not surprisingly, the game packs a dark and intense story-line within an intriguing, albeit at times slow game.
The Erica Reed adventure has been available to play on PC for a few years now, but you can also play it on your Android smartphone or tablet.
Cognition is a point-and-click adventure, which follows Boston FBI detective Erica Reed as she searches for clues and solves puzzles in order to solve gruesome murders.
The game approaches very unsettling subjects, so it’s definitely not for the most sensitive players out there. Some cut-scenes are also pretty violent and disturbing, so if you’re not the type to stomach that, I recommend you stay away from this one.
Anyway, Erica Reed is not your average detective. Sure, she’s intuitive and clever, but on top of that, she possesses a special gift. She can see the past through a series of flashbacks.
The game starts with Erica and her FBI partner John McCoy attempting to enter a cemetery where they believe the Cain Killer is holding Erica’s twin brother, Scott, hostage. So your first task is to go rescue Scott.
It’s here that you’re first introduced to Erica’s strange powers. Tap on the Cognition sphere at the bottom left and it will reveal certain glowing areas in your environment. These can be a statue or a table and as Erica examines them, she’ll catch a glimpse of the object’s past. Which in turn helps her get closer to solving the puzzles in the level.
Unfortunately, Erica is unable to save Scott. Or so it becomes apparent after we move on to the next part of the story. Three years have passed and we find that Erica is now living in Boston and is working downtown at the FBI headquarters. She’s determined to track down the person who murdered her brother three years ago. But wait! Didn’t she set him on fire at the end of chapter one? This part got me a little confused, but I have to admit, I was intrigued and very curious to find out what actually happened to Scott.
Erica’s flashbacks continue…
Anyway, Erica is called to investigate a new homicide case involving a man who was hung to death. Her boss wants her to take it slow, but Erica is having none of that.
As you play, Erica’s cognition ability develops into something more complex. For example, Erica can now select three related hotspots in order to unlock evidence that previously existed in the location. Like the ancient artifact that she finds at the hangman crime scene.
The game opens up quite a little bit in the second part. You’re given multiple locations across Boston to visit including the Cemetery where Scott’s buried or the Antique shop, where John’s voodoo queen friend helps Erica understand her abilities.
Even if the game is pretty simple in concept: visit the locations, search for clues, solve the puzzles, it quite challenging at times. I’ve often got stuck and had to revisit each location a couple more times in order to finally figure out a solution. In one particular instance, failing to correctly complete a problem, gets you killed. And you’ll have to start all over again.
The implausible puzzles were another reason why I was slow to make progress. For example, in one scene you need to use your partner’s lighter, but for some obscure reason, John won’t give it to you. You’ll have to distract him with snacks, but not just any snacks. It has to be doughnuts. And oh, they are pretty hard to find around Boston.
But at least the game benefits from a pretty effective hint system. So you can turn to that if you feel your frustration level rising.
If you love comics, you’ll adore Cognition’s artwork. The striking 2D backgrounds and character designs are very impressive and detailed, but I can’t say the same for the animations which are quite awkwardly-made, most of the time. Flashback to Scott looking like a freaking zombie in the scene where he was chained up to that table in the underground tomb.
On the brighter side of things, the soundtrack, created by Austin Haynes (who also made the music for the Silver Lining) is truly excellent and unsettling. The music does a great job of exacerbating the uncanny feeling that seems to be hanging in the air at all times
The voice acting is pretty good too, albeit a bit melodramatic at times. Although I couldn’t help but get bored with some of the lengthier, superfluous dialogues. Speaking of which, I found the subtitle font way too small.
But this is just one of the limitations of playing this sort of game on a phone. It’s also not that easy to tap on smaller or far-away objects and you can’t zoom either. So yeah you might want to try this game on a tablet, instead of a smartphone like I did. The bigger screen will most likely make a huge difference.
When it comes to performance, the game usually runs pretty smooth, but I’ve noticed the occasional graphics glitches. Loading times are pretty long too, at times.
But if you can see past these (minor) inconveniences, Cognition will provide an overall enjoyable experience. I really loved the story, it’s bizarre, gruesome at times and keeps you guessing until the very end. It’s not at all predictable, which is a very big plus in my book.