Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is an episodic point-and-click adventure game by Indie game developer Phoneix Online Studios. Having been one of the earliest adventure game projects to be successfully funded via Kickstarter and with the involvement of famed game designer, Jane Jensen, Cognition has a spark of promise about itself.
The first of four episodes, The Hangman starts with the woeful background story of Erica Reed, a Boston-based FBI agent, who is gifted with special cognitive powers. These powers give her to ability to look into the past, be it by projecting memory strands from objects around her or by regressing into other peoples’ memories. Using Erica’s abilities, you’ll have to employ your thinking and reasoning skills to solve nicely designed, demanding puzzles that unravel the plot one step at a time. Add to this a few refreshing ideas such as interaction-based questionnaires, and it makes for a very interesting gameplay mechanic.
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The Hangman is completely driven by its rich plot and dense character build-up; two areas where the game excels. You’d find yourself trying to extract every bit of information/help that each character has to offer in helping you proceed, and with a fair bit of logical thinking too. The game also incorporates the usage of the in-game web/phone/computer very well in aiding your quest.
The Hangman is completely driven by its rich plot and dense character build-up.
Cognition features a distinctive visual style that is a mix of comic representation and cel-shaded art. It’s not too taxing and does the job fairly well. The voice acting, as you’d expect from an adventure game, is solid too. Where Cognition fails to impress is with its interface and attention to detail. The spinning Windoiws Vista-styled ‘wait’ cursor will get on your nerves every time. An option to skip slow moving animations would’ve have been a welcome addition too. For a game that is so logic-driven, it hurts to see the clock stuck at six in more than one place every time you visit. Furthermore, you feel cheated when you leave a character conversing behind in one room, only to find him/her doing their chores meticulously in the next room.
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Because of the way Cognition progresses, you’ll be running to and fro and visiting the same environment one too many times. Each environment has its own background music and standard set of character dialogues. The score felt good initially, but got boring soon, but not sooner than you’ll hear, “See ya later, alligator!” for the umpteenth time. And last but not the least, the game has a lot of bugs and glitches that disrupt the flow of gameplay. All these minor niggles peg Cognition back from harnessing its true potential.
With all its drawbacks keeping it honest, The Hangman still finishes as an enjoyable episode that gets most of the basics right. And the best part about it is that it whips up a worthy conclusion to the episode, ending as a cliff-hanger and setting up the next one well; even many AAA titles fail to deliver this these days. I’m certainly looking forward to playing the next episode, The Wise Monkey. With a mix of supernatural abilities with a dense character build-up, a strong plot and well designed, challenging puzzles, The Hangman surprisingly takes quite a while to beat, and keeps you guessing throughout. Well worth playing for adventure game lovers.