Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 1: The HangmanPC

very good
key review info
  • Game: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 1: The Hangman
  • Platform: PC
  • Gamepad support: No
  • Reviewed on:
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Stepping out of the dark and into the light with the fan-game sequel to King's Quest, The Silver Lining, Phoenix Online Studios turns to the crowd (and by that I mean Kickstarter) in order to develop a ten-year-old dream: an episodic adventure game in the spirit of Dexter and Heavy Rain.

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is a traditional detective-adventure game with all the right pieces: a gripping storyline, paranormal filled scenes, all the violence and crime you could ask for, a good-looking female FBI agent and an ending that will leave you wanting for more.

Will the developers be able to assemble these elements into an irresistible package? Let's find out.

Story

Take on the role of Erica Reed, an FBI agent from Boston, Massachusetts, scarred by the loss of her brother to a serial killer (Cain Killer) whose modus operandi is very gruesome and who has a thing for torturing siblings. The game starts to unravel when Erica's boss, Davies, closes the case and re-assigns her to another strange murder.

Just like in the case of her brother, Erica deals with a serial killer that enjoys making the victim suffer. Help the FBI agent follow the bread crumbs and piece together clues that will lead her to a suspect.

In order to crack this new case, Erica develops new paranormal abilities and improves her old cognition gift, with the help of an antique shop owner by the name of Rose. Will these be enough to save her boss from the Hangman killer?

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What seems ordinary to us ...
... can hide secrets for Erica Reed


Unlike most adventure games, this one doesn't have a starting story that grows along with the game; it will thrust you in the middle of events and it's up to you and to your imagination to glue the cinematic scenes together and get the bigger picture.

Gameplay

The game opens with a usual Unity engine start-up screen, where you can choose the screen's resolution and graphic quality and where you can also change the control input. Even in the Options menu itself, there aren't many customizable elements, but the notable ones are anti-aliasing, hints and tutorials.

If you think Cognition is a typical point-and-click adventure game, you're a bit off. The game also incorporates a paranormal side, so besides obvious puzzles, you must also know how, when and on what to use your psychic powers.

Before being thrown in the main case of The Hangman, you'll learn a little about the main character, Erica Reed, and the death of her younger brother. The “prequel” that happens three years in the past, sets the tone of the game: pressure and urgency, stress-filled action, explicit violence scenes, abnormal abilities and, of course, intriguing puzzles.

The game starts with the new case, the hanging of a John Doe, that turns out to be the work of an evil mastermind. Leaving almost no evidence at the crime scene, Erica must scour the entire city of Boston, investigate, take statements and gather clues that might lead her to the killer.

In order to travel though the huge city, you'll get a map with the most important locations. Once the game progresses, more and more locations become available. If sometimes you see the red light of a location blinking, make your way there as fast as possible, as that scene has something important to offer. The hard part comes when there's no blinking red button and you must search each location and try to find useful objects in each of them.

Cognition is filled with brain-bending puzzles, inventory combinations and, of course, the usage of your paranormal skills. Each beautifully crafted scene requires intense investigation: you must first look at an object in order to allow a certain action to happen or in order to make further progress. Some scenes require several playthroughs in order to find every required object.

Even from the second scene of the game, you'll be acquainted with your first paranormal ability: Cognition. Using this skill, you'll be able to see the past actions associated with a significant object. Playing the game will allow you to uncover two more, very useful powers: Projection and Regression. With Projection, you must select three related hotspots (objects) in order to project evidence that previously existed in a certain scene. Regression allows you to enter a person's mind and it's best used with interrogation techniques.

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Explore the city of Boston ...
... down to the most hidden places


The hint system took me back in time to the old adventure games, where the in-game help didn't give too much information, but it did reveal enough to help you advance to the next scene. In order to use the hints, just press the spacebar key on your keyboard.

The characters are a bit one-dimensional, but keep in mind that this is only the first game in the series, so its objective is to familiarize the player with the most important characters. Even though they look and talk in a convincing manner, the dialogue can sometimes get a bit boring, mostly due to clichés. The discussions between Erica and her partner are like a scene from the old Kojak movie, while the dialogues with Rose made me feel like I was playing Jennifer Love Hewitt in the Ghost Whisperer (minus the low-cut shirts).

The Erica Reed Thriller can provide challenges even for experienced adventure seekers, as well as for beginners to the genre. Even if sometimes things seem impossible, all the puzzles can be solved with patience and perseverance.

Video and Audio

The first episode in the Cognition series features hand-painted backgrounds, characters, objects (2D) and also hand-painted cinematics (3D), so a lot of work was put into the creation of each scene. The locations Erica visits seem almost real, though the design of the characters, bulky at times, will bring you down into the video gaming world.



The cut-scenes are animated artwork with a comic-book feel, and even if the hand drawings are pretty good, in my opinion the animations drag the scales down with the lack of movement fluidity and the occasional wall slips. These small bugs make the game look unprofessionally crafted, although you can tell that a lot of effort has been poured into making it. There's no need to worry though, these problems have also been seen in some major titles – yes, I'm talking about you, Fallout: New Vegas.

The soundtrack, with obvious industrial rock influences, places a well-deserved plus sign near the game's name, as each scene comes to life thanks to the right tune.


The Good

  • Quite catchy game story
  • Very challenging puzzles, but not impossible
  • Great-looking artwork
  • Solid soundtrack and remarkable voice interpretations

The Bad

  • You can sometimes get stuck, even if you're using the hint system
  • Lack of an autosave function
  • The animations are sometimes glitchy

Conclusion

I must admit that playing it made me feel like a detective and I'm starting to appreciate the hard work lawmen put into solving a case. If the detective part ever gets boring, the game turns to its paranormal side to keep everyone entertained.

Even though the animations are a bit faulty, the amount of work that the developers put into this project almost surfaces while playing the game. Solid story with paranormal elements, gorgeous hand-drawn scenes, above average puzzles and a great ending (for the first episode in a series) make this game a must-have in every gamer's inventory.

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story 7
gameplay 8
concept 7
graphics 9
audio 9
multiplayer 0
final rating 8
Editor's review
very good
 
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