This deadline thing has been hard to keep, as you know. So until further notice I’ll publish posts and reviews “when I’m done”. Unless you’re willing to pay me, that is. Then I’ll make any deadline!
So I finally picked up Cognition, the “Kickstarted” adventure from Phoenix Online Studios. I tried the demo a couple of months ago and I must say it made quite the impression on me. The visuals, especially, are stunning! But as I seem to get about 2.5 games A DAY, I haven’t prioritized it until now. Cognition, or Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller if bothering to use the full (and quite tacky) title of the game, is an episodic point-and-click thriller from Phoenix Online Studios. The same studio that recently blew life into the old Sierra On-Line King’s Quest series with their other episodic game The Silver Lining, a game that pays great homage to the original series. Cognition, however, is far from the lands of Daventry.
Set in a gritty and dark Boston, you play Erica Reed – an FBI agent with a sixth sense allowing her to see into the history of people and objects she touches. Three years after the death of her brother, whose murderer never was caught, she is handed a case concerning a strange hanging. Together with her partner John McCoy (Seriously? Where did they get that name? Dial-a-cliche?) they set out to find the killer and find it has ties to an apparent suicide dating a few years back. When I say “they set out” I really just mean you. All McCoy does is sit by his desk. The entire game! Instead, you get stuck with your ex-or-whatever, Sully, as a partner. As the plot thickens, the story just gets better and better. It’s well written and uses a classic thriller style found in many older crime novels. That, mixed with Reed’s special abilities which evolve throughout the game makes for a fresh take on an old concept. Sierra On-Line legend Jane Jensen (creator and writer of games like Police Quest 3, the entire Gabriel Knight-series and now more recently Grey Matter) consulted on the game’s story, and it shows in the level of competence that shines through.
On the technical side I must first and foremost commend the fantastic artwork in the game. This is far beyond many of the heavy titles in the same genre such as the Still Life franchise (even when taking the years they were released into account). That, together with great character animation and a good looking and easy navigable interface design gives Cognition a good head start. Utilizing the Unity Engine, Phoenix Online Studios have created eye candy that’ll give you cavities, considering budget and the fact that this is only their second game, and their very first commercial title. The music sets the mood perfectly with easy but melancholy melodies when you go about your less exciting business and haunting tunes when the occasion calls for it.
Cognition isn’t particularly hard, but presents a decent challenge with clever but logical puzzles. There is a built in hint system that I tried and actually liked. I’m personally not much for looking solutions up, but when it’s built in it doesn’t feel like cheating in the same way. I used it when I didn’t have the time and patience to figure something out and the hints were well written, pointing you in the right direction without just telling you right out what to do. I guess that’s why it’s called a “hint system” and not a “solution system”. There is also a button you can click to see every item of importance in a room without having to pixel hunt for any interactive items. It’s pretty standard these days to have this feature, and I’m thankful for that. Some adventure games can be hard enough as they are without also taking up loads of your time just trying to find anything to click on.
The game is about 5-8 hours long (depending on how much time you spend writing a review at the same time, I guess). For an episodic game it’s actually pretty long, I would say, which I find makes the game well worth the money. I’m having trouble finding anything bad to say about Cognition. A few graphical glitches occurred during my time with it, but nothing that were consistent and it never affected the gameplay. With a quick, easy, and good looking user interface, Phoenix Online Studios delivers one of the, if not the, best old school thrillers since Heavy Rain and it leaves you with suspense waiting for the next episode, The Wise Monkey, coming in late January 2013. But even if the episode ends on a cliffhanger, it still serves a great story that can easily be played as a standalone game. Phoenix Online Studios houses great talent and I will be following them closely in the future. A review of The Wise Monkey will be coming in February. Season passes are available to buy at GamersGate with gives you access to all four episodes as they are released, along with some pre-order bonus content.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Episode One: The Hangman is certainly one of the best thriller adventures to come along in the genre for a long long time. Point-and-click adventures in general as a genre are coming back with a vengeance. Kickstarter is probably a big part of this, as there are many nostalgic fans willing to fund games like the ones they played as teenagers. Phoenix Online Studios is certainly showing the world the potential of both Kickstarter and the genre as a storytelling medium. As mentioned, Cognition delivers an eerie thriller and, while never being an action game, never drops the pace. It will be interesting to follow up on the coming episodes, but for now The Hangman is well worth your time and money. Check out the demo and see for yourselves. Also, if you like the demo or the game, why not vote for the game on Steam Greenlight?
Technical: 4.0 / 6.0
Presentation: 4.5 / 6.0
Gameplay: 4.0 / 6.0
Overall: 5.0 / 6.0
AVERAGE SCORE: 4.375 / 6.0