Cognition Episode 1 Review
Over the weekend, I sat down with Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 1: The Hangman. And no, this isn't a bad hip hop album getting a review here. It's a new adventure gaming title from Phoenix Online Studios, just released on iOS.
Cognition is an old-school adventure game starring a female main character that's a hard-boiled FBI Agent with supernatural powers. No wonder the game was able to find funding on Kickstarter. It also didn't hurt to have veteran adventure game designer Jane Jensen involved. Cognition Episode 1 was released on the PC a few months ago, the first of four episodes. Just last week, that first episode found its way over to the iPad.
In Cognition, you play as Erica Reed, an FBI Agent who lives in Boston and is on a mission to find the serial killer who murdered her brother three years ago. Each episode of Cognition works as a self-contained investigation into a serial killer that will also advance the larger story of who killed Erica's brother.
Aiding Erica along the way are her strange ESP powers, which help her find clues to cases. Even though she usually has some kind of control over these powers, they are still new to her and will change as she goes along. It's fun to discover new psychic abilities and learn how to use them to catch serial killers.
The ESP button works as sort of a hint indicator that will illuminate certain objects with a glowing light. If you bring Erica over to examine one of these objects, you will be hit with a moment from that object's past, the majority of which have sinister overtones. Like, if you go ESP that candelabra, you're probably not going to see a vision of a nice, romantic dinner, but probably of someone getting whacked over the head. These flashbacks are a signature part of the game and serve to both help you solve puzzles and introduce new ones.
As a game, Cognition has its heart in the right place. I'm always for point-and-click adventure games being made these days. And its great when game makers can come up with a female protagonist with a little edge that's not just a buoyant mannequin. So yeah, Cognition does a lot of things right.
The style is gritty and really fits the Boston location and the direction of the story. Speaking of the story, it feels rich, fleshed out and very adult. This is due in no small part to the involvement of Jensen, who served as a consultant. However, the art can be inconsistent at times, going from a gorgeous, bleakly rendered exterior shot to a close-up of a character who feels out of proportion.
For instance, there's a few moments where it looks as though Erica has hands like an NBA player. Fortunately, there's atmosphere to spare here, both in the actual gameplay and the comic-book-style story sequences that are fit between puzzle elements of the game. But nothing kills atmosphere quite like technical glitches. And unfortunately, there's plenty of those to be found with this title.
In terms of production values, Cognition seems to be on par with something like Hollywood Monsters. But unfortunately, Phoenix Online has not been able to make as seamless a transition over to iOS as Pendulo was able to pull off. Graphical glitches, characters disappearing, muddy controls, excessive loading times, and the occasional jittery animation serve to mar the slick presentation. These consistency problems make Cognition feel a bit rough around the edges, even though you can tell that it's not supposed to be. I'm not sure if the same bugs are present while playing on PC, but it's certainly evident on the iPad.
Since this is the first of four episodes, they still have time to polish up the code and get the iOS version of this game playing a little smoother. My hope is that by the time the whole game has been released, the iPad version will work as well as the PC version. But they have some work to do in the meantime to get iPad version ironed out.
App Store Link: Cognition Episode 1 for iPad | By Phoenix Online Studios | Price: $3.99 | Version: 1 | 617 MB | Rating 17+