Psychic detective Erica Reed is having a pretty ropey day. First her brother gets kidnapped by the same psychotic serial killer she’s hunting down, then she gets pulled into a twisted game reminiscent of the Saw films to try and save his life. As far as adventure game introductions go, Cognition Episode One: Hangman (An Erica Reed Thriller) is one of the most hard-hitting. We had to sit in a quiet room and sip mulberry tea afterwards, to try and calm down a bit.
Ignoring the sheer infeasibility of the opener, which sees the killer booby trap a crypt with all manner of bombs and spiky death traps, it’s certainly a great intro to the characters and Erica’s psychic powers. In terms of control and the inventory system, Cognition Episode One is as you’d expect: click on hotspots to examine or interact with them, and click on items to use them with other stuff. However, it’s the psychic powers that really set this game apart from other adventures.
For instance, when Erica and her partner John arrive in the cemetery where the killer has dragged her brother, the two men appear to have vanished. But by clicking on the ‘cognition’ icon in the bottom left corner of the screen, certain objects - in this case a set of footprints - start to glow mysteriously. Selecting them brings up a brief view of the past, so we can see the killer stalking around the back of a nearby crypt. If you follow this ‘ghost’ you open up another premonition, this time showing the killer digging in a certain spot. There are two more psychic powers which open up later in the game, and while we feel they are best left for you to discover yourself, they offer a bit more of a challenge and are sufficiently different to prove interesting.
M for Mature
Once you’ve deduced that her brother is trapped in the crypt, you have to guide Erica through a couple of grisly little scenes to try and rescue him. It’s here that Cognition Episode One really shows how it earned that ‘Mature’ rating. For a start there’s Erica’s potty mouth. We obviously can’t blame her for dropping a few F-bombs given the situation, but beware if you’re planning on playing this game around young ‘uns, unless you want them picking up a few new words. Then there’s the violence. In our first twenty minutes, we got to see Erica’s brains smeared across the wall three or four times - although thankfully the game restarts you right before you cocked up, so there’s no lengthy replays of sections you already completed.
The more violent moments are definitely gritty, but the brilliant cel-shaded graphics give everything a glorious comic book sheen, similar to the Walking Dead games. Stuff like hair seems a little rigid and could use some proper animation, but the environments look fantastic and objects are cleanly rendered. The music isn’t quite as successful, often comprising of blaring guitar riffs even during sedate scenes in Erica’s office, making it a little jarring at times. Thankfully it can be easily turned off.
Pick up the pace
After the brief intro, the story skips ahead three years and shows Erica solving yet another murder, this time a John Doe who was found hanged. After analysing the crime scene, the game slows right down to allow Erica to chat with the supporting cast and develop her psychic powers. Cognition dragged a little in this section, with practically no puzzles to solve - it’s really a case of trekking around, talking with everyone you can to further the plot. Also, we weren’t exactly enamoured with the NPCs, who are either simple stereotypes (the shouty police chief who’s angry at everyone for no reason) or just plain annoying (Erica’s partner John, who is the laziest, most worthless waste of space we’ve ever had the displeasure of virtually working with).
Things pick up again when you start to link this case to an older one, and find yourself having to reassemble a key witness’ memories. Your trusty smartphone and work PC, which can be used to search the web or the FBI’s database, prove to be key tools in solving some of these problems. It’s a neat idea and one we rarely see implemented in adventure games - after all, if you need to find the name of a restaurant, what better way to do it than our good friend Google?
After some nifty detective work, it’s then a headlong rush to the finish line. The fact that this is ‘Episode One’ should give you some indication of how it ends, although we were still surprised by how abruptly the credits started to roll. Anyone looking for closure will have to patiently twiddle their thumbs until the next installment. So far, Cognition has enough mystery and grit to keep us interested in continuing the story, even if the characters aren’t the most likeable bunch. We’re just hoping the pace is a bit stronger in the next episode.