It’s always refreshing to see a quality new adventure game pop up from places other than Telltale Games.Cognition is a new series put out by indie developer Phoenix Online Studios as a product of a Kickstarter campaign. The first episode in the four part series, titled ‘The Hangman’ introduces us to Boston FBI agent Erica Reed, and gets into the action right away, as we find her hot on the trail of a serial killer who kidnapped her brother. Unfortunately for her, things go south and she ends up losing her brother and the murderer’s trail. Fast forward three years later, a murder case brings back painful memories.
Cognition sticks to the traditional formula of adventure games, mainly, the pointing and clicking, and inventory management. Thoroughly exploring environments, going from place to place and talking to people for clues is part of the meat and potatoes in this game. The other part is the mental power Reed possesses, a sort of sixth sense that acts as a way for her to see into the past and sometimes, into the future, just by touching objects or people. Using this premonition is one of the main ways of discovering clues and information in Cognition. That power is put to good use thanks to its clever implementation during gameplay.
Erica can’t let go of the guilt surrounding her brother’s death. Will she find redemption?
That implementation goes beyond just seeing previous events that took place. Reed also learns how to interact with a sort of “spirit” manifestation of items and people, which can then be examined in order to find more clues than the normal eye can see. In one particular scenario, for instance, she’s able to examine a corpse that was removed from the crime scene earlier, giving her further insight towards the next set of evidence. The third and last power comes towards the end of the game and is used to piece together scattered bits of memories, helping people remember important pieces of information that pertain to the case.
Surely, a supernatural element in investigation stories is nothing new, but the way it’s used in Cognition is so well done that it fits in perfectly. I’m sure these powers will play a big role towards later episodes. Who knows what other latent abilities are out there to be discovered and used by Erica! If the FBI can hire a crazed alien life believer like Fox Mulder, why not a psychic like Erica Reed?
Hand drawn stills serve as cutscenes throughout Cognition. They work surprisingly well and help ramp up the tension.
‘The Hangman’ provides an excellent introduction to the world of Cognition. The story is surprisingly mature and well written, full of emotion and mysterious characters, like a good thriller should have. The presentation doesn’t fall very far behind the quality of the story, featuring hand drawn backgrounds that blend fairly well with the cell shaded polygonal characters and objects. On the other hand, there are a few instances of blurry images that detracted from the pixel hunt for clues, they were somewhat remedied by a ‘show all interactions’ option that highlights everything you can click in the screen you are on.
It’s incredible to think that such an ambitious adventure game was developed by such a small team. They go so far as to include some decent to excellent samples of voice acting, on part with most multi-million dollar games. This premiere chapter shows plenty of potential, giving us reason to expect the next three parts to be even better. If you enjoy adventure games with a gripping story and great art, Cognition is shaping up to be a fantastic option.