Note: Though I had a number of technical issues with the first episode, I’m holding off on elaborating on the performance aspect of the game until I get further into the series.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is an episodic, paranormal, point-and-click FBI procedural, and it matches the tedium of bureaucracy (and my description of it) perfectly.
Erica Reed is a FBI agent who lost her brother to a serial killer three years ago, and it colors her reckless style of investigation. Apparently the term, “Wait for backup,” sounds like a foreign language to her. She also has psychic powers that allow her to channel past memories, future memories, and read minds through the sense of touch. In the first episode, you get a close look at her day-to-day life, relationships with other agents and employees, and the quirks of her personality. For someone whose every other action is accompanied by an eye roll, she is a prankster, hard worker, and stubborn woman. With all the adventure games I’ve played as of late, I’m pleased with the amount of characterization in a short amount of story; I wish I felt the same way about the gameplay.
I’ve never finished an episodic game–something hard to imagine in the height of Telltale’s titles–so I’m not sure if the style of the first episode is expected, but this first episode was short on consistent gameplay and instead piled on new mechanics. Storywise, I enjoyed seeing Erica’s powers develop, but it made the gameplay unbalanced. She has three types of powers:
- Cognition. Touch recently used items and see an attached action or memory.
- Projection. Combine three related objects or events to reenact an event.
- Regression. Clear up a person’s memories by pinning down the details.
Cognition was by far the easiest technique and the one you use the most. Projection came into play a few times, and I struggled with all of them, never learning how to best apply it since every room has too many combination options–far more than the tutorial segment. Regression was the most fun, but my understanding was as murky as the memories I was trying to clear up. In the tutorial, you recall the correct answers from earlier parts of the game, but in the one other instance, you must do research, something it took me an hour too long to figure out. Basically, the psychic abilities played out like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” without any power that was just right.
As with any point-and-click, the backtracking was abundant, but this time it works. You run (thank goodness it’s running) from office to office, crime scene to crime scene, and it put me in the right mood. The realism down to the daily tedium of waiting on the elevator and filling out paperwork is admirable for someone who grew up on procedurals and wished she was a spy or detective. But one design choice pulled me out of the immersion. Having to perform actions in a needlessly specific order is simultaneously an adventure game tradition and one of my biggest pet peeves. If I manage to think ahead of the game’s progression, I want to move forward, not be held back. Instead of making me proud of myself, it confused me by forcing me to guess the hidden stepping stones to the next part. For example, Erica was having trouble with her visions and needed to revisit a psion who had already helped her. Each time I tried to go the antique shop she owned though, Erica said she had no reason to go there. Doesn’t she know I know better? No, instead she wasn’t reassured until she met a girl at a cemetery who had also visited the woman. Yes, this spoke greatly to Erica’s stubbornness in theory, but in practice it only highlighted her stupidity.
With the first episode’s setup, I’m excited for the next installment in the game. I hope I can attribute these issues to exposition and are not a sign of things to come. Stay tuned.