After roughly twenty game crashes and three Exorcist-style glitches, I’ve finished all the episodes of Cognition: an Erica Reed Thriller. Technical difficulties aside, the gameplay was only overshadowed by its outstanding narrative.
Let’s get my performance issues out of the way because I hate holding them against my enjoyment of this title. To the developer’s credit, Phoenix Online Studios is still active in the Steam Community helping address any technical difficulties even a year and a half after the first episode’s release. My disappointment is not with having to use a few tricks and workarounds to keep the game running but instead with the inconsistency of what works and what doesn’t. For all the episodes, I had to make sure Raptr was not running any processes in the background or the game would freeze each time I walked across the screen. But after this being the only necessary fix for the first two episodes, the last two gave me loads more trouble. I had to force-quit Episode Three at least ten times and didn’t figure out why until Episode Four’s title screen wouldn’t load. Turning the Steam overlay off kept the crashes to a minimum. I expected gameplay to change and evolve between episodes–not troubleshooting techniques.
The graphical glitches weren’t game-breaking by any means, just hilarious. I mean seriously, look:
My favorite was when she started rotating the same way except around her entire torso. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a screenshot because I turned off that feature for the sake of getting the game to run.
Okay, now to the fun part.
None of the titles from my last month of adventure games have drawn me into their stories except maybe the history in A Golden Wake, but Cognition focuses a small ensemble of characters and threads its story carefully. Now let’s see if I can explain its excellency without geeking out and spoiling everything.
This fifteen-hour game has death, kidnapping, serial killers, conspiracies, government cover-ups, and a dual narrative introduced halfway through without ever feeling like it is only for gasps. Granted a few twists were predictable, but it didn’t lessen their impact on the story since my personal investment in all the characters was immense. Transitioning from a classic procedural to a crime spree epic felt natural and planned all along. I want to say so much more but this adventure game is so steeped in its plot that it’s next to impossible.
I have to semi-ruin one plot point for you; otherwise I have no chance of discussing the gameplay. You find out another one of the characters has psychic powers, and that person becomes a playable character for the last half of the game. I loved this from a writing perspective but had a hard time dealing with it from a gameplay standpoint. In the last two episodes, you are constantly changing characters and have to trigger so many different events to progress. For example, I was in a lakeside cabin playing as both Erica and this other character and was looking for a toy figurine. There were only three places it could possibly be, and I figured out it was the fireplace. I got a cup of water and was ready to put out the flames, but I couldn’t do it until the new character gave me permission. Seriously, I kept clicking on it as Erica, and she refused to do it until I clicked on it as the other character and was given permission. What?
With this dual narrative path, I was afraid of encountering the same problem from the first episode where the developers crammed too many new mechanics into a small chunk of gameplay, but that wasn’t the case. While Erica sees the past through cognition, this other character sees the future. Other than that, my understanding of the mechanics transferred, keeping the learning curve from becoming impossible. Unfortunately switching characters was still tedious, but I just think I wasn’t focused enough. Whenever I figured out a solution after getting stuck for a while, it was usually because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the details. Except for what I mentioned above, a majority of the last three episodes avoided adventure game logic.
Overall, I would play this game again and wish for a sequel even with the game-breaking issues I had. Obviously if adventure games are not your style to begin with, I don’t think you will find this worth the trouble, but if Cognition sounds like your jam, it will be.