Hey Look, Another Adventure Game: Cognition, Episodes 2-4

Hey Look, Another Adventure Game: Cognition, Episodes 2-4

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:

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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 Wakebut 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.

Stay tuned.

Hey Look, Another Adventure Game: Cognition, Episode One Review

Hey Look, Another Adventure Game: Cognition, Episode One Review

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.