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.

Welcome to Coral Gables: A Golden Wake Review

Welcome to Coral Gables: A Golden Wake Review

A Golden Wake is a slice of historical fiction based in the Florida land boom of the 1920s. After Alfie Banks loses his job at his father’s real estate agency in Manhattan, he moves to Miami to help George Merrick open up Coral Gables and make his father proud. This point-and-click adventure title uses real historical and local figures and bases its events around the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, and two landmark hurricanes. You are a man put in a desperate situation as he repeatedly tries to follow his true American Dream, and you find yourself making unthinkable decisions because you feel for him.

For a small game from a one-man studio, the details are closely attended to. It is fully voice acted with Alfie’s character sounding like a spot-on Rob Lowe impression. The writing is everything you could ask from a period piece, down to corny one-lines like, “Ain’t that just the berries?” The graphics are basic, reminiscent of the pixellated adventures in the 1990s. The developer hit exactly what he was aiming for though the occasional attempts at adding pupils look a little…kooky:

The game is easy by point-and-click standards–and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For you to make it through your average adventure game with little to no trouble at all, you must follow whatever convoluted logic the creator had while in development. If you can’t get into this often impossible mindset, the only thing you can use is luck. Here you get your options narrowed down and clear tasks asked of you by the self-appointed movers and shakers Alfie works for. Even better is locations disappear from the map of Miami as you finish and find everything you needed to. This means that if you start to take the “click all over the screen and hope for the best” approach, you won’t waste your time somewhere with nothing to find.

Though I appreciate and respect the authenticity in the details, especially considering this title comes from a one-man indie studio, it becomes grating after a while. For example, each time you leave your sales office, you must stick around while Alfie walks to his lemon of a T-Bird, waits for the engine to turn over, and then watch it crawl out of the dusty parking lot.  When working within a genre often filled with wrong turns, missed chances, and careless mistakes, you don’t want to sit through a repetitive and unstoppable animation before you can backtrack to the right place. Some of the descriptions are unneeded. At the beginning of the game, Banks put his hat on his desk. If you clicked on it, he went on to explain that he sets in on his desk because the office doesn’t have a coat rack. Even though said hat played as a catalyst for future events, I still didn’t need to know that.

Technically it was great despite its simplicity. Occasionally I had to restart the game because the text windows started exiting out automatically before I could read them, but it wasn’t a hassle. You can save any time, and the load times are snappy.

For the story alone, I would have to recommend it. It is a small piece of history that I honestly wasn’t aware of but now want to read everything about. At one point you have to persuade William Jennings Bryan to do promotional work for you. Where else can you do that? It is short and more effective for it. If you have any interest in the subject, it is worth playing through with a walkthrough merely to enjoy the pacing and writing.

I read some customer reviews and many said this wasn’t their favorite from the publisher which has me pretty excited to play the others I have waiting for in my library. If it gets better than this, I have a fun few weeks to look forward to.

Stay tuned.