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.

Nevermore, Nevermore

Nevermore, Nevermore

I’m just going to start this off with a spoiler warning. The game is so story-based it is impossible to talk without spoiling something. Read at your own risk.

With all of the talk about police reform in today’s media, all we need to do to train incoming detectives on the police force is set them down in front of a point-and-click mystery game and force them to solve it without any walkthroughs. After spending three hours trying every single item in their inventory on every nook and cranny of the screen only to realize they are supposed to be combining objects instead, they will have no problem with combing through a crime scene. In theory it teaches people to think creatively. In reality it teaches them to be happy that real life is not that tedious.

After playing the first of three acts last winter, I sat down to finish The Raven: Legacy of a MasterThief. The protagonist, Constable Zellner, feels like a dumb-downed version of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Oddly enough, one of the characters is also an elderly writer of mystery novels. Hmmm…

Anyway, this is game is identical to the play style of what I grew up on. I played every Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie computer game I could get my hands on–and still do. While these drew me in, letting me look past some of the less-than-intuitive puzzles, this one did not start off that way. My guess is where before I had protagonists I already had a connection with–and one that built with each game and pop culture reference–this one had a leading man who felt blase.

After getting into the second act this week though, I wish I hadn’t quit so soon. In case you did not heed my warning, spoilers start here.

You gone? Lord, I hope not.

Halfway through the second act, you find out who the thief is and he shoots you. The screen goes dark. I counted to five, afraid I had ended up with the wrong ending somehow. But then the game goes back to the train station where it all started, and I’m placed in the shoes of the Raven’s lackey. Sadly at his point, I was falling asleep at my keyboard and had to be up for work, but I spent the whole day wanting to come home and keep following the story. I was willing to shake my mouse all of the screen looking for those three pixels that would trigger the riddle I needed to solve as long as the story kept going.

One of the worst cases of this needle-in-a-haystack hotspot search was towards the end of the game. Adil, the thief’s errand boy, is on the roof of the museum, figuring out how to pull off the heist with only the content’s of the backpack given to him. I had accessed the security sensor by prying open the skylight but needed something to damage it. I’m standing there in full-on climbing gear with nothing but a dirty rag, a cloth bag, and a stick of chewing gum. Turns out way over there in the corner, I am supposed to be able to see water dripping and wet the rag with it, but it was next to impossible to see. I use two monitors, one of which is actually a 32″ TV, and I still could barely make out these water droplets.

That’s what most of the puzzles were. I don’t mind environmental puzzles, but I am used to having some brain teasers thrown in for good measure. While it was certainly more realistic to play in a world where not everyone uses logic problems instead of actual combination locks, it just didn’t feel as fun.

It comes down to that argument about how realistic a game needs to be. This is a case where I am more than willing to suspend my disbelief for a variety of puzzles, but not everyone may feel that way. Some may admire this take on the genre. Both work, and both are fun; I prefer feeling like I solved a mystery, not like I stumbled into a solution.

Regardless, the ending blew my mind. Seriously, if you don’t want spoilers, stop it right now.

Man, I hope you’re here to bask in the twists and turns.

After all of this time, it turns out you were the thief. At first I called bullshit. I spend hours in this guy’s head–how can I not know?

First the man who you spend the last half the game believing it to be was merely a henchman himself. He was creating a sloppy burglary to try to lure the real thief out of retirement. When this man shot you, apparently you were wearing a bulletproof vest, anticipating his tendency for violence. Then you realize that Zellner became a cop–or whatever the general term in Switzerland is–to be on the inside. This way he can spend his time investigating the impostor without ever drawing attention to himself.

It is even more convoluted than that, but after turning it over in my mind for a while, I can dig it. Seriously, play it for the whole story. Or at least watch a playthrough. It’s outstanding. Not too often does one of these games really surprise me with the ending. Either I see it coming or it is not that exciting. Worse, sometimes it is based off a novel, but the game twists the narrative to try to make it a surprise–I’m looking at you, And Then There Were None. 

Now I really am at a loss as to what to play next. Maybe I’ll pull names out of a hat. Stay tuned.

Nevermore, Nevermore: The Raven Review

Nevermore, Nevermore: The Raven Review

I’m just going to start this off with a spoiler warning. The game is so story-based it is impossible to talk without spoiling something. Read at your own risk.

With all of the talk about police reform in today’s media, all we need to do to train incoming detectives on the police force is set them down in front of a point-and-click mystery game and force them to solve it without any walkthroughs. After spending three hours trying every single item in their inventory on every nook and cranny of the screen only to realize they are supposed to be combining objects instead, they will have no problem with combing through a crime scene. In theory it teaches people to think creatively. In reality it teaches them to be happy that real life is not that tedious.

After playing the first of three acts last winter, I sat down to finish The Raven: Legacy of a MasterThief. The protagonist, Constable Zellner, feels like a dumb-downed version of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Oddly enough, one of the characters is also an elderly writer of mystery novels. Hmmm…

Anyway, this is game is identical to the play style of what I grew up on. I played every Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie computer game I could get my hands on–and still do. While these drew me in, letting me look past some of the less-than-intuitive puzzles, this one did not start off that way. My guess is where before I had protagonists I already had a connection with–and one that built with each game and pop culture reference–this one had a leading man who felt blase.

After getting into the second act this week though, I wish I hadn’t quit so soon. In case you did not heed my warning, spoilers start here.

You gone? Lord, I hope not.

Halfway through the second act, you find out who the thief is and he shoots you. The screen goes dark. I counted to five, afraid I had ended up with the wrong ending somehow. But then the game goes back to the train station where it all started, and I’m placed in the shoes of the Raven’s lackey. Sadly at his point, I was falling asleep at my keyboard and had to be up for work, but I spent the whole day wanting to come home and keep following the story. I was willing to shake my mouse all of the screen looking for those three pixels that would trigger the riddle I needed to solve as long as the story kept going.

One of the worst cases of this needle-in-a-haystack hotspot search was towards the end of the game. Adil, the thief’s errand boy, is on the roof of the museum, figuring out how to pull off the heist with only the content’s of the backpack given to him. I had accessed the security sensor by prying open the skylight but needed something to damage it. I’m standing there in full-on climbing gear with nothing but a dirty rag, a cloth bag, and a stick of chewing gum. Turns out way over there in the corner, I am supposed to be able to see water dripping and wet the rag with it, but it was next to impossible to see. I use two monitors, one of which is actually a 32″ TV, and I still could barely make out these water droplets.

That’s what most of the puzzles were. I don’t mind environmental puzzles, but I am used to having some brain teasers thrown in for good measure. While it was certainly more realistic to play in a world where not everyone uses logic problems instead of actual combination locks, it just didn’t feel as fun.

It comes down to that argument about how realistic a game needs to be. This is a case where I am more than willing to suspend my disbelief for a variety of puzzles, but not everyone may feel that way. Some may admire this take on the genre. Both work, and both are fun; I prefer feeling like I solved a mystery, not like I stumbled into a solution.

Regardless, the ending blew my mind. Seriously, if you don’t want spoilers, stop it right now.

Man, I hope you’re here to bask in the twists and turns.

After all of this time, it turns out you were the thief. At first I called bullshit. I spend hours in this guy’s head–how can I not know?

First the man who you spend the last half the game believing it to be was merely a henchman himself. He was creating a sloppy burglary to try to lure the real thief out of retirement. When this man shot you, apparently you were wearing a bulletproof vest, anticipating his tendency for violence. Then you realize that Zellner became a cop–or whatever the general term in Switzerland is–to be on the inside. This way he can spend his time investigating the impostor without ever drawing attention to himself.

It is even more convoluted than that, but after turning it over in my mind for a while, I can dig it. Seriously, play it for the whole story. Or at least watch a playthrough. It’s outstanding. Not too often does one of these games really surprise me with the ending. Either I see it coming or it is not that exciting. Worse, sometimes it is based off a novel, but the game twists the narrative to try to make it a surprise–I’m looking at you, And Then There Were None. 

Now I really am at a loss as to what to play next. Maybe I’ll pull names out of a hat. Stay tuned.