Adventure gaming fans sometimes have to put up with a lot. Whether it’s getting stuck in a room and tapping on everything in an attempt to get out, or trying every bizarre combination of objects our brains can come up with in order to solve a puzzle, we sometimes have to use a shotgun approach to our gaming techniques to get anywhere. That’s why a game like Cognition Episode 1 is such a refreshing experience. It’s a thrilling, engrossing adventure game where the solutions usually make sense and you’re rarely left with that “What just happened?” feeling. It also has a unique twist that makes it fun.
Cognition follows the adventures of intrepid FBI agent Erica Reed as she tracks down the grisly serial killer known as the Hangman while dealing with the after effects of a horrifyingly botched case that resulted in the death of her brother. As she tracks down the killer, she’ll use the help of other agents like her chubby partner John and her sometimes boyfriend Sully, as well as an eclectic band of supporting characters, all kinds of tech gadgets, and even a little help from the supernatural. See, Erica isn’t just any normal agent. She can use her otherworldly powers of intuition to help her figure things out when normal sleuthing can’t do the job. You just have to hope that her powers won’t drive her completely crazy in the process.
All of the usual adventure gaming principles are in effect here, and the puzzles are pretty fair in how you have to solve them. Sure, occasionally characters will be exceptionally stubborn strictly for the purposes of moving the narrative forward, and from time to time the way you solve puzzles may seem a little out there– but for the most part, as long as you follow the clues and are meticulous in your investigation, the solutions will become obvious. And if you do get stumped, the game has a fairly helpful hint system that can give you clues as to what to do.
Erica’s cognitive and astral projection abilities also add a little flair to the way you do things and just help add to the atmosphere of the game. At any given time you can activate her abilities, and if there’s something to be gleaned that you wouldn’t be able to deduce from normal police work, then her powers will highlight items with an eery glow and can give you some extra insight into the case. It’s a really neat idea and fits in well in the context of the bizarre case you’re dealing with. Sometimes you’ll witness the ghost of a dead man in his final moments of life, or a killer doing something unusual that you wouldn’t think to look for through normal means.
The elephant in the room, so to speak, with Cognition is that it rather spectacularly highlights the almost bi-polar nature of criminal investigations. In the blink of an eye the game can go from exciting and terrifying scenes of crime-fighting to long stretches of tedious and boring clue gathering. The jarring shifts in pacing can get annoying. If the case wasn’t so intriguing and the supporting characters so interesting, then Cognition would be a terrible game to slog through. There’s also an awful pall of dread that permeates the game, and for some it may be a little too dark.
The game also suffers from some noticeable technical defects. Cognition is a direct port of a PC game, and the transfer wasn’t entirely successful. While the graphics are gorgeous and done with an exceptionally cool water-color look, the game glitches like crazy. Lots of assets pop in and out of the screen, characters will sometimes stutter and shuffle around, and it can be annoying trying to target what you’re trying to interact with.
Cognition is a game for those of us who don’t mind dealing with the minutiae of investigation, a dark and somber storyline, and a game filled with some rather odd graphical problems. If you can look past the technical flaws, then you’ll be treated to a game filled with colorful and interesting characters, puzzles that won’t make you throw your hands up in frustration, unique gameplay mechanics, and a storyline that is disturbing and gripping at the same time.