Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – The Hangman, is the first episode in this detective game series. A successfully backed Kickstarter project by Phoenix Online Studios, creators of the well recieved Kings Quest fangame, emerges with their first fully retail and independent title.
With a dedicated and experienced group of staff already on board following their success with The Silver Lining, and with help from renowned Gabriel Knight designer Jane Jensen, and graphic novel style visuals created by comic book artist Romano Molenaar, most famous for his work on X-men, Tomb Raider, Witchblade and The Darkness.
The titular main character, Erica Reed, is a troubled FBI agent. Heavily entrenched in the investigation of a murderer monikered “The Cain Killer”, her involvement became personal when her brother was abducted by the same killer she was chasing. Having tracked down the whereabouts of the killer and her sibling, she rushes to the scene with her partner, John McCoy.
As the game starts, you are presented with a refined, but time honoured User interface to handle your interaction with the world around you. Buttons on the screen allow you to access your inventory, highlight all interactive items in your immediate vicinity, or connect to your phone. Through your phone you can add manual notes, ring up colleagues for advice or hints, or finally you can SMS your father for more direct help with any troubling puzzles. (Your phone also includes a tongue in cheek, self-referential app for The Silver Lining, PO Studios King Quest Fan Game). Highlighting an interactive object will give you options in a ring display to look at the item, use the item or combine the item with something from your inventory as is expected from an adventure game.
Since her younger brother Scott was taken, her “intuition” has become stronger, causing painful headaches whenever it manifests . What Erica begins to realise at this time is that her skill is more than simple intuition. This introduces the games namesake mechanic, with Erica’s ability to read the history of an item, commonly known as Retro-cognition. Activating her cognition ability, highlights interactive environmental items in an ethereal blue glow. Selecting these items and utilising Erica’s skill, will give you a flashback of the events surrounding the item, and allow you to piece together the puzzles in front of you. The puzzles in this first installment are relatively straightforward, rarely presenting a challenge, allowing the story to progress unabated and for a good deal of character progression to be undertaken.
Graphically, Cognition has a high degree of polish and a unique art style, primarily due to the handiwork of Romano and his team. Backdrops are beautiful whether it be the graveyard at the start of the game with its eerie, gloomy facade poignantly punctuated by the solar eclipse occurring at the time, or the dingy, basement apartment of your first crime scene each and every one appears to be lovingly crafted and ooze atmosphere. Character models are gorgeous cel shaded 3D Models that stand off against the 2D environments and are reminiscent of the graphical styling of Broken Sword or more obviously Telltales The Walking Dead.
The characters are fully voiced, and although some minor characters fail to deliver with the aplomb you would expect of such a deep, dark and intriguing plot, the primary cast pull off a performance that captivates throughout. It seems to be common practice these days to have a more interactive plot, and as such Cognition features a full compliment of branching story-lines and events that change the way the world, and people react to you. Play it too forceful in one section and it could limit your ability to reason with characters further in the story.
The haunting score is as stunning as the graphics and accompanies the environments with perfect balance to draw you into the foreboding and disparate world. Whether it be the quick paced string sections to emphasise the urgency of the situation Erica is in, or the slow vibrato piece when attending a crime scene in the downtown area of Boston, each movement brings a little more depth and character to the world.
To its detriment load times when undertaking interactions appear excessively long and some of the animation work can be jerky with stilted, almost robotic movement from the characters at times that break the immersion created by the graphic, plot and sound culmination.
Cognition : The Hangman is a surprising and endearing first release from a new company, and could be your episodic game of choice in the absence following The Walking Dead’s completion.
Currently hoping to be Greenlit for Steam, a demo of the first episode is available here - www.postudios.com/cognition
MLG Rating: 8/10 Platform: PC Release Date: 30/10/12
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – The Hangman for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.