There are things in Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller I really like and some things I find pretty frustrating. Putting it all together I'd still recommend the game which excels in setting scenes and telling a story, has interesting game mechanics but also is sometimes glitchy and bossy.
+ Uses original music to set scenes, especially fitting for tense situations
+ Overall story is interesting and well interwoven with game mechanics
+ Good voice-acting
+ Decisions; at times the adventure includes sort of lifelike decisions, i.e. the game gets harder if you choose stupidly
+ In-game notepad that can interact with the OS clipboard; good for reviews
- Bossy, requires player to do odd things or things odd
- Episodes made me visit website at the end of each credits roll even though I bought the whole series
- In-game notepad not always available
- Achievements sometimes require repetition of parts unnecessarily including lengthy scenes
- In-game commercials
From the start the game managed to grip me and put me into a tense atmosphere. This was immensely helped by the main musical theme, the non-distracting good voice-acting and the mystery surrounding Erica's supernatural powers. I laud all of those. Enjoyably those elements worked for me in pretty much all the pivotal scenes.
The game mostly kept me interested to see how the story would unfold and which of my questions would be answered. Though there are story drivers, twists and turns - some of which I'm made part of, some I just watch - I strongly disagree with.
Erica is a crime investigator, still she
- unnecessarily touches pieces of evidence with bare hands (artefact),
- basically encourages tampering with evidence (dean),
- disregards the account of a witness claiming to recently having seen a serial killer (Cordelia),
- is unnaturally easy to ambush (episodes 1 and 4),
- steals without need a flower from a grave (story driver).
There are more objectionable actions but they are sufficiently well explained by the storyline.
When I say the game is bossy I refer to a certain linearity. Sometimes you are, without prior or subsequent explanation, required to do things in a certain order, sometimes you are hinted to do something which you actually cannot do yet and sometimes you cannot actively do an action that is immediately afterwards done by the game. Example: I tried to call John and Erica stated there is no reason for that. So instead I left the scene directly leading to a cutscene in which the first thing that happened is Erica calling John.
The game feels unfinished or rather unpolished in places. And several transition are not state-safe.
- There is a clickable ladder that supposedly "leads to the roof" but there is no hatch above it.
- After sitting down at her desk Erica can walk away with the game thinking she is still seated. When the game catches up Erica runs through the stand-up routine wherever she might be at the moment and the chair magically moves by itself.
- Certain dialogues leave Erica broken, literally. Her upper body is bend back in an unhealthy way, arms sticking out and her head moves about in a fashion the makers of The Exorcist could only dream of.
- Leaving the actual interrogation room can retain elements of the GUI that shouldn't be available.
- There is a graveyard scene where you collect the locket followed by a cutscene. When I clicked next I was presented with "Skip cutscene?" even though the cutscene ended already.
- At some point Erica's synergy power was suddenly disabled, i.e. clicking the cognition sphere disappears the inventory and even the open inventory button.
- Everyone is obsessed with the Cain Killer, see office monitors.
- Playing on the "Fastest" graphics settings I saw some pretty ugly facial animations. By the looks of it only half the points of the lip polyline moved.
- Sometimes the safe at Longmore's apartment is available as an interaction point when inspecting the desk. When inspecting the safe from inspecting the desk and then exiting will have the desk gone as an item to interact with and looking at the keyboard afterwards takes you to the Boston travel map.
- Pieces of the photo are mirrored in the inventory "Next - 7".
- For some reason you can only retry the scene or close the game altogether after dying.
As said before, the player almost immediately learns about Erica's supernatural powers. Those powers focus on the past and
develop over time into four branches specific to different situations
and are later complemented by Cordelia's precognition
in a way I find really satisfying and appropriately confusing.
Another well-established mechanic is the played character voicing inner thoughts to the player. The game is not quite breaking the fourth wall when one of those voicings is overheard and reacted to by another character. I found that pretty immersion-breaking. Fortunately that only happened once very early in the game.
One of the most interesting things I have encountered in Cognition and games in general in quite some time is the notepad that is available in Erica's phone. Not only is it editable but it can also cut, copy and paste and uses for those purposes the clipboard of the player's OS. This means that you can import text to and, more importantly, export text from the game. This is very useful for reviews and was used for this one. Unfortunately, the notepad is only available most of the time and doesn't transfer between episodes.
Erica's phone is also used to advertise real-world games for which Erica seems "totally hyped". Irritatingly, that excitement is apparently more important than to uphold the current atmosphere.
In episode 3 'exits' are no longer used but simply clicked. On the one hand this is convenient but you don't always know which object is an 'exit'.
When coming into a room the game sometimes takes several seconds before actually letting the player do anything. This would be ok were a triggered sequence to follow but is irritating otherwise.
- Save at the beginning of scenes to have access to dialogue and hints later on.
- If an object seems useless there is about a 50% chance this is because of one of the decisions that actually influence the story.
- Erica and strangely Cordelia as well may not be as clever and clear-seeing as you are. More often than I would have liked you sort of need to firmly establish a fact before Erica can act on it. So what you tried earlier to no avail may be fruitful later on.
A few times I sort of fell out of the flow, i.e. I became unaware of what needed to be done next and twice went brute-forcing. Well, let's not blame the game for that.
The conclusion of episode 3 was very awkward and almost turned me away from Cognition - could be verbalised as "It almost looks like they will.. They wouldn't! Would they?! Oh no, come on man."
Still, the story pulled me back.
My final gripes concern the fact that I had to visit the website of the publisher every time after the credits rolled in order to get back to the game menu and the fact that the main menu has a gallery which apparently should have concept art, cinematics and 'behind the scenes' but is consistently empty.
For all the problems stated above (and a few unstated) I'm unlikely to replay Cognition but I did enjoy the one play-through and recommend it to players that like adventures and a dose of mystery.