Right now, this is a review about the first episode and ~10% of the second one.
First of all, I really like the art style of this game. It has that comic book/cell shading aesthetic you may already know from Telltale games like "The Walking Dead" or "The Wolf Among Us" (or even -non TTG- XIII but that was quite a while ago). Most of the backgrounds are hand drawn though, which results in a very comic-escque blend. I prefer it over the "Telltale Style" which sometimes feels a bit too sterile for my taste.
The soundtrack as a whole is right around the upper threshold of "Okay", surpassing it with some haunting piano pieces, dipping way into "Meh" regions in the selection of the ambient theme of a store you visit quite regularly. Someone really dropped the ball there, light hearted, up-tempo Bossa (Elevator Music, basically) doesn't mix with moody antique stores/spiritual guidance etablissements that only open when the sun goes down.
Most of the voice acting is great, bordering on sublime, especially in the cases of the two main investigators. Unfortunately there are some very weak performances as well, including the obligatory badly faked Louisiana accent.
With aesthetics out of the way, let's take a look at the controls:
I'm not even kidding. Rarely has a game made me groan out in annoyance as often as Cognition did in the few hours I spent with it so far. Granted, for the most part it was a mix of sub-par puzzle design and
awkward controls, but still.
The protagonist reacts rather lethargically to your mouse input. It kinda feels like you're trying to get an 18-wheeler to move instead of a rather athletic young Special Agent of ~60kg (~130lbs).
There are also some really unnecessary animations. In the office you can't move until the door of the elevator you just stepped out of closes. Sitting down by your desk, opening a door, it all just manages to overshoot the sweet spot (in terms of the length of the animation) ever so slightly. Lots of tiny things that really slow down the games pace and make you dread the idea of having to visit locations more often than necessary (which the game, being an adventure game after all, requires you to do pretty much all the time).
Same for the "I can't use the dead squirrel with the cheese grater" monologue snippets the adventure game veteran loves to hate. All just that tiny bit too long. It helps turning off the tutorials in the menu, though.
Then there's the controls on maps and elevator panels and such. Think you can just click the floor/location you want to get to? Guess again, it opens the context menu, which gives you the option to "Inspect" or "Use (go to)" said floor or location. Every. Damn. Time.
There's always a ~2 second loading time when switching screens, which also gets old very quickly. You'd think that a game with pre-rendered backgrounds, released in 2012, would handle that a bit more gracefully. Same for the transitions into and out of the "Intuition" mechanic.
You also get unexplainable interface lags. Entering a room or exiting an inspection (more on that later) sometimes causes the user interface to be unresponsive for up to 5 seconds. The game itself doesn't lag, animations, music, everything runs smoothly, you just can't click or do anything, sometimes the interface overlay doesn't even show up but sometimes it does. This was especially noticeable in the first "action scene" of the game.
Now, what do I mean when I say inspection? Well, that's basically all screens that have the word "Exit" written on them in blue letters. It happens when you're sitting at a desk, when you're "zooming in" to inspect certain items closer, stuff like that. Now while you're inside an inspection-screen you won't be able to open certain other inspection-screens. This may sound a bit abstract but let me give you an example:
One puzzle requires you to sit at a desk (first inspection level), use a computer (next inspection level) and read a text file on that computer, which contains the code word to open something you have in your inventory. You won't be able to inspect (in this case: zoom in to be able to interact with) said inventory item to enter the code until you logged out of the computer and stood up from the desk.
Also, if you're using two monitors you gotta be careful not to click outside the game window. Even in fullscreen mode the game doesn't capture the cursor.
One quirk I noticed: When you leave a location to the map screen and you click that location again, the sound of the car's motor still plays, although you never actually travelled anywhere.
But wait, there's more:
In certain cases, the game gives you the option to make a decision. Take this or that agent to the interrogation, accept or decline the lunch invitation of your FWB-slash-colleague (it's complicated), force or persuade a witness to make a statement.
In other cases it forces you to steal a flower from someones grave because you forgot to bring your own for the anniversary of your brother's death. Now I get that you're trying to do some exposition here, but man. Really?
Also, plot holes.
Example:You get taken off a case because it's too personal. It was your case, the whole first episode revolved around it. In the end you realize that the next victim is going to be your boss. You hurry to the scene, guns blazing, but it's already too late and the murderer gets away. During your debrief with the new boss you start to feel a little dizzy and stumble to the bathroom. On your way there, before falling unconscious, you see a woman dragging your FWB-slash-colleague ("Sully") out of the door, cutting his ear off with a scalpel. What you didn't know is that you and Sully were drugged by your impostor office assistant while waiting outside the bosses office for your debriefs. Right after you wake up the boss assigns you to the case. Literally 20 minutes (that's ingame time, about 30 seconds real time) after taking you off of a case that's too personal because your boss died in it he assigns you to a case in which both you and your love interest are the victims. He doesn't even give you the time to get up.
Then there's the usual minor deus-ex-machina, logical error and/or techno-babble you always quietly hope they manage to avoid but they always fail to (minor spoilers):
- police officer needs your phone's PIN number to send you a GPS-location
- magical gadget from techno geek/forensics expert/trapped in friendzone-limbo "pal" (more on him later) only needs the manufacturer's color code from a spray paint can to make text that was sprayed over in said color appear. It also tricks finger print readers by projecting an image of the finger print onto the detector
- FBI outpost records interrogations on tape but doesn't have any gear to listen to the recordings
- grumpy old coroner won't give you her tape recorder to listen to potentionally critical recordings
- the office assistant's computer shows a (presumably...hopefully) confidential case file opened on her screen
- the lead investigators monitor also always shows that case file, even after logging out and leaving the desk
- so do several other computers in that office
- office full of people doesn't give a rat's a** that you're picking the door to your bosses office
And then, finally, there's the cast. Pretty compelling for the most part, like already mentioned with the odd outlier but there's also "pal". Evidently the two of you took some undergrad courses together and evidently he's been sleeping on a pillow with your face printed on it and sobbing into his TV dinners ever since. He actually pretty much looks like the "2/10, would not bang"-guy from that old image macro.
Unfortunately I'm running out of characters but their interactions are really something. I just hope it's done on purpose.