Rising from the dead, the once great PC point-and-click adventure genre has seen a wild resurgence over the past couple of years thanks mostly to Telltale Games. Phoenix Online Studios hopes to bring back the dark storylines and mature themes of Sierra Entertainment style titles – in fact their first game The Silver Lining started as an unofficial side-story to the beloved King’s Questseries.
Erica Reed – an FBI agent from Boston with a special gift and a wicked accent – along with her egg salad sandwich loving partner John, has rushed to the gate of a nearby cemetery. Pulling out your pistol from your inventory and selecting to use it on the lock, you shatter the lock with a precise single bullet and head inside. The Cain Killer has abducted Erica’s brother Scott and her search has led her here. Where standard detective work falls short, Erica’s “cognition” powers succeed – allows her to interact with objects and look into the past. Finding a set of footprints that seemingly disappears after a few steps allows Erica to use her powers to trace the source of the footprints and figure out where to go next.
After a few puzzles that showcase the mature and dark nature of the game – we find Erica has maimed herself with spikes in order to gain entrance a tomb. Inside she finds her brother strapped to a very SAW like device and confronts the Cain Killer. Will she save her brother in time or will Scott just be a plus one to the already infamous killer?
This opening sequence introduces us to the main characters in Episode I – as well as acting as the backstory to the game. It’s been years since that faithful night and with the case officially closed, Erica and John head to a new crime scene involving a seemingly open and shut case, but it is here Erica realizes the new mystery has just begun.
Why do I hold these point-and-click adventure games close to my heart? The Story. Put in the forefront, the story keeps me moving forward in Cognition. Going around in Boston, each of the areas are crafted with beautifully hand-drawn artwork with comic book style character designs each with their own personality. The writing and voice acting of the main characters are spot-on, but there are a couple of the supporting case that feel overwhelmingly weak in comparison. As a New Yorker and a Yankees fan, hearing Erica’s – and everyone else for that matter with a thick Boston accent drove me crazy! With plenty of different dialogue choices during conversations you will generally be able to solve a problem from two different perspectives with the more meaningful ones changing events at the end of the episode.
Controlling like a typical point-and-click adventure title, using the mouse will move Erica throughout the areas. Double clicking the mouse will have her run to the specific location – speeding up the time it takes to get around. It’s a great addition that many users may not even know is there – I found it by mistake. The animations are a bit jerky, especially Erica’s first step that will occasionally resemble the flash game QWOP or Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s movies. If you aren’t familiar with either of those, Erica will lunge with a one leg without moving the rest of her body before correction herself and starting the standard walking animation. Load times are needlessly long for a game of this nature and having the loading icon on the screen during cutscenes seems like an odd design choice and will bug the hell out of you.
Along with other episodic games, except to spend a lot of time learning the backstory of characters and the world the game takes a place in. Starting off with very strong pacing, the game comes to a halt in the middle as you slowly become accustomed to the different areas and ways to use the items in your inventory. Clicking on objects in the environment allows you to do one of two things: look at the object or use an item on that object. Certain objects can be combined or manipulated and Erica’s cellphone can be nominated as one of the best uses for a cellphone in gaming history. One use allows you to send messages to her father to provide helpful hints depending on the situation you find yourself in. It provides a satisfying level of depth to the game instead of the cop out choice of putting it in the game’s main menu.
The puzzles are designed well for the most part and require you to think. Dealing with the side characters in the game however can be a pain. Get your own bag of chips! The time based puzzles add an extra level of tension as you must compete against the clock with a lot riding on your success.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller fits perfectly with titles such as the classic King’s Quest and Gabriel Knight with mind-numbing puzzles, a mature theme and storytelling that rivals most “AAA” titles. Episode I sets the groundwork for the next episodes and with the backstory out of the way, Phoenix Online Studios can come out of the gate swinging.
Note: The Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 1: Hangman review was written based on the PC version of the game provided by the publisher.