Cognition Review

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Review

Cognition Review
Release Date
September 19, 2013
Phoenix Online Studios

Reviewed: Steam edition of Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller (Episodes 1 through 4).

Its hard for me to remember the last time a game had me as emotionally engaged with its story and its characters as Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. I think I have to go back to the Mass Effect series, which are my favorite games of all time, to recall the emotion I felt at the end of Cognition Episode 4. The entire series takes indie storytelling to a whole new level and sets the standard very high for indie adventure titles that will follow in its footsteps. If you are looking for an indie game with an incredible story, wonderful presentation, and characters that feel as real as they sound, pick this game up right now. You won’t be disappointed.

Cognition Review
Erica Reed.

While the game has been released episodically beginning back in late 2012, the final episode released today and the entire series is now available for the first time ever on Steam. Steam gamers will get all four episodes immediately, which is a total bonus because you’ll get to jump right into the next chapters of the story without having to wait for the next episode to release. Trust me, with a story as intense as this, you’ll appreciate that.

You play as Erica Reed, an FBI detective on the hunt for a serial murderer known as The Cain Killer. When the Cain Killer kidnaps someone close to Erica, the hunt suddenly becomes personal. Unable to rest with the thought that she could have saved someone she loved, Erica becomes fixated on the murder and sets out to avenge the loss. A few years later, as she continues to investigate what eventually becomes known as the Cain Killings, something unexpected happens and a new murderer emerges in the city of Boston. This murderer is different however. This one knows of Erica’s special talents.

Cognition Review - Boston Station
The police station. You actually don’t see this place too often…

Erica Reed isn’t just an everyday detective. She has the ability to relive an object’s past simply by touching it, which allows here to piece together clues in a crime scene like no other. This gift is also a curse for Erica however, as she is haunted by the memories of the unfortunate past. This acts as the game’s primary gameplay mechanic, as you use her post-cognition ability on items and objects to help progress throughout the game. It is a very interesting manner of moving the story forward, as each item is often a brush stroke on what soon becomes a bigger picture. As you progress through the episodes of Cognition, Erica’s powers evolve and take the gameplay in new, fascinating directions.

The pacing of the first episode is slow in comparison to the rest, as the player must learn how to use Erica’s powers effectively. Furthermore, because the storyline is complex, a lot of time is spent speaking with characters throughout the city of Boston as the player learns more about Erica and the world she lives in. This makes the first episode feel a little drawn out, but the story-related seeds that are planted in episode one blossom and really energize the future episodes, especially episodes three and four (which were my favorite). The first episode of Cognition is by far the longest, likely taking the average gamer around 8 hours to complete, while the rest of the episodes clock in around 4 hours a piece. The pacing of episodes 2 -4 is excellent. This is a game that definitely gets better over time.

Cognition Review - Memories
Your powers will evolve beyond just being able to interact with objects.

When the story starts to take off, oh man, it takes off. It doesn’t just power forward though. It twists and turns and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you play throughout the series. When one episode is complete, you’ll want to immediately start the other. If Cognition has taught me anything, its that there’s more to developing a game than just writing a great story. You have to present it like a great story. 

The writing and dialog in Cognition is top notch. The characters are believable and the conversations they have feel appropriate and authentic. This is accomplished with what could quite honestly be the best voice acting in indie gaming. The voice actors in Cognition all deserve a round of applause, as they stole the show with their expressive talent. The presentation of the game is also lifted by an incredible soundtrack that keeps the game’s dark tone alive in every sequence of the game. It’s art style is also fantastic, with incredible cut-scenes and detail throughout. All these elements have come together to really bring the story to life.

Cognition Review - The Truth
Damnit, if it was only this easy all the time!

As someone who was glued to the screen thanks to Cognition’s awesome story, a few concerns did creep up that detracted from the experience. The in-game animations are very stiff, which definitely has an impact on the immersiveness of the game. Characters run and walk awkwardly, and conversations look awkward due to the character’s lackluster facial animations. While it isn’t a gamebreaker, the animations are the weakest link of the entire package and do have a negative effect on the game’s presentation.

Further, while the majority of the puzzles in the game that are wonderfully intricate and rewarding to complete, there were a few that nearly had me smash my monitor with frustration. There’s about three puzzles in the game that are perhaps a tad too complex with somewhat obscure solutions that really put a roadblock in my ability to enjoy the story. And I literally mean a roadblock. I was stuck! I wanted to know what happened next, but I couldn’t get past a few of the puzzles. I might just be bad at puzzling, I accept that, but these puzzles I’m talking about were genuinely tough. One of the early puzzles in episode four took me probably an hour to solve, and I’m honestly not even sure how I did it. You know what, maybe I am just bad…

With that being said, there’s a good chance that a lot of gamers reading this love extremely challenging puzzles, but I was here for the story. Trust me, you’ll want to know what’s going to happen next too!

Cognition Review - AFK
I need to get me one of those signs.

Thankfully the game features an absolutely brilliant hint mechanic that will save you time and time again. In most games, a cell phone is merely a prop, but in Cognition, it is a tool that you’ll get very comfortable using. Not sure how to get into that locked safe in the room over there? Send a text to your dad and he just might give you an idea of how you can crack the code. Not sure where to go next? Boom, text dad. I’m tellin’ you, that guy is resourceful. Its easy to get lost or disoriented in a game like this, so its very helpful to have a hint system that never spoils the story while managing to keep you on track.

Cognition Review
Review Summary
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is an absolutely excellent story-driven adventure game that kept me on edge for my entire playthrough. It made me laugh, it made me cry, but most importantly I had a great time playing it. As someone who loves a great story, Cognition delivered exactly what I was hoping for. The few notable issues are vastly outshined by its fantastic presentation, and I am sure that a lot of people are going to love this game. If you are looking for a game with an emotionally engaging story, it doesn't get much better than this.
The Good
Fantastic story.
Incredible voice acting.
Great music, art, and atmosphere.
The Bad
A few very obscure and difficult puzzles.
Stiff animations.
  1. Thank you Alex for your review. I’m very happy you enjoyed Cognition including the soundtrack I composed for it!

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