Have you ever become so immersed in an episode of CSI or Law & Order that you’ve fantasized about being in the detectives’ shoes? Well, stop here and buy Phoenix Online Studios’ $9.99 Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Episode One. The point-and-click adventure-mystery game puts you in the shoes of Boston FBI’s very own Erica Reed who’s tasked, along with her doughnut-eating partner John, with tracking down a potential serial killer. But what sets this redhead Boston native apart from the other detectives is her ability to tap into psychic powers she’s had for as long as she can remember. Her powers, however, are not as childish as Matilda or as heinous as Carrie. Erica can sense certain objects and visualize their previous movements — an ability that grows stronger and evolves as the game progresses. This assists her in solving crimes in this thrilling — if sometimes uneven — adventure game.
For example, Erica gains a projection ability that lets you select three related objects that give evidence about items that previously existed in the location. Except it’s not really there, and has a ghostly aura around it meaning only she can see it. Erica’s other power lets her enter an individual’s head and bring a regressed memory to light. These abilities allow you to track, find, and witness events that help you in your ongoing investigation and solve puzzles. Although you have these powers, the gameplay doesn’t hinge on using them — a relief, as that would’ve made the adventure too formulaic and mundane.
The puzzle difficulty is very inconsistent. Most are really clever — maybe a bit too clever. Thankfully there’s a feature that allows you to text your father, an ex detective, for help whenever you need a hint on what to do next. The flip-side is that some puzzles are very obvious.
Others are in place just for the sake of having something to solve — they offer no real purpose for being there story-wise. Then there are puzzles that are completely incredulous. One demands you break into your boss’s office in broad daylight, in front of employees, and nobody bats an eye.
Having said that, Cognition forces you to step back and think like a real detective and not a gamer. As a gamer, one may just start clicking on every object you see, or whichever object you think a game would want you to click. That’s a quick road to frustration. Instead, you have to inhale your surroundings, inhale your inventory, inhale your powers,and then exhale a big ol’ solution.
The game’s 3D, cel-shaded characters set against 2D backdrops is beautiful and a thing to value and appreciate. The attention to detail in most background locations is meticulous and deserve a tip of the cap. Character motions are a little awkward at times, though. There’s this one sassy gesture that the female characters do where they lean on one leg, give a little bend of the elbow,and point at you. It takes me out of the scene every time, as it’s unfitting to all the situations and makes me laugh every time.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller isn’t a perfect point-and-click mystery game, but it sure is a great one.
But there is a dark side. Every character save for Erica is the epitome of hacky. First, we have the receptionist Gwen who is — you guessed it — a ditzy blonde. Then there’s your boss Davies who is — as expected — mean, brash, and a bully. And of course your partner John — who I mentioned earlier—is lazy, overweight and likes doughnuts. These are just a few examples of the cliché characters you encounter. This leaves characters thinly developed and predictable, which in-turn makes the ending of this entire episode predictable.
The upside? Excellent voice work. Erica’s voice actor, Raleigh Holmes, is particularly fantastic. She hits the emotional range required for each scene, whether it be dramatic or humorous. She doesn’t have a bad Boston accent, either. However, one character named Rose who works at an antique shop and helps condition Erica’s cognitive powers, talks with a very stereotypical ethnic fortune-teller dialect — sort of like a Native-American (I assume) Miss Cleo. It’s—it’s bad.
Another outstanding thing about this game is the musical score. It fits every moment and every section of the game. From the main menu, to the fast travel screen, to the morgue you frequent, every song has a sense of mystery, the unknown, and a hint of darkness, which is the overall theme of the game.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller isn’t a perfect point-and-click mystery game, but it sure is a great one. Given that this is only Episode 1, Phoenix Online Studios may have many more twist and turns in store. If you’re a Mac or PC adventure gamer, do yourself a favor and get this game.