Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 1: Hangman Review
This game was reviewed on the PC.
If you’ve ever heard of Phoenix Online Studios, you’ll know them for their fan-made King’s Quest game entitled The Silver Lining and that they’re insanely passionate about their point-and-click adventure games. Thanks to contributions on Kickstarter, Phoenix Online Studios has launched part 1 of their first official video game series entitled Cognition. We begin this anticipated adventure with Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 1: Hangman.
A solitary car rushes through the rain on a dark and stormy night in Boston, determined to reach its destination. FBI Agent Erica Reed and her partner Agent John McCoy are on their way to a graveyard, desperate to rescue Erica’s little brother Scott from a twisted serial killer who has him hidden somewhere in the crypts. Backup has been called, but there is no time to waste – Scott’s life hangs in the balance, and it’s up to Erica to save him. Will she succeed? What will become of the monster who ripped Scott away from the ordinary? And what’s with all these blue clouds? Read on and I will answer one of these questions three, the rest you’ll have to discover the answers to, yourself.
As you have already guessed, you play Erica Reed in this point-and-click FBI thriller that I like to refer to as Hangman. She’s a fiery little Boston woman who rarely plays well with others and has the unique ability to see events that occurred in the past when she touches certain objects or people. This can come in handy when you need to crack a case quickly! To use this ability, simple click the blue dot on the left-hand side of the screen, and you’ll see incandescent blue clouds around anything that you can touch to trigger a vision from the past associated with that person or object. This will be instrumental in helping Erica obtain clues to uncover the mysteries behind her investigations. When in search of information, it is noticeable that basic laws of detective work are also practically non-existent. Things like touching evidence without gloves, reading case files that say things like “unknown” for the date of a murder, or even the inability to find a memory card anywhere – including getting it from the same forensics tech-god, Terrence, who gives you an ultra-violet projector (and has an entire department of gadgets) – are bound to leave you scratching your head. While it is not a game-breaking design, it forces the player to think about the game as more of a point-and-click adventure than a murder mystery, which can be altogether disillusioning.
The game also contains a few notable glitches that could use some ironing out. The first would be that the characters sometimes defy their physical structures by moving through or falling into solid objects. When you are holding objects, sometimes your fingers disappear into them as if you are a ghost, or twitch around the edges of the item in unrealistic ways. Also, when entering her first crime scene, Erica passes the police tape by lifting it up and ducking under it, but her partner walks right through the police tape as if it isn’t there, then stops, lifts his hand up, and ‘ducks under it’ as if it’s there when he’s already past it. You’ll also notice intermittently that parts of the map you haven’t discovered and aren’t unlocked yet will appear for several seconds when the map first loads and then disappear. Little glitches of this nature litter the game, causing for a somewhat entertaining and at times really frustrating atmosphere.
In spite of these problems, where this game really hits a home run is in its storyline. Intellectually compelling, emotionally charged, mysterious and at times downright creepy, Hangman will leave you begging for the next episode to come out soon. It’s hard to explain just how the storyline sucks you in without ruining the entire effect of it by giving away too much of the plot. Erica finds herself in her own reality, interacting with people from work, witnesses, the killers themselves, and even a strange fortune teller named Rose who runs an antique shop. Rose is one of the many characters that stands out; full of ancient wisdom and charm, she offers to help Erica tune into her sixth sense and strengthen it. Along with the visions can come some pretty nasty physical side effects for Erica (which may include dizziness, nausea, and mind-snapping migraines), so help from Rose becomes a necessity pretty early on in the game. Erica is reluctant though, as she believes that “magic” is just a bunch of spooky nonsense that people use to exploit others out of their money. After a lot of nudging from her partner John, her physical torments when using her powers, and a lot of patience from Rose, she begins to slowly but surely accept the reality of her powers. In this game, the decisions you make and the way you interact with the people around you could alter the course of the entire series (into part 2 and beyond), so pay attention to every detail, as you never know what may be of use.
Visually, the art in the game is mesmerising. Animated in graphic-novel style, Hangman has no shortage of artistic license, including image fragments popping up as you talk to people, or flashbacks displaying in storyboard fashion on the screen. To compliment the visual craftsmanship, the music and background noises are perfectly placed, from the quiet rumble of voices and intermittent phones ringing at the office, to synthesized horror music beating quickly as you approach a possible killer. They even have Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” playing softly in the background when you’re in the morgue. The music was so well thought-out that you don’t even feel like it’s a separate part of the story, as many game soundtracks can stick out like a sore thumb, especially during transition periods. The voice acting also gives you a real Boston welcome, with accents that are subtle but realistic, reminding you where you are in the world and giving a more authentic feel to the game.
If you’re still not sold on the idea of buying this game, a rare addition to a point-and-click game is present in Hangman that really gets you involved. There are action-sequences that you run into where you not only need to be in a puzzle mindset to complete, but you must think on your feet at the same time. Timing is everything, and when a killer is tackling you to the ground and holding a gun to your head, you have mere seconds to think of a way out before you die. Thankfully, if you do die there is a retry option that puts you back into the action.
So pick it up and test your deductive reasoning in this exciting new venture from Phoenix Online Studios. Though An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 1: Hangman still has some rough edges, where it exceeds far outreaches the need for perfection. Besides, who doesn’t want to be a no-nonsense, sassy detective, walking the fine line between the ‘then’ and the ‘now’?
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 1: Hangman receives a 4.5/5.0
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