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Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller (PC) artwork

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller (PC) review

"Gabriel Knight -- The New Class"

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller has the kind of title that wants to leave nothing to the imagination. It’s a game about Erica Reed. She is staring in a tale that might succinctly be described as a thriller. Also, she has the power of Cognition. It’s a good game with occasionally dodgy animation. I give it a gracious 4/5.

My job would be so much easier if I could just get away with that, but it would be a disservice to Erica’s tale which, as should be clear by now, is a thriller. But what it really wants to be is the unofficial continuation of the Gabriel Knight series; so much so that Knight’s writer, Jane Jensen, was brought on board as a story consultant. In such keeping, there’s a spate of horrific murders sweeping across Boston, tinged with the supernatural which happens to fall on the lap of FBI agent Erica Reed. She works the crime scenes, what with it being her job and all, but can’t help bring up connections with a cold case that dealt with murdering siblings in a series of diabolical ways.

Her superiors chalk this up to her seeing what she wants to see considering said killer was responsible for the death of her brother, and she can hardly argue back by telling them that her magical powers to replay scenes from the past are the strongest hint she has to that connection. That kind of thing is frowned upon in law enforcement. Still, so long as she’s cagey about who knows about her psionic gifts, being able to tap into the events of the past is a bit like playing detective on cheat mode.

Even given the supernatural and macabre aspects of the crimes she’s forced to take on, she remains a detective and sleuthing remains an integral part of that. Unexplained powers alone are not enough to gather clues, interrogate witnesses and build cases – it’d be hard to file a ghostly figure’s actions as exhibit B, after all. So you’re still stuck being a gumshoe, putting evidence together, trawling for forensics, exploring motives and the like. For the most part, dismantling the crimes themselves follows a path that doesn’t stray too far into the fanciful lands of Adventure Game Logic™.

Episodic in its initial nature, Cognition features four cases that don’t appear connected on the surface but display strange links the further in Erica forges. Sometimes, delving into these cases means employing mundane detective work; cross-referencing discoveries on a database, or questioning witnesses and perps, but she won’t get too far without tapping into her less conventional abilities. As the episodes roll on, Erica’s cognition abilities grow; to begin with, she’s only able to ‘read’ certain objects but she’ll learn new ways to combine inventory and environment to obtain more solid information. She’ll find ways to interact with the memories of the people she’s interviewing, allowing them to recall things long since thought forgotten. She’ll marry up items and locations to increase their bonds to the past and wring further information from them. Very occasionally, just for the CSI fans out there, she’ll run a boring DNA check or something.

Even without the connection she slowly forges between the new cases and the lapsed investigation to her brother’s killer, each one of her cases quickly become more than mundane homicide investigations the further they’re delved into. They’re good crimes, Saw-like in their delivery (the good ones, before they started become a parody of themselves), often delighting in cruelty or desperation, They’re a joy to unravel; right up until the closing chapter that sometimes forgets it exists to bring everything together and loses itself in overly complex puzzles.

And then there are those character animations – the only thing more awkward than trying to lever in this complaint near the end of the review because I couldn’t find anywhere else to put it. It’s just as well Erica and cast are well written, well voiced and easy to connect with, because they sometimes lurch about the screen like some kind of alien monkey creature while their face tears and crimps in often horrifying manners. The game’s been worked on and patched to see off the worst of these offenders, but persistent little issues still remain. My favourite is Erica’s turning animation in the first chapter; she spins around so slowly it looks like she’s putting the entire room on silent blast with an unapproving, unblinking stare.

But a messy wrap up and a lurching stumble in the occasional step isn’t enough to trip Erica up. It tells her story (which, by the way, is classified as a thriller) around a line of logic and intrigue that never becomes farcical. It has all the modern adventure trappings, such as a hint system concealed as texting people on your mobile for help so you don’t even have to think for yourself if you’re against that kind of thing. It even has Boston accents that aren’t immediate speaker-muters. That’s an achievement in itself.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (December 16, 2017)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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