Cognition: Episode 3 is not a great adventure, but it is still a pretty good story.
FBI agent Erica Reed is back again for another exciting Cognition adventure! This time, her quest to find her brother’s killer puts her on the trail of the murderer known only as The Oracle. But is she really the hunter – or has she become the prey?
For those who haven’t been following along, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is an episodic point-and-click adventure about an FBI agent who possesses a supernatural ability to see into the past. And not by reading history books or newspaper articles either: she can enter the memories of other people, and even of inanimate objects, to see what they’ve seen and know what they know. In the wake of her brother’s death at the hands of a maniacal serial killer, she hones her powers and uses them to track other dangerous murderers. But not long after the start of her latest case, it becomes apparent that she’s being manipulated, as grisly murder scenes contain clues that only she can see, and which were clearly and purposefully left for her to discover.
Functionally, it’s a very standard point-and-click affair, with a simple and reasonably elegant interface, a pop-up inventory and plenty of characters to talk to, and things to look at, collect and use. The backdrops are unremarkably attractive, and the characters suffer from the same issues as in the first two episodes, with awkward and sometimes wildly unnatural animations, poses and facial expressions. The voice acting is generally pretty good, but tips into overwrought melodrama now and then, sometimes helped along by the script, which occasionally swerves dangerously close to parody.
The trouble with reviewing an episodic game like Cognition is that the basic elements and mechanics – graphics, interface, that sort of thing – don’t change from one chapter to the next, so if you really want to know more about that, you may as well just read the previous reviews for Episode 1 or Episode 2. What can change, however, are the story elements and puzzles that bring an adventure to life, and that’s exactly what happened between the first two entries in the series: Episode 1 did not impress, but Episode 2 seemed to find its footing.
Episode 3 lands somewhere in between; it falls prey to overindulgence in supernatural gimmickry and the plot twists feel almost impossibly convoluted, but it gets points for trying something different, and convoluted or not, the story it tells is one you’re going to want to see through to the end. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, I can’t say too much about the story without dropping some major spoilers, and if you’ve enjoyed the mystery so far, this is very much a payoff episode. It asks more questions than it answers, but the answers it provides are doozies, so you’ll have to bear with a little vagueness.
In Episode 3, Reed encounters a character with powers very much like her own: The Oracle. That leads to some complicated gameplay early on, as you must use that character’s abilities from within Reed’s own state of post-cognition, in a sort of cross-pollinated waking dream that can be tricky to stay on top of. It suits the narrative and you’ll come to understand why Reed relies so heavily on her abilities in this episode, but the implementation is cumbersome, as you’ll be activating cognitive powers, and powers within powers, just about every time you turn around.
Unlike the previous episodes, which took place in various locales spread all across Boston, Episode 3 is set entirely in a single apartment building, primarily in the penthouse. That too fits the nature of the episode and to be frank, not having to chase all over Boston looking for random adventure game bric-a-brac is refreshingly pleasant. There’s also happily less need for all of that stuff than there was in the first episode, although you’ll still have to deal with a few silly “Sierra-style” puzzles that feel horribly out of place in a grim game about serial killers.
That is perhaps the greatest failing of Episode 3 and of Cognition as a whole thus far: it’s a dark and disturbing tale, but that darkness is undermined by the puzzle-driven gameplay. It’s far better than the first episode, which felt like King Graham was filling in for Lance Henriksen on the set of Millennium, but the need to use things on other things, especially when those actions have little semblance to anything someone would do in the real world, can very quickly pull you out of the fiction. There are also a few events that come across as very forced, and presented solely to accommodate a supernatural revelation of some sort. Even though I know what happened, there are one or two rather major plot points that elude me – although I’m willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt and assume that all will be made clear in the fourth and final episode.
If you played through the first two games you’d be nuts to quit now, and if you haven’t, you’d be nuts to start with this one; as an episodic game that’s actually releasing new content more or less on schedule, the only way to play Cognition is from the very beginning. The real question is whether Episode 3 maintains the quality of the game, and while that’s something of a double-edged sword, the answer is definitely yes. Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is not a great adventure, but it is a pretty good story, and by the time you get to the end of Episode 3, you’ll be chomping at the bit for Episode 4.