Cognition Episode 1: The Hangman



Genre:   Adventure

Developer:  Phoenix Online Studios

Publisher:   Reverb Publishing

Released:  October 2012

PC Requirements:

• Operating System – Windows: XP/Vista/7, Mac: Snow Leopard (10.6.X)
• Processor – 2.0 GHz*
• Memory – 4 GB RAM
• Video Card –ATI or NVidia with 1 GB RAM**
• Hard disk – 2.5 GB free space  






by flotsam


Episode 1s can be a tricky lot. You are working with characters nobody knows, you have to make an impression for people to come back, you only have part of a story to tell but it can’t just “stop” at some arbitrary point. What will come is riding on what is here. Stuff it up and Episode 2 will suffer before anyone has even seen it.

It’s fair to say Cognition makes a rather good fist of things. Its opening and closing are strong, the middle bits a little more mundane, and the whole (while not perfect) is a solid start.

It looks a treat, especially the comic book style cutscenes. Awash with colour and vibrancy, using light and shade to great effect, it’s a very “arty” production. Except for the female hair.

It also sounds good – from the musical score, through the ambient sound and effects, to the character voices. The last of these drop away a bit with some of the lesser (and even not so lesser) characters, but Erica is everything a lead should be.

In fact she’s more. She provides the lead vocals for the theme song “The Taking”, and manages to squeeze a plug for her real life band into the game via a ringtone and a related note. Raleigh Holmes is her name, daughter of composer Robert Holmes, who worked on the Gabriel Knight games, penned “The Taking”, and who joins her in the folk band The Scarlet Furies. Robert is also married to Jane Jensen, a fair dinkum adventure game luminary, and story consultant on Cognition.


Getting back to the game itself, Erica is an agent with the Boston office of the FBI. Introduced to us through a grim family tragedy, we leap forward three years to a macabre and bloody hanging. It’s here we conduct our first “cognitive” investigation.

It’s also here that we first get a sense of what Erica’s visions are doing to her. As the game progresses, these visions, or more precisely the abilities that enable them, expand and become more controllable, leading to some nifty problem solving and probably the game’s best puzzle.

By the end, Erica will have three abilities she can control, enabling her to do things like see what has previously occurred with respect to an object or place, or group related items to see what it is that links them together. There is nothing complicated about using these abilities, and they are all accessed through the cognition sphere which sits bottom left.

Cognition very much hangs off Erica, and she carries the load admirably. Hopefully as the series progresses some of the support cast will make a heftier contribution, but if Erica is going to be the anchor for the series, then it’s understandable that Phoenix made her so prominent here. Quite frankly, a strong and feisty heroine with a vulnerable flaw or two will go a long way to getting me to come back.


The game will suit adventure players of all experiences and will likely tick a few boxes for the most grizzled point and click veterans. The interface is simple and familiar, and unobtrusive tutorials will assist with gameplay mechanics, especially as you acquire your cognitive powers. Played in the third person, generous hotspots give access to three possible actions, one of which is to use the selected inventory item, which remains permanently available at the top right of the screen until you choose to select another one.

Click the inventory item itself and the inventory slides into view. Within the inventory you can examine and combine items, aided by a number of helpful icons. You can also access your phone, a useful tool that functions as a hint provider in the form of text messages from your father.

Along with the ability to highlight all hotspots, the hints should ensure things don’t get bogged down. Phoenix clearly belong to the school of the story is the thing, and the need to keep it moving along. And so it should – it’s dark and sad and I found it rather compelling. Not even the mild actiony bit should slow any adventurer down.


Cognition does an excellent job of creating mood, and here it’s the sum of the parts. The graphics, the acting, the music all come together to produce at times some quite powerful moments. Not Walking Dead gobsmacking, but within the context and the confines of a more realistic plot, they are well constructed and delivered. Production polish is not something Phoenix lacks.

You can tweak a number of settings and save at will. I got no glitches or dead ends, and there were enough “doh” moments to make it something I played as opposed to just clicked through.

The puzzles can at times be contrived, bloated or a little bit silly (lock picking the boss’s office in full view of everyone else for example), but only once did I find them annoying (fetching food during the interrogation). So too the dialogue can be a bit corny, especially when delivered by one of the lesser (and even clichéd) characters. It did meander a bit in the middle, with lots of back and forth and everyday chitchat, and I never got used to the spinning blue wheel which appeared every time the game was doing something no longer in my control.

Having said that, Cognition kept me engaged, and I thoroughly enjoyed the eight or so hours it took me. Its strengths more than compensate for the lows, and low is a relative concept. There is much to like in Cognition, not least of all the end. It left me wanting to come back, which is pretty much what every Episode 1 is looking for. If it polishes the rough edges as we move on, it could eventually be rather exceptional.


I played on:

OS: Windows 7

Processor: Intel i7-3820 4GHz

RAM: 12GB Ripjaw DDR3 2133 Mhz

Video card: AMD Radeon HD 7800 2048MB

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller can be purchased via download from Gamers Gate or Gamestop.


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