Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 1: The Hangman

Posted by Gustavo Calvo-Simmons.
First posted on 07 January 2013. Last updated on 25 May 2014.
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Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 1: The Hangman
Erica can activate her power of cognition by touch objects that glow with an aura.
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 1: The Hangman
The answer lies in the blood!
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 1: The Hangman
It is a trap!
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 1: The Hangman
Who is behind Erica?
Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 1: The Hangman
John is Erica's partner at the bureau.

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller

The season is comprised of 4 episodes:

Episode 1: The Hangman

Episode 2: The Wise Monkey

Episode 3: The Oracle

Episode 4: The Cain Killer

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller is the first commercial game project from Phoenix Online Studios—best known as the developer of The Silver Lining, a freeware fan game based on Sierra's King's Quest series. Like that game, this game is being released by the indie developer as a planned episodic series. The title is notable for being among the earliest adventure game projects to be successfully funded on Kickstarter. The developer has also recruited famed adventure game designer Jane Jensen, who serves as the story consultant for the project. Episode 1: The Hangman is the first episode of the series, with 4 episodes in total already announced for the full season.

The game tells the story of Erica Reed, the titular heroine who works a FBI agent in Boston specializing in serial murders. After working many years chasing after serial killers, she finds herself involved in the kidnapping and subsequent murder of her brother Scott in the hands of a serial killer known by the moniker the Cain Killer. In the present day (3 years later), Erica is called to a crime scene of a late night hanging to investigate. Little does she know, however, that this sadistic murder is somehow tied to her brother's death years earlier.

The game begins with a tragic narrative that is immediately compelling but also extremely sad. It is clear that the developer is readily invested in the flux of the story and does not want to rush the otherwise marvelous noir narrative. While the pacing of the story may be a bit too slow at times, it works well to keep the veil of suspense on how the murder that Erica is currently investigating is tied to her personal tragedy. If you are a gamer who is on the lookout for a fast and adrenaline rush adventure, then this is not a game for you. On the other hand, if you are a gamer who is on the lookout for a fulfilling and suspenseful story with rich characters, then this is a worthy adventure for you to take from beginning to end.

The superb graphics and audios in this game immediately set the game apart from other indie productions. Visually, the game also takes on the style of a graphic novel and evokes the experience of reading a golden age comic. The 2.5D cel-shaded artwork lends a really smooth visual aesthetic that puts an air of mystery into the game's atmosphere, with a superb emotive soundtrack further complementing it. The voice acting is excellent, featuring the talent of Raleigh Holmes (who, incidentally, is the daughter of Robert Holmes, Jensen's husband) playing the role of Erica. Holmes also provides the lead vocal for the game's theme song with her band The Scarlet Furies.

The script is generally well written. However, they are many times when the dialogs fall into clichés, giving off a childish feel that does not at all match the serious tone of the main story. It is not easy to pen a fictional murder mystery story without recycling familiar literary themes. To its credit, the developer has done an amazing job in keeping up the tension in the game. There are still a few moments when the game stalls, particularly when the story is interrupted by the absurdity of some puzzles that make little sense in context. As the game's title suggests, the twist is that Erica is endowed with special abilities with which you can use to solve the different puzzles in the game. As the story progresses, Erica will learn to control a trio of psychic powers: cognition, projection, and regression. Unfortunately, there are times when Erica's abilities are used as an easy crutch to make advances in the game, as if the developer has run out of ideas of finding a more imaginative (and sometimes more sensible) solution to a puzzle. Still, these abilities help to lower the game's difficulty without taking out the game's enjoyment.

Not surprisingly, the game presents little challenge to experienced adventure gamers. Rather, the game is best suited for novice adventure gamers or casual gamers who are new to the adventure genre. Even so, the game may benefit from more developed and dynamic challenges. This is because the puzzles in this episode tend to be really easy. It is possible, however, that future episodes will ramp up the difficulty level of the puzzles that make better use of Erica's special powers to deliver a different and more unique experience.

In all, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller - Episode 1: The Hangman is a promising start to a new series and is completely worthy of playing. It takes a different slant on the realm of detective fiction and features a strong female lead in a subgenre that is typically dominated by male characters. Erica is a heroine in her own right and is not portrayed with any preset stereotypes. Overall, if you are seeking an adventure game with stylish graphics and an intriguing story and are not turned off by adult dialogs and imageries, what a great way it is to start with this debut title from Phoenix Online Studios.

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