In a blatant attempt to break the record for most punctuation used in a title on an iOS game, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 1: The Hangman was recently released for iPad and iPhone. The game has already been out long enough on PC and Mac to spawn a sequel, and impressions of both games were rather mixed. The iPad version of the game offers essentially the same experience but with the added bonus of difficult to use touch controls. What hasn’t changed is that Cognition: The Quest For More Punctuation is quite possibly the most schizophrenic game ever released. Whether I liked it or hated it changed from minute to minute, and the entire game continually vacillates between genuinely fun and frustratingly bad. Trying to give any impression of the game as a whole would leave me sounding like a rambling, confused lunatic contradicting himself every other sentence, so instead I will describe this game as two separate entities: 1) Cognition Episode One (the fun, enjoyable, point-and-click adventure featuring gritty crime drama and extra sensory powers) and 2) Cognishun Epesoad Won (the terrible, glitchy and nearly broken mess that is only slightly more enjoyable to download than a virus).
The story in Cognition Episode One is far more serious than most other adventure games I’ve played, opting for a mature and somber vibe. Detective Erica Reed is a detective haunted by a pretty serious failure in one of her past cases that she can’t quite get over. Although, any failure for her would have to be a pretty serious failure as she has psychic-ish powers that let her look into the past which seems like a pretty great cheat code for detective work. Unfortunately, her powers seem to only work in the least useful way possible and the flashbacks are never at an angle that give a clear shot at the suspect’s face. Still struggling with guilt and her inability to get a full grasp of her powers two years later, Erica is assigned a new case that looks to fully test her abilities as a detective and part time psychic. Erica and her partner are called in when a man is killed by the Hangman, an individual who got that name because of his propensity to hang his victims, and not because it is their favorite game to play in the car while wasting time. While the writing could certainly use a bit of work, the overall framework for the plot is quite interesting and it is unique enough to entice you to play through to the end in spite of some laughably bad dialogue. The mixture of fantasy and crime drama works quite well, and there are some segments of the story where I didn’t want to stop playing because of how intense it was.
The story in Cognishun Epesoad Won is far more inane than most other adventure games I’ve played, giving it a feeling like all the important plot points were just made up as the author went along. I thought the fact you can choose how Erica responds to specific questions might lead to different endings, but no, the game was just curious as to how you felt and most of these choices change only the next few lines of dialogue at best. There is no good/bad ending resulting from this, and in fact there isn’t a good ending at all, because all we get is an awful ending where the game just shrugs its shoulders and walks off without resolving any of the important plot points. Presumably they’re saving these big reveals as an incentive to dive into the next episode, but if that is the case they might have wanted to not make the characters and dialogue completely unbearable. I would say that there isn’t a single character I liked, but I think it is more accurate to say there isn’t a single character I didn’t hate outside of the protagonist. You have your partner, who is supposed to be a likeable, gruff partner, but ends up feeling more like a lazy, insufferable coworker who just sits at his desk all day playing sudoku while you solve the entire case. The rest of the cast is even worse, consisting of one trait stock characters that are only there to obfuscate your progress and I spent most of the game trying to figure out if there was any way I could contrive a scenario where I could get them killed by the Hangman.
Cognition Episode One has an excellent assortment of puzzles that go far beyond what I expect in my adventure games. I’m used to combining random objects together in in hopes that two of them will form the mythical tool of plot advancement, but Cognition manages to avoid this common pitfall of puzzle design. Instead, it uses a variety of clever puzzles that really do an excellent job of making you feel like you’re in an actual police investigation. The unique facet of gameplay is that Erica has a weird sort of psychic power that lets her do whatever it is that is necessary to move the plot forward at the time. While this basically gives her the powers of manipulating her own deus ex machina whenever the game calls for it, they actually provide an interesting facet to gameplay that nicely supplements the traditional item combination puzzles. You can look into the past of certain object to get more clues or dig through a person’s memory to help them unlock new pieces of information, and each power works very well in the context of the game. The best puzzle comes near the end, where you need to unlock someone’s memory by altering pieces in five separate fragments to match what actually happened, and it has the perfect amount of digging and logic to make it thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding to solve. More games could use this sort of creativity in puzzle design, as too many games fall back on lazy non-puzzles that are no more difficult than using a key to open a lock.
Cognishun Epesoad Won has a terrible assortment of puzzles that are too simple to even really be classified as puzzles. Using a lockpick to unlock a lock doesn’t count as a puzzle, Cognishun. That’s just what lockpicks do. It would be like if you used fabric softener in the game to soften fabrics or window cleaner to clean a window, and it doesn’t count a puzzle when its use is right there in its name. Far too many of the puzzles aren’t as much puzzles as they are errands, forcing you to go talk to someone to get the item you need so you can walk back and do what you should have been able to do in the first place.
The most egregious example of this comes when a suspect won’t talk to you unless you feed him first because he’s fussy and interrogating a witness is a lot like taking care of a baby. There are both chips and an egg salad sandwich in your office, but before this point Erica refuses to pick up either because carrying around extra things in an adventure game would be weird. However, you do totally have donuts in your inventory, which would be great if Erica could see the connection between a hungry witness and food, but regardless of how many times you smack her in the head with the box she doesn’t take the hint. Instead, you have to leave and go pick up the food items you couldn’t before because blergh the game designers hate you and take them back to the guy in what is a transparently stupid way to lengthen the gameplay. And after you give him these food items? HE DEMANDS SOME DONUTS TO EAT ANYWAY. This means that after designing a puzzle where you have to give a character two different items of food, someone in the programming staff asked, “Is completing the same puzzle twice in a row enough?” and somebody said, “NO.”
Cognition Episode One is a well polished, visually striking game that utilizes a unique water color style aesthetic. The visuals manage to make enivornments look both bright and striking yet bleak and foreboding at the same time and overall the game is just nice to look at. The sound is nicely done as well, and sound effects and music both are utilized brilliantly to help contribute to the mood. The ending song is particularly memorable, and the overall package is well constructed. Too many games fail to pay attention to the presentation of the game itself, and while this might not sound like the most grievous of errors in game design, sloppiness can completely destroy the immersion and those kind of mistakes in a game like this it could significantly undermine the dark and serious tone.
Cognishun Epesoad Won is a glitchy, nearly unplayable mess that barely functions and isn’t worth playing when it does. It feels like absolutely nobody play tested this, and as soon as they finished they thought it would be fine to publish. I probably played through the entire game twice, not because I enjoyed it but because the game liked to crash every half hour or so, forcing me to restart from my last save point. And, since I’m terrible at pattern recognition, it would always have been like ten to twenty minutes in the past forcing me to relive all the terrible voice acting all over again. It was like I was suffering from a weird form or short term PTSD that forced me to relive all of my worst gaming memories at least twice.
It is hands down the funniest game I’ve ever played, but all the laughs are completely unintentional. The game loves to just glitch out every once in a while, leaving Erica wandering through desks and answering questions before people actually ask them. My absolute favorite moment was when a man is trying to tearfully recall the last moments he ever spent with his wife before my game lost its damn mind and the sandwich I fetched for him got stuck hovering in the middle of the air. The sandwich became permanently wedged there, so the rest of the interview looked like I was interrogating a sentient egg salad sandwich.
Overall, Cognition Episode One is a wonderfully awful game that should be played by no one and everyone. Fans of the point and click adventure genre should love this approach to the genre and hate how badly it botches what is a fairly easy formula to follow. There are some excellent puzzles here that really make the most out of the cognition technique and appear to have been lazily and haphazardly inserted into the game as a way to pad it out with poorly designed and inane “puzzles.” The story is incredibly interesting and mind numbingly boring, and should definitely keep you on the edge of your seat about to fall asleep as you get caught up in every dull heart pumping predictable twist. I definitely recommend you check this out and stay away from it and never play it.
I think that’s as clear as I can be.