Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller Chapter 1 is the first chapter of a new episodic PC game from Phoenix Online Studios. A chilling point-and-click adventure, the story follows Erica Reed, an FBI agent on the trail of the elusive Cain killer. Players take control of Reed, but not just her standard-issue Glock and Bureau ID; they also gain access to Reed’s psychic abilities, which allow her to catch glimpses of the past by touching certain objects around her.

The first problem I encountered with this game is that it is pretty buggy. The intro sequence is fairly long, and seemed even more so when I had to endure it three times in a row because various faults kept destroying my game. The opportunity to save wasn’t available either, so this got to be a bit of a pain – and it wasn’t just the main sequence of the game which was faulty; Erica had a lot of trouble getting around my screen, and frequently teleported backwards and forwards. Almost all of the character animations were a bit jumpy at best, in fact, so there was a lot to contend with here.

I’m not a big fan of point-and-click adventure games at the best of times, and in playing this game I wasn’t having the best of times. I think it’s a pretty outdated genre, which really needs a lot of sprucing up before it plays as retro rather than annoyingly backwards; this game has not been spruced very much. In fact, in terms of gameplay, it’s almost the same as Hugo’s House of Horrors, which I was playing on MS-DOS before you could even point and click (anyone else remember that?).

There’s very little to interact with in most screens, which made the game seem more like a film or comic that was forcing me to interact with it. In the graveyard scene, for example, there are a number of crypts – but you can’t enter any of them except one. The others just give you a dismissive text box: there’s no point going in here. The sense that this was an interactive movie was not helped by the cursor, which transformed into a loading ring while characters were talking – giving the impression that I was watching a buffering Flash video.

The intense, immersive plot (which is the game’s main selling point) was not too bad, although the music, which sounded like heavy chords and someone doing an over-the-top impression of ominous music, did not add much. The voice acting is really the game’s redeeming feature: it’s well done and makes the characters seem a lot more real. The drawn backgrounds were nice, but the sequences were a little lacklustre and the graphics in general were not great; all told, I found this a difficult game to immerse myself in.

To sum up

Quality voice acting has not saved Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller from being a total bust for me. Not only was I prevented from playing as much of it as I’d have liked by the buggy software, it also offered me very little in terms of gameplay, and probably not even as much atmosphere as I could have gone for – despite that being the game’s main selling point. I wish the developers every success, because I feel like a lot of effort has gone into this game, but I won’t be playing any more episodes of this “thriller”.