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Shaking up the classic hard-boiled detective story formula with a supernatural twist, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller's gritty adventure game yarn about a psychic FBI agent makes a bold attempt to set itself apart from the status quo. Colorful language and violent encounters punctuate this tightly wound murder mystery geared towards more mature players, but while Episode 1: The Hangman has some pretty intense high points, it gets bogged down by dull stretches and technical issues.
The juxtaposition between intense pressure-cooker situations and mundane tedium makes Cognition an uneven experience at times. Our introduction to detective Erica Reed's tale gets off to an abrupt start that makes you feel like you missed some important snippet of back story, but getting over that first bump hurls you into an exciting race against fate to find her kidnapped brother. It's once the dust settles from this initial encounter that everything slows to a more deliberate pace and the moments of action are stretched out. When things heat up, it's easy to get pleasantly caught in the flow of each dire situation, but the slow stretches are dry and tedious in comparison.
Cognition's puzzles follow familiar genre tenets, and they're reasonable and satisfying to overcome with some care. Erica's special cognitive abilities, which let her detect the psychic impressions left behind at crime scenes, add an interesting new wrinkle to the game's problem-solving conundrums. Unfortunately, wrestling with the condensed interface and cumbersome touch controls is less than ideal. Porting PC mouse controls to a touchscreen is usually a fluid affair, but it feels shoehorned here and detracts from the experience.
Graphical glitches, protracted load times, and visual stutters also mar the otherwise colorful presentation. These issues make Cognition feel painfully unpolished at moments, and they pop up frequently enough that it weighs down the episode's more interesting sections. Playing with the graphical settings boosted to a higher quality makes the game look nicer, but it comes at the expense of performance. Even then, seeing characters phased through solid objects and other buggy encounters kills some of the vibe.
The bottom line. Serious adventure fans will be able to look beyond Cognition's warts to appreciate the story and puzzle challenges, but it's bound to be a love-hate relationship.
iPad running iOS 5.1 or later
Interesting story. Unique psychic-tinged puzzle mechanic.
Lots of technical glitches. Performance issues. Wonky interface. Dull stretches.