Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.
The faux-psychic cops of TV’s Psych and The Mentalist live in inexplicable universes where the protagonists conceal their Sherlock Holmes-like abilities of observation to pretend they’re more like Miss Cleo—presumably because science is way scarier than witchcraft.
But in Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, the titular F.B.I. agent’s bona fide psychic abilities don’t seem to garner nearly enough attention. For instance, her gruff, egg-sandwich-loving partner John merely suggests that Erica might want to chat with the town antique dealer/psychic about her ability to see the visual history of an object by touching it. (“You gotta deal with these flashes of yours somehow,” he casually suggests.)
Luckily, the game takes her powers way more seriously than the secondary characters do. The inclusion of the “cognition sphere,” an object that grants you momentary flashbacks and secret insights about murder scenes or pieces of evidence, delivers a sense of freshness to a game that too often adheres to the well-worn tropes of traditional point-and-click adventure games. You solve puzzles mostly by completing tedious fetch quests or through trial-and-error, by finding random objects in the environment that will conveniently come in handy later—you might use a gun to shoot a lock on a gate, say, or bring a box of donuts to the fat guy at the office to steal his lighter. Still, Cognition deserves credit for stretching its legs and allowing the mystery of a sibling-hunting serial killer to unravel in a measured pace that recalls the slow-burning tension of the PlayStation 3 drama Heavy Rain or AMC’s The Killing.