Cognition Method: Initiation shows a lot of promise

Spoiler Warning: All screenshots are taken from the early part of the game, and no major spoilers for the demo’s ending or puzzles are present. However, there are still minor spoilers for Cognition Method: Initiation.

As you may know if you’re a regular around here, I’m a bit of a collector of free games! Whenever I spot an interesting-looking demo or free title I’m happy to download it and take a look. Why not, after all, considering it’s literally free?

My latest acquisition has been puzzle title Cognition Method: Initiation, which is currently available for free on Steam. It’s a demo, comprising the first few levels of what independent developer Team Cognition promise will be a larger game. The main game is still in development, but the demo version is available now. It’s already received plenty of positive feedback on Steam, and its relatively small file size meant it didn’t take too long to download even on my not-so-great connection! I was happy to take a look, and if Team Cognition make the rest of the game as well as they made the levels available in the demo, Cognition Method is going to be fantastic.

The digital banner/box art for Cognition Method: Initiation.

So what is this game? Cognition Method: Initiation bills itself as “a story-driven, first-person puzzle game” and it really does put the story – which the demo does not finish, naturally – front and centre. The basic premise is that Earth is dying, but a strange artefact from space may offer the key to saving the planet. It’s not an entirely original premise within the sci-fi realm, but Cognition Method: Initiation puts its own spin on a setting we’ve seen before.

Going down the route of creating a puzzle game rather than something action-oriented already changes things up, and considering the sci-fi genre is packed full of shooters and action games, this gives Cognition Method: Initiation a hook that other titles don’t really have. However, that comes at the expense of the game being arguably more of a niche product.

Part of the opening cut-scene.

The gameplay itself and the puzzles have a very Portal-esque vibe to them, being physics-based and with a lot of cubes and balls to move around and place on the right switches. Switches open what look like force-fields, allowing the player character to progress through the mysterious artefact. The puzzles do take a degree of figuring out, and in a similar way to Portal, learning how to use the environment is a key part of the game.

Cognition Method: Initiation’s big selling point is gravity and anti-gravity, meaning at points the player character is walking on the ceiling thanks to the use of “gravity wells.” This is something I haven’t seen very often in gaming, and it’s certainly innovative, allowing for different and unique ways to solve puzzles. The game requires a certain amount of outside the box thinking as a result of the way it uses gravity and anti-gravity; not every puzzle can be solved purely on the ground!

An early puzzle featuring two switches on the ground.

The seemingly-deserted artefact has a creepy feel, as if a scary monster (or alien in this case, I suppose) is about to leap out from behind one of the corners. As someone who’s sensitive to that kind of thing, I’m glad it didn’t happen! There was a jump-scare, though, toward the end of my playthrough, so if you’re not a fan of jump-scares (like me) just be aware of that!

The aesthetic of the artefact itself is somewhat modern, with what appear to be concrete panels, contemporary-style benches, floating stairs, and the like. That modern-industrial look can be rather bland in some games, but here, given that everything is clearly not as it appears, I think it works. I’d like to see a bit more environmental diversity in the main game – something the demo provides glimpses of – but I’m alright with the overall style.

The artefact has a modern look – for the most part!

There are some elements taken from psychological thriller and even horror titles, such as a disembodied voice and inexplicable scenes that don’t appear to make sense. The artefact is clearly playing tricks on the player character – and playing through the game can feel eerie and otherworldly. There’s a good mix of darker and well-lit areas, but I would say that there’s not much transition between light and dark; Cognition Method: Initiation offers you either lit or shadowy areas.

And that brings us to graphics. Playing on a 4K display at maximum settings the game looks decent. Not groundbreakingly so by any means, but most visual elements work well and the game is suitably immersive. Partly because of its deliberately unearthly design, some visual elements that I might otherwise look at with a more critical eye get a pass, as they work well in context. That said, there were a couple of moments where the game’s visuals let it down. At one point early into the game the player character is confronted by what appear to be three metal balls with a mirror finish. At a distance these look okay, but up close the mirror finish really doesn’t look all that good, and the reflections offered are pretty basic.

One of the mirrored balls.

There appeared to be a moment right at the beginning where a couple of lines of dialogue heard in voiceover didn’t match the subtitles, but otherwise the voice performances were decent. The player character and the disembodied voice, which are the two voices heard most frequently, are both solid, and there were no problems I could detect with the sound.

Cognition Method: Initiation makes creative use of sound in places, remaining quiet almost to the point of silence at times, then hitting you with a loud noise when standing in an area that might be important for a puzzle. This is pretty clever, and it was generally done well. The use of sound also adds to the tension, and the soundtrack, while understated, complements the gameplay well and contributes to the feeling that Cognition Method: Initiation is clearly going for.

A force-field.

So that’s all, really. My playthrough of the demo only took a few minutes, but it was enough of a tease to get me excited for the game’s future prospects. A full release is planned by indie developer Team Cognition, but no word yet on when that may be. No rush, though! I hope the developers take their time.

There are a couple of elements with the visuals that could be tweaked, I’d love to see proper control pad support added, and it might be worth double-checking the recorded dialogue in the opening cut-scene, but overall Cognition Method: Initiation is a smooth experience that could easily be mistaken for a demo released by a larger, well-established company. I will watch its progress with interest, and plan to pick up the full release whenever it’s ready.

Considering that the demo is 100% free on Steam (at time of writing), if you’re a fan of puzzle games, Portal, or esoteric, slightly weird sci-fi, I heartily recommend you check out Cognition Method: Initiation.

Cognition Method: Initiation is out now for PC via the Steam platform. The game is the copyright of Team Cognition. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.