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October 2018

The Council

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Big Bad Wolf
Release Date: March 13, 2018


PC Review - 'The Council' Episode 1 - The Mad Ones

by Cody Medellin on March 28, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

The Council is a new episodic narrative adventure game where your choices and character growth truly matter.

Buy The Council

If you're developing a modern episodic narrative adventure, you'll likely follow in the footsteps of the Telltale formula. That means a heavy focus on storytelling and more than a few branches along the way while cutting back on traditional adventure game elements, like puzzle-solving or item collection. The formula has proven to be successful over the years, so there's certainly an audience for it, but there's also a growing number of people who would like to see a strong narrative accompanied by equally strong gameplay elements, making the game more interactive and less like a Western-style visual novel. Enter the first episode of The Council, a new adventure game from Big Bad Wolf that should please adventure fans who are looking for the genre to evolve.

You play the role of Louis de Richet, a member of a secret group known as the Golden Order. You're also the son of Sarah de Richet, the well-respected head of the French section of the group and leader of its supernatural division. She leads an active lifestyle despite her advanced age, a trait that gives you all sorts of grief. She goes missing during one of her adventures, and her last known location is a private island with a large manor. The owner is a man who's known for holding lavish private parties with a famous guest list. Before you know it, your quest to find your mother takes a back seat to the manor's mysteries and inhabitants.

A narrative adventure lives or dies by its plot and characters. For the former, The Council gets away with piling on mystery after mystery to keep the player engaged. They come in at a decent pace, and you're given a few moments to ruminate on one before another is presented. The first episode sets things up ,but if the pacing continues in subsequent episodes, it can become rather tiresome. As for the characters, the game entices you by including some famous figures like George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte in unexpected roles. It's gimmicky, but all of the characters you meet have a fair amount of personality and are slightly intriguing, which makes them more interesting.

If your only exposure to adventure games is through Telltale, then the base structure will feel familiar. You'll spend a good chunk of time listening to people talk, and you'll have some opportunities to respond to keep the conversation going. Any time not spent talking is spent wandering around small environments, observing interesting things in hotspots, picking up special items, and trying to solve puzzles to get clues for use in the future. The gameplay serves as a means to get to the next part of the story, so don't expect obtuse puzzles or using items together in a nonsensical way.

One thing that The Council does better than recent Telltale efforts is give you a better sense of the consequences of your actions. You'll see this early on, when you and your mother are captured and are trying to escape. One set of choices leaves Louis with a cut across the bridge of his nose, and that'll stay there for the rest of the game. Fail to get in this situation, and his face remains clean. Another example comes from the choices you make at crossroad moments; every choice not taken results in some important information being withheld.

The rest of the mechanics aren't new but work well and feel fresh in this genre. The game lets you tailor Louis to be more proficient in one of three categories. Beefing him up in the Detective category makes him more likely to notice details and investigate things thoroughly. Proficiency in the Occult means having an increased wealth of knowledge at your disposal. Being a Diplomat means you have more dialogue options when you speak to someone. It feels like an RPG in this respect, since you have more agency over your version of Louis.

The customization of traits is important since the game outlines the choices that are and aren't available, depending on your traits. For example, you may find an important object that's locked away. If you're better in the Occult, you can decipher the object's puzzle and come away with something valuable. Fail to have that built up, and you'll walk away without knowing what you missed out on. The same thing happens when you're in a conversation with someone; you'll see choices that can look intriguing, but your lack of skill in that area means you'll have to skip that thread while simultaneously wanting to rebuild Louis and replay the episode just to see what you'd missed.

The idea of having your stats dictate the game flow feels like a nice evolution from modern adventure titles. However, there's an irksome system in place where you need to spend points in order to make a stat-related choice. The amount of points seems rather arbitrary, so you don't have a good sense of how important one action can be over the other. You'll also need to constantly find and ingest items if you want to keep making choices that are almost always more beneficial than the free ones. It's not a huge annoyance, but not having the system would've been an improvement.

Another big change is the combat. There are many moments where you'll be engaged in conversational combat with others in hopes of getting something important or getting a specific outcome to occur. While that seems normal, you're graded on your choices, so you can have a better understanding of how well you're doing in manipulating the other character into doing your bidding. The benefit to winning these battles is that you'll also get to know more about the traits of the characters you're engaging with; this seems like something that will be important in later episodes.

The graphical presentation can be both beautiful and ugly. As expected with the engine, the character models are wonderfully done, with the skin textures standing out more since you can see the wrinkles and cracking makeup. The environments also look fantastic, and the lighting is superb. On the other hand, there are instances where the mouth movements are minimal, so some people look terrible when they're trying to talk.

The audio suffers from a similar fate, especially in the speech department. Most of the characters' performances are quite good, and the lines are also written well. However, it's strange that both Louis and Sarah speak without a hint of a French accent. Considering their backstories, that seems like a rather big omission.

If the rest of the series plays out like The Council: Episode 1 – The Mad Ones, then adventure game fans are in for quite a ride. The storylines and mysteries are intriguing thus far. While there is simplicity in the puzzles, the RPG elements and deeper conversation system make the game more appealing than some other adventure titles. There's currently no timetable for future episodes of The Council, but adventure fans will enjoy this title.

Score: 8.0/10

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