Back when it first launched earlier this year, I think it’s fair to say I was impressed with The Council. The debut effort from Big Bad Wolf had a promising story and a fresh twist on the adventure genre. While the following two episodes, Hide & Seek and Ripples, may not have been as strong, there was still potential within. With the final two episodes, Burning Bridges and Checkmate, it’s time to see if the season managed to stay the course and stick the landing.
When we last left Louis de Richet, we finally got the truth behind Lord Mortimer’s secretive gathering. Plans were made, people were crossed. All pretty standard Council theatrics. Oh, except for the limb-mangling puzzle that finished the episode out. Burning Bridges takes place immediately after the events of Ripples, with the de Richet’s in pursuit of a holy artifact, maybe minus an arm or so. After (maybe) collecting the right item, Louis begins to make his way off the island, only to be met by Mortimer himself, who is carrying a mighty big secret in his pocket. This reveal, which I won’t spoil, changes not only who Louis thought he was, but also what his relationship is to several of the guests on the island.
Since I’m trying to avoid spoiling the events of episode four, describing how Checkmate goes is a little difficult. What I can tell you, though, is that the final vote does indeed take place regarding the Louisiana Purchase. Mortimer and fellow octogenarian Holm stand on opposite ends, and you’ll be the difference maker between them. Louis’ newfound knowledge from Mortimer also looms large over the events of the chapter. In the end, though, you’ll need to make the right choices in order to ensure that Louis makes it off the island alive.
I’m finding it really difficult to talk about just how absurd the final two episodes of The Council get, because, boy, let me tell you. The mid-chapter reveal in Burning Bridges takes the series right over the edge into crazytown, and not in a good way. The hard supernatural turn the title takes is not nearly built up enough to be as huge as it is. And how it defines Louis’ relations to the main players of the story felt less like strong character development and more like a cheap stunt. It could have been salvaged with a strong ending, but the conclusion I received was comically rushed. The final confrontation left me saying “Seriously? That’s it?” It’s a frustrating, disappointing conclusion to a tale that started off rather well.
It’s disappointing that the plot completely falls apart because these last two chapters are arguably the strongest The Council has been, gameplay wise. The puzzles across both of them require critical thinking but don’t suffer from the tediousness some of the prior riddles were rotten with. There are also a healthy amount of confrontations between the two episodes. These intellectual showdowns remain my favorite part and are a great reminder of what worked best about the entire project. Putting together all of your research on each opponent in order to manipulate them into getting what you want is immensely satisfying. What other game will let you browbeat Napoleon and George Washington into reluctant submission?
Since this will presumably be the last time I’m talking about The Council, it would be a crime not to talk about its ghastly visuals again. The character models remain some of the most unpleasant, unappealing designs I can remember seeing. Some of them, such as Louis and Mortimer, only look glazed-over and dead. And they’re the good-looking guys of the group. Others, like increasingly mauled Sarah and curmudgeonly Holm, remain ugly to the very end. If their appearance wasn’t bad enough, there’s also little emotion displayed by any of the characters. Light spoilers, but more than a few characters meet their end over the two episodes. However, there’s so little emotion put into these scenes that it hardly registers that a central character just bit the dust.
Considering you aren’t doing anything you haven’t done before, it’s shocking that both Burning Bridges and Checkmate are the two worst performing episodes of the title. It felt like the action was constantly running at a sluggish pace, whether you are perusing Mortimer’s office or searching the estate grounds. The specter of lag looms over every waking moment of the title’s conclusion. As has been the case all along, that’s not the only technical problem, though. Character models are constantly clipping through their clothing, the subtitles often don’t match the words that are being spoken, and in one memorable moment, Louis completely disappeared mid-cutscene. I get that Focus Home Interactive probably wanted the entire season out by the end of 2018, but both episodes would benefit from some significant polishing.
The best way to describe The Council would be to call it a curiosity. It’s plot is outlandishly stupid, and completely falls apart the longer it drags on. The off-putting visuals and inconsistent voice acting only make the whole series seem even stranger. However, the variations it makes to the adventure genre, namely the stat-building and leveling up mechanics, help it stand out from other similar efforts. It’s an entirely unique experience, for better or worse. In the year of our Lord 2018, how many titles can you really say that about? Originality is hard to come by, and while Big Bad Wolf botches the landing, at least they tried to do something different.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Focus Home Interactive.
The Council starts strong and manages to liven up the adventure genre with some smart decisions. As the series drags on though, the bugs, unappealing visuals, and lackluster plot development mar an otherwise engaging adventure.