Big Bad Wolf dropped a major surprise earlier this year when The Council started off as well as it did. The first episode, The Mad Ones, balanced an intriguing storyline with fresh for the genre gameplay elements. It was the rare first chapter I ran through multiple times, just to see what could change. Suffice to say, I was excited to return to the world with the second episode, Hide & Seek.
Picking up immediately after the previous episode’s cliffhanger, Hide & Seek sees Louis de Richet embrace his inner detective. Called upon by the mysterious Lord Mortimer to investigate a grisly murder, Louis puts his sleuthing skills to the test as he investigates the scene of the crime, as well as confront the various characters mulling around the estate. On top of all that nastiness, evidence points to his mother, the missing Sarah de Richet, having some sort of connection to the crime. In order to piece together this mystery, the younger de Richet must continue to interrogate every potential witness, as well as explore the estate of the worldly Mortimer.
Although the murder investigation kicks things off, the majority of the episode is spent delving into the disappearance of Ms. de Richet. It’s a nice turn for The Council, as her missing presence looms large over everything else going on. The case continues to confound, and another cliffhanger sets up an intriguing moment for the next episode. Big Bad Wolf also did an excellent job of balancing which characters play a larger role this time. Last chapter stand-outs Emily Hillsborrow and George Washington largely hang out in the background, while the newly introduced Mortimer and mysterious faces Jacques Peru and von Wollner take center stage. Not only is it smart from a world-building perspective, but the stronger character development makes it hard to figure out just who you can trust. Hopefully the bonds between Louis and his fellow guests will continue to be tweaked as the story moves forward.
While the overarching story of The Council continues to captivate, the gameplay falters a bit in Hide & Seek. The RPG-light elements of the title still give it a unique taste, but they aren’t as utilized as much as they should be here. You don’t spend a ton of time interacting with others this episode, and as such, you can’t really break down their strengths and weaknesses in an interesting way. Instead, you’ll spend a lot of time pouring over documents and artifacts, which fits with who Louis is, but it’s far from engaging. It doesn’t help that the skills you had spent time improving aren’t as important to these segments as you would think they are. They are used more to provide proper context to the history you read about, but aren’t necessarily integral to your success. By spending more time researching and less time confronting, the episode feels punishingly dull at times.
Not helping matters is the fact that the major puzzles of Hide & Seek are more tedious than anything else. Unlike The Mad Ones, which had five different sub-segments, the episode is broken down into a paltry three. Each of these portions features a main puzzle, but they all follow the same pattern. All of them have you studying the history around your present location in order to arrive at a solution, whether it be for a combo lock or a hand switch. Again, while these fit into the role Louis plays in the story, these sluggish investigations aren’t particularly enjoyable to solve. Having to sift through what seems like an endless supply of research books and bland letters in order to find a single clue is not my idea of a good time. This is more evident in the first two sections of the episode, which strangely run way longer than the conclusion, but it’s a constant problem all the same.
As with the previous episode, the second portion of The Council remains rather unpleasant to look at. There’s something off about every character’s facial expressions that I can’t quite place my finger on. It’s not an uncanny valley, but there’s something there that makes all of them unappealing to the eyes. At least the grotesque Holm only makes a brief appearance this episode. Things fare a little better when it comes to the island Lord Mortimer rules over. You spend most of your time going over previous locations, but each guest’s quarters feels unique to their personality. More interesting are two of the new areas: Mortimer’s personal office and the outside garden. Mortimer’s office has a handful of nice touches, while the garden is a nice break from the upscale interior of the mansion. I don’t expect things to get better here, but the visuals can be so off-putting that I feel the need to constantly bring it up.
Maybe I didn’t notice it during The Mad Ones, but Hide & Seek has some noticeable performance issues. The load times are all over the place, and inconsistent from room to room. Subtitles sometimes don’t pop up during certain portions of a conversation, which would then lead to the text on-screen not matching what’s being said. The most glaring issue the chapter faces, though, is that the game will noticeably slow down. The framerate will slow to a crawl while Louis is jogging, and during one specific moment, the game actually stopped completely while a puzzle was being worked on. Like I said, maybe I didn’t notice that these issues were prevalent all along, but for now, I’m confused by the noticeable dip in performance.
The over-all framework of The Council, both from a story and basic gameplay perspective, that I’m still invested in where the story goes. However, I can’t deny the fact that I’m rather disappointed with how Hide & Seek turned out. It’s an often sluggish episode that ignores what made the first episode enjoyable in favor of a series of bland, over-long puzzles. The branching conversations between Louis and others was a strong point last time, and it’s weird how these interactions was basically brushed aside this time around. Hopefully the next episode can build off the promise of the first episode, rather than the frustrating tedium of the second one.
This review was based off the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was provided to us by Focus Home Interactive.
The overarching story of The Council remains as eerily enjoyable as before, but the tedious puzzles that drive Hide & Seek ignore what made the first chapter such a delight to play through.