The Council is a wonderful episodic game like no other I’ve played, at least not for a long time. It’s brought to us by Big Bad Wolf Studios who developed the game, Focus Home Interactive who published it and with some help from Cyanide Studio also. The Council is available on PS4, Xone and PC so, you shouldn’t have too much of an excuse not to buy it but, of course, let me tell you why you should.
The Council is an adventure game that tells the story of Louis de Richet’s search for his missing mother, the leader of a secret society called the Golden Order. It’s 1793 so everyone talks like they actually have an education and wear very tight garments (No pants hanging around the buttocks here, oh no ) Louis’s search brings him to the private and grand island of Lord Mortimer where his mother went missing, where he hopes a party attended by the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte, George Washington, and a Duchess, to name a few, will hold the clues…some of them must know something? Or can you trust them at all? You need to get to the bottom of what has happened and by doing that you take the role of a smarty pants detective by awkwardly bombarding the quests with questions, I mean who doesn’t love to make people feel uncomfortable?
The main stratagem of The Council is the Social Influence system, which Focus Home describe on their website as so – “During confrontations, skills and limited resources can be used to gain the upper hand and achieve the desired outcome. Players will be rewarded for their knowledge of each character’s psychological vulnerabilities and immunities, as well as their preparations made during prior exploration and investigation.” In practical terms, don’t annoy anyone, play into their vanity and their weaknesses and you will come out the winner, use your smarts!
As shown in the screenshots taken from my PS4, you can upgrade your abilities so you possess even more knowledgeable power to solve situations better, ask more detailed questions, learn to notice changes to someone’s body language and many more. You can choose your class from either a Diplomat, Occultist or a Detective. This side of the gameplay is extremely satisfying to me; I actually feel like I’m learning these things for myself so, the immersive aspect is truly apparent here.
How the characters you meet dodge questions and respond to different approaches truly is fascinating and I rapidly became a different person depending on who I chat to. One of my favourite characters was the Duchess who I felt I could be honest and straightforward with, if at times a little cheeky and then I was a complete ass to the servants until I got my way, just because I can.
Having a typical conversation isn’t the only way to get the upper hand, though. Opportunities give you seconds to spot something fallacious with the scene in front of you and draw a conclusion from it. Just like a real detective, this sells the idea that Louis is always on the look-out for clues and everything around me is a performance of some kind. They might be over quickly, but just suspecting that an opportunity is about to pounce put me on my guard as I paid acute attention to everyone around me, sucking me into the conniving world of The Council. In other words, don’t eat a meal or drink anything while playing this as you need your hands on the controller at all times!
Louis’s movement throughout my gameplay was smooth and easy to manoeuvre, even while holding R2 on my controller to run he didn’t seem to sway too much. I spent a long time collecting coins and other consumables, like devil’s horn and royal jelly that aid you on your travels, while strolling around the mansion, and also finding out information about the different paintings that cover the giant walls of the mansion; even if this is only for educational purposes, it was a lot of fun to gain some knowledge. Some of the other characters I met while in the mansion did, at times, move a little stiffly and slightly shuddered like they maybe had a few too many espressos. This didn’t take away from the game whatsoever and it wasn’t drastically noticeable.
One part of the game while questioning a servant had a slight bug in the questions I was asking him. When I asked the servant what was on the third floor, he replied with what was on the second floor and also when asked what was on the second floor, he again got a bit confused and told me what was on the first floor. Poor chap must have sneaked some of Lord Mortimer’s fine necter, naughty boy!
The Council has everything I love combined into one episode, which is pretty lengthy you’ll be glad to hear, from some RPG elements, Telltale style gameplay and a good old “Who done it”detective work. It also reminded me very much of Broken Sword but with much better graphics. A game that took up many hours of my life in the 90’s on my PlayStation 1 so, this was a real nostalgia trip for me and I couldn’t have been happier.
The graphics and animations in The Council are of much better quality than those I expect to see in an episodic adventure game. The developers did a great job representing the mixture of Baroque and Romantic architecture that make up Lord Mortimer’s estate and a lot of the art featured hanging about is pulled from real paintings. Where I spent a lot of time looking around was my bedroom and the halls of the mansion where I loved the décor, extremely well detailed even down to the smallest stitch on the many chairs you see on the long shiny “vaseline coated” corridors.
You get a chance to look out over the balcony as you enter some bedrooms, taking in a bird’s eye view of the island although, I only got the chance to see this at night and one during the day but, from what I saw again it was artistically pleasing and simple, nothing too much in the way of details though. A library I came across while partaking in a quest, was beautifully done. The grandness the artist captured was second to none making the player realise the scope on just how many books were in this gigantic, tall circular room and the lighting used reflected this. Of course on console you are locked at 30 FPS and this is in no fashion hindered gameplay with its unique lighting elements, especially while standing on the docks when you first arrive and watching the sea glisten in the night’s full moon. The only small negative is at times the lip syncing can be a bit off but, with a quick patch this can be rectified quickly.
The Council uses music very methodically, not too much and not too little which is prefect. The soft orchestral tones are enough to set the mood, especially while walking around in such grandeur. In the areas where no music was playing, it was made up with the subtle sounds of clothes brushing against each other, water splashing onto the shore in the distance, sail boat masts tinging from afar and seagulls crying in the skies or the fire gently crackling from the many fireplaces found. I especially loved the low hum of people conversing in the background while you’re in a group and the creak of the old floorboards while strolling Lord Mortimer’s homestead. The voice acting by Louis could be somewhat more emotional at times as he can come across as monotone, aloof and impersonal. All in all I really enjoyed the reverberation in The Council and I’d advice anyone to use a headset while playing to get the best result it deserves. I personally used the HyperX cloud stinger and the quality was fantastic.
The Council is one of those games you can play over and over, using different methods each time to get a different outcome. I played the ending twice and each situation was completely different from the other, one ending was especially shocking. There are also collectable coins you can find all around the mansion so acquiring all of these is a task on its own that will take up some time and not forgetting the beloved trophy collecting you can achieve in The Council; which we all want to get to show how great we are! I’d definitely advice gamers to play through the story at least twice and undoubtedly, play the ending differently twice and see what the outcome is.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Council and if I’m honest, it surprised me in how good it was. Even with the small negative details, it did not ruin the game for me whatsoever. I loved so many aspects of how it was put together so, this will be a company I will be keeping my eyes on in the future but, more importantly, I eagerly await the second episode now!
The Council revives a Stiff Upper Lip Gold Thumb Culture Award
Disclaimer: We received a digital copy of the game to carry out this review