The Council Ep. 1-2 Review – A Collection of Promises
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Big Bad Wolf
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release: 13th March 2018
Price: 29.99 (Season Pass)
Telltale Games, Quantic Dream and many other quite talented studios try their luck at games, dictated by player choices. Though while most of these efforts turned out to be linear experiences with some choices docked onto the side, there may certainly be ways to live up to the promise. Developer Big Bad Wolf´s The Council tries exactly that and may, as far as Episode 1 and 2 show, deliver.
1793, Louis de Richet is searching for his mother. The young aristocrat only knows one thing: Her last known place, the giant mansion of a wealthy gentleman. In order to find his mother, Louis steals an invitation to join the ranks of some of the highest ranking personalities of this time but can he unravel the mysteries of this gathering?
The Council, fitting for a game portrayed from the view of a young politician, circles all around dialogues, exploration and knowledge. In Episode 1 and 2, the mansion presents itself as a pretty open space, full of giant paintings, golden ornaments and everything one would expect from an overblown castle. However, most of the objects aren´t only for show, Louis can actually inspect most things, delivering either classic background or skills, in form of promising knowledge. Those skills or abilities are sorted in a giant tree, presenting you effects those collected have on the dialogues.
And here comes probably the biggest reason for The Council´s seemingly open design, actively adapting to the player in every new dialogue. Conversations with famous personalities like Washington or Bonaparte are often more like wars rather than relaxed talks. So Louis has to fight with his own weapons to gather information he needs, namely his knowledge about them, their weakness or possible exploits. Those are dictated by collected skills and previous behaviour. When you were often aggressive, or only use aggressive skills to confront the other side with questions, certain, more passive options will be locked by the game. Especially later on The Council shows how many major clues can impact the experience when persons won´t talk to you or remember how past conversations went. Combined with the sometimes lacking clues, your actions and approach actually begin to matter for the overall plot. Episode 2, in particular, has some nice references to past decisions written into it.
Where The Council is still somewhat lacking is the main story though. Typically for a game set in this period, everything feels slower than in typical episode games. Don´t expect shocking revelations around every corner, instead, it aims for a pretty classic “mystery hidden beneath the facade”, told in an equally slow manner. So, it has to be seen how well the conclusion can make up for this. Luckily, what kept me engaged in the whole thing nonetheless was the “gameplay”. Besides typical exploration, conversations are portrayed almost as battles, requiring fast reactions to fluidly bring in clues and use skills. I really like this approach to naturally fit in gameplay, instead of forcing quick time events down your throat.
Unfortunately, Big Bad Wolf isn´t a giant studio not has a big budget, leading to the two biggest problems: On the one hand, the voice acting isn´t always up to the standard one would hope for in such a dialogue focused game. While the voice actors for Louis and really famous personalities do a reasonable job, the tinier ones tend to become a pretty laughable thing at times. From wrong pronunciations to wooden emotions, though, most of the time the whole thing balances itself out. What struck me the most was the rather lazy writing at points, where characters simply give up in seconds or talk like even the most aristocratic personalities wouldn´t. They´re, compared tot he 2 hours of each episode, not often but annoying nonetheless, especially since the quality didn´t rise in any way.
The mid-budget nature also shows in the performance of the game. Given, The Council can look quite amazing at times, when the lighting and scenery are on point, the giant mansion really feels like an overblown status symbol, unmatched at its time but the framerate tend to be as stunned, often moving in the 30s or 40s. Nonetheless, the overall designs are able to create a truly believing recreation of the times, full with aristocratically stiff faces, powder and what not. Only the soundtrack is almost never noticeable due to the forgettable nature.
From what I´ve seen so far, I like The Council. Sure, Big Bad Wolf didn´t have the biggest budget to work with but episode 1 and 2 showed what a team of talented persons can create: A player defined experience. From the dialogue “battles”, the gorgeous mansion to the little flaws scattered throughout the game. It´s a charming but limited experience so far, that may certainly be worth the price if the whole plot pays off in the end.
[A Review Code was provided by Focus Home Interactive]