Say hello to the illumi-naughty
Putting famous historical figures George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte together would be typically indicative of some kind of wide-ranging history lesson. In the case of The Council, an episodic interactive adventure, both such figures, as well as many others, appear together in person. On the same island. Believe me when I say The Council is unlike any other episodic adventure.
You play aristocratic young Frenchman Louis De Richet, who is invited to a private island by the mysterious Lord Mortimer. Louis is a member of a secret society known as The Order along with another island resident. His mother has also gone missing whilst on the island. And so begins a quest that is both obligated and personally driven, but not just from Louis’ perspective…..
The Council is an intriguing tale that also has its share of provocative moments. From what initially appears as merely a Telltale game expands to include learning skills and leveling up. Indeed, some conversations only present choices A or B. Others are more akin to Lucasarts titles of yesteryear, pumping for information with constant questions.
Objection! Oh wait, wrong game
The most intriguing of these are the several confrontations that take place. Taking place in an-almost Ace Attorney-style, these 1-on-1 confrontations represent the most important conversations in terms of story and character development. The aim is simple: make the right choices or risk missing out on key information vital to the bigger picture. It generally works well in practice, especially if Louis’ conversational skills have developed. At its worst, however, a single point can require varying versions of the same question, which is a tad cringe-worthy to watch. “It’s your….Mother! Oh, she’s dead. Is it…my Mother? Oh wait she’s missing isn’t she”. And so on until you get it right.
The chances of answering correctly are greatly enhanced by the knowledge and skills Louis develops during the course of his investigation. Initially you choose from one of three classes: Diplomat, Occultist, and Detective. Diplomat allows for better speaking skills, diffusing tense conversations and dealing with politics. An Occultist has a wealth of knowledge in science and the arts, with deception in mind above all else. And finally Detective, the chosen class for this review, who is more a stickler for detail and direct questioning. Each class allows development of skills through the use of skill trees, from better questioning techniques to enhancing agility. It’s a clear and concise system for tracking current skills, although the amount of XP acquired isn’t clear until a chapter is complete.
Choose your weapon wisely
The Council also adds a health bar of sorts to the narrative-heavy adventure. A number of these tokens can be used in different ways; from more pressing questions in confrontations to lock-picking skills. It’s an inventive mechanism that plays on your own impulses. Do you really need to ask that provocative question, knowing you only have a couple of tokens left? Or do you go for the locked box in the next room? Your choice could lead to less physical clues. But on the other hand gain more treasured information on another island member. Or could be a total dead end. The fact you can gamble with your own decisions is definitely the most complementing and original feature. Items such as elixirs and the eloquently-titled royal jelly scattered around the island allow for replenishment of tokens.
On the face of it, The Council boasts very detailed, often-brilliant visuals. The presence of almost every sacred piece of art created, from Da Vinci’s Last Supper to a gigantic statue of Zeus, fit the setting to perfection. Except for the fact that the mysterious Lord Mortimer owns all of them, and showcases them in one property. Highly illogical, even for fiction, but it’s different.
The characters are also incredibly detailed. Say hello to thick noses, narrow chins, and very pointy sideburns. Face scars to stubble are very distinct and detailed, except it goes a bit too far with royalist Sir Holm, who looks like the clown puppet from Saw. If Tobin Bell actually dressed as the clown. As static visuals The Council is among some of the best I’ve seen on PS4. But their movements, particularly facial animations, do not accompany them consistently well. Characters move as if they’re physically itching or uncomfortable, even when sat or laid down. And when speaking, mouth movements come straight out of a Jim Henson animatronic workshop. Their often don’t seem to keep up with the words they are speaking.
“I wanna play a game”
The voice acting is unfortunately inconsistent, ranging from slightly charming to cringe-worthy. Louis De Richet is French, yet sounds more American than George Washington, the first AMERICAN President. Emily Hillsborrow is a diplomat to The Queen of England, and sounds so incredibly English it’s almost parody. On the whole, the acting captures the essence of clearly important figures, but Louis is the main character, with Emily close behind, so many scenes border on the uncomfortable and tedious. Couple that with a very oddly-placed soundtrack that does not fit many of the scenes in this game. Like placing a generic YouTube backtrack against a scene from the TV series Outlander. It is a crying shame, given that dialogue is The Council’s most important attribute, that it is probably better experienced muted.
There is a lot to like about The Council. This first of five planned episodes ends really well, with anticipation high for the next one. Exploring the fine-looking locations blends-in knowledge and interest and thus keeps you invested. The often-odd facial movements and sometimes bizarre voice-acting do not fully deter from what is indeed an intriguing tale. The various paths you can take will keep replay level at a high. The use of varying attributes and skills adds a new dynamic to the storytelling genre, if a little overwhelming at first. The Council is well worth a look.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Playstation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC; Publisher: Focus Home Interactive; Developer: Cyanide Studio/Big Bad Wolf ; Players: 1 ; Released: March 14 2018 ; PEGI: 16.
“Full disclosure: This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review copy of The Council given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.”