Every now and again we get a new adventure game which is presented to us in chapters – TellTale games were the first to make this format popular with the likes of Kings Quest, Life is Strange, and even Resident Evil Revelations adopting the format also. In comes The Council from Big Bad Wolf and published by Focus Home, a five-part narrative adventure game which presents you with RPG-like mechanics which allows you to create the character YOU want to be. New paths will open and new conversations will become available based upon the traits you unlock and the way you play the game – this allows the story to adapt and change based upon your actions much more than any narrative game this generation. Part one is available now with the others coming later on, so in this review, I’ll focus on the main controls and mechanisms in play and avoid all spoilers.
The Council begins with our protagonist, Louis de Richet, and his mother captive in a glamorous building by an evil-looking guy. In this beginning segment, not much is uncovered, only that the captive is after a book which we are supposedly in possession of and would be willing to do anything in order to obtain it. After devising a plan to get more information out of him and turn the tables on his plan, Louis can either become literally scarred for life or not based on your actions (your character will literally change his visual appearance based on this altercation) and you find out that your captive was looking to obtain the book to sell it to someone at the house of Lord Mortimer.
Fast forward and we find out that we have been invited to attend Lord Mortimer’s house, which resides on its own private island, as your mother (who was secretly looking for the buyer whilst a guest here) has gone missing. You turn up at the same time as one of Lord Mortimer’s affairs which includes people such as President George Washington, Napolean Bonaparte, Duchess Emily Hillsborrow and Cardinal Giuseppe Piaggi among a few other high profile guests.
Your agenda is to mingle with the crowd and uncover information on your missing mother in order to find her before any harm comes to her whilst also looking out for your own safety. However, you will have to make choices of who you wish to stay with, who you wish to help, what traits you would like to invest in, how you would like to build your character, and above all what battles you would want to get yourself involved with. Multiple playthroughs will uncover new lines of dialogue, new information, new event and new paths, as well as a new ending and even a slightly different story. So, will Louis find his mother? Will he find out what everyone’s own agendas are? Will he be the brave saviour or become someone’s boxing bag? The future literally all depends on you…
Episode one experience:
Episode one was a great introduction to the game – you are given the chance to pick your role, invest into whichever traits you wish your character to inherit and you begin embarking on your investigation into your missing mother. I played through the game twice, making sure I picked different options each time, as I wanted to see just how different the game was – my first playthrough had me knowing more about my mother, a mysterious girl in the mansion, stopping a guy from beating up a woman, knowing more about the people around me and ended in a horrifying way (which I can’t wait to find out more about). My second playthrough had me finding out certain characters are part of the same secret organisation as myself, I bumped into a woman in her underwear, I found out more about what people ‘say’ my mother was up too, I had sex with someone and the game ended with a cliffhanger that was about as far from my first playthrough as you can get.
So, both playthroughs took about three hours each and they both had the same backbone of the story but they went on very different paths at numerous points. Upon completion of each chapter in the episode, you are told what you succeeded and failed on and also if there was a choice, which choice you didn’t opt for. I’m really intrigued by the story and I seriously can’t wait for episode two now – there are so many questions without answers and I would love to know how the game will deal with my different choices and how my character will find out about the other ending – considering the other ending has actually taken place in my other save…
The game is out to purchase on a per-episode basis or you can either get the season pass (episodes 2-5) or the complete edition (episodes 1-5). If you buy either of the packs then you get access to the new episodes two days before they go on sale individually.
Before I go any further, I would just like to say that the game does have some flaws but I love this game so much! TellTale games need to play this game and take notes as this is how a multi-branching narrative-based episodic game should be. Not only are your choices permanent (you can’t go back and change things without starting a new game or overwriting your save), but you can obtain certain traits in order to change the person you are which in turn gives you new options as you move on. It works great and it was a pleasure to play. The last game I’ve played which had a decent amount of story-changing mechanics was the Dreamfall Chapters – another game you should check out if you like narrative-based games which change based on how you play them (plus Dreamfall chapters is about 30-40 hours long).
With that said, how do you play the game? The game played in 3rd person where you seem to control Louis the whole time (in terms of Episode one). You can move around, talk to people, investigate items and pick up objects. There doesn’t appear to be any inventory so there won’t be any puzzles in that aspect, although the game itself did have a few environment puzzles involving statues – so I guess we will still get some puzzles to play with along the way. I’ll talk about the new mechanics the game brings to the table in a minute but first, I would like to talk about the choices you get. At certain points, like the very beginning, you are given a couple of options and a timer. These choices both change who you are and sometimes the visual outcome. Spoiler – the opening scene asks if you wish to overthrow your captor, if you chose yes then you receive a scar for the remainder of the game, if you chose to let your mother take him out then you remain untouched and you gain the trait ‘Trustworthy’ which means people will rely on you and trust based conversations will become available.
This is a great experience, as not only does it push for you to perform multiple playthroughs in order to find out exactly what’s going on, but it also means that each playthrough will technically be different as you progress and invest in various traits which allows different conversations and even different paths to become available to yourself.
I keep talking about traits – so just what are these? Well, as above, you initially pick a job/role – this is your first choice where you pick what kind of person you are. Upon choosing your desired role, certain traits will automatically be unlocked (see below) which instantly mould your personality. Throughout the game, if you pick certain conversation options then you will instantly gain new traits (such as the reliable trait if you decide not to open a certain object given to you) and you can also invest points into unlocking to leveling up the ones in the tree below based on how much your character levels up each chapter. Episode one has four chapters for example.
As you play the game, you may be given some options when talking to someone. You may have four options to reply with but one or two are greyed out as they require a certain trait or level in order to choose them – this also happens with some events and areas. For example, on the docks, you can’t get into the storage area if you don’t know how to pick locks. You will still be able to progress with whatever options you invest into, it’s just the outcome and the way people see and react to you will differ with each playthrough based on what path you take your character down.
Using a trait to aid you in conversation isn’t free, it requires the use of a consumable in order to pull it off. At level one, you will use two or three of your (initially) eight ability points – whereas at level two you use one/two and at level three it doesn’t cost anything to use. Ability points are refilled slightly upon completion of a chapter and eating some Royal Jelly. You also have a few other items which will make the next option you pick free, an advantage in confrontations and curing your character once they have lost confidence due to trying to attack someone and hitting their immunity.
Throughout the game, you will be presented with confrontations – I think I had five or six in my playthroughs of the first Episode. This is where you have a certain number of times you can ‘fail’ and you must interact with a character and work towards your agenda, be it gaining their trust or getting more information out of them without causing suspicion. Failing these doesn’t mean death or game over, it just means the story from there onwards will be different as you miss out on information or you don’t obtain the trust of important characters.
Vulnerabilities and immunities:
These are awesome. As you talk to people, inspect them, or talk to other people about them, you learn what peoples vulnerabilities and immunities are. For example, if you start talking to President Washington about politics then you are probably going to get shot down or caught for your lying and discrepancies yet if you realise someone is weak to a psychological approach, then if you use that in your conversations with them, you will gain a bigger advantage using it and usually more experience. At any point, you can bring up your journal and read all the notes you have created for each person regarding the information you have uncovered about everyone and what you know so far.
I’ll begin with the not-so-good part. The lipsyncing. It’s hard in narrative games to get this 100% correct, unless if you are releasing the game in one language and have the movements perfectly mapped to that audio. I’ve seen other games with this visual style have the same issue recently, such as Black Mirror – the mouths don’t look like they are saying what is being said. For me, I didn’t mind as I don’t get immersed in games like these very often so a bit of a syncing issue isn’t a big thing, but I do know some people get very picky about it. Another part was some of the text is hard to read in certain areas. At one point, it’s a bright sunny day and you are stood with the light behind the white text. white clouds + white text = you can’t read the dialogue options. I have brought these up with the developer though, so hopefully they will be looked at.
Now for the good parts! The graphics are great. Okay, so they aren’t super-realistic and the textures look a little basic if you walk right up to them and stare at them from 2 inches in front of the TV, but during general play, the game looks really good. Especially Sir Holt, who has more wrinkles than Gordon Ramsey! The game perfectly captures the 18th-century aristocrat style it was going for with all of the priceless artwork, furniture and interior designs. Within the first Episode, you are confined to the house with access to a handful of rooms, so the variation is limited, but I expect that in later episodes we will be venturing outside and into the local caves and underground – as per a conversation I had with the servant on my first playthrough.
The sound is great – I know I’ve been saying this a lot recently in my reviews, but games are getting better and better in regards to the sound design these days. The voice acting, even though it has an issue with syncing, is great – everyone sounds unique and interesting from the America President and the mysterious woman to the stereotypical Queens-English Duchess. The only complaint I would have with the voices is that some of the accents aren’t as good as they could have been – for example Jacques Peru, one of the fathers of the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris, sounds English when I would have thought he should have been French? Also, Napolean Bonaparte is clearly a person putting on a French accent – like the policeman in ‘Allo ‘Allo, just not as comical. Another thing which annoyed me slightly is the inconsistency of pronouncing names – some characters, even Louis himself, at one point, calls him “Lewis” rather than “Lew ie” – I thought it was due to the actor not knowing how to pronounce it, but when he said his own name wrong I honestly don’t know what happened!
Trophies wise, I have managed to get 61% of the trophies in the first episode alone. There is a lot of missable trophies and some require you to play the game up to three times in order to obtain them all as you pick different options. My biggest disappointment is the trophies that remain for the next episodes as they seem very basic in comparison as they are just ‘Complete chapter 12’, ‘completed episode 3’ etc… What I’m hoping is, in order to stop spoilers by posting the trophies now – they actually do a ‘DLC’ set of trophies for each new episode with the real multi-choice trophies which are only added to PSN just before the new episode comes out.
The Council is, by far, the best example of how to do a narrative, choice-based story which actually changes based on your actions and personality. The implementation of an experience system which allows for you to pick and choose which traits to obtain and upgrade offers a lot of depth and originality into a genre which has become stale with the ‘interactive storybook’ titles out there. The story is interesting, the events that happen will keep you questioning things, and the promise of discovering new things upon each playthrough – based on the skills/role you choose to play – really adds to the replayability of this masterpiece. Don’t be put off by the issue with the lipsyncing or the lacklustre accents, the narrative is great, the atmosphere is perfect and the mystery and suspense is up there with the best of games! Highly recommend to everyone – well, everyone above the age of 16 due to certain events :)
**A code for the game was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes**
- Very interesting start to the story
- Multiple paths and dialogue options to uncover
- Each playthrough is different based on your skills/traits
- The first episode is 3 hours per playthrough - so expect about 15 hours
- Great dialogue, graphics and sound design
- Inconsistent pronunciations
- Bad lip syncing
- Un-skippable cutscenes (even on multiple playthroughs)