Developer: Big Bad Wold
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
I love myself a good narrative adventure, so naturally I was intrigued when Focus Home Interactive initially unveiled The Council. Spread across five episodes, The Council offers a unique take on the genre by introducing RPG-like skill elements into the game, with the player able to not only mould the protagonist through the choices they make, but the skills they have too.
Admittedly, the time setting and ‘Secret Society’ theme of the game didn’t appeal to me massively at first, but after playing through The Council: The Mad Ones I’ve found myself absorbed into the experience. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a good start to the story and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes in future episodes.
The Council: The Mad Ones introduces you to Louis, the game’s protagonist and member of the Secret Society that’s at the forefront of the game’s narrative. After learning that his Mother (who is also part of this society) has gone missing on the Island that belongs to the mysterious Lord Mortimer, he gets invited to head out there to try and help to find her and perhaps mingle with a few of the other guests. These guests just so happen to include the likes of real-life historical figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte and even George Washington, but intriguingly they’re also part of the Secret Society too. They’re also more clued into your Mother’s disappearance than it might initially seem, and also what her intentions behind her presence on the Island were to begin with…
This is just the first episode of The Council, so naturally you won’t see the tale through to its conclusion here. It does set it up well though, and with so many interesting characters to meet and interact with, there’ll be plenty for you to see and learn. Don’t forget though – this is a narrative adventure where your choices will affect the overall story, so no two playthroughs will necessarily be the same. You’ll definitely have to play it through more than once if you want to see everything that the game has to offer.
One thing I did find was that the script and some of the interactions could be a bit hit-and-miss. One instance saw me lying to a character about my Mother’s whereabouts for example, and essentially denying that she was even really missing. A few scenes later though, he fully trusted me but was also part of a conversation where I spoke with someone about her being missing. It seemed like a strange oversight in-game and it did make it feel a little less believable. I found that most of the characters are quick to believe the lies you say though, and it’s hard to fathom just how naïve they can be at times. Whether or not this stays true throughout the game as well as what consequences it might have won’t be seen until later episodes though.
One of The Council: The Mad Ones’ most interesting features in the implementation of skills. When you start playing, you’re able to choose which occupation forms the foundation of your skillset: there’s the diplomat that utilises intellect, the occultist who can manipulate their way into getting what they want, or the detective that depends on logic and observation. Whatever choice you make will arm you with a specific set of skills, but don’t worry – you can still unlock those under the other branches as you progress through the game.
The skills you have at your disposal will open up different conversation points or interactions for Louis as you progress through the game – it might be a case of being able to read the translation of a document, being able to join in a conversation about politicians, or even stealing something you find in your room. Of course, given that you’ve got to unlock specific skills, there’ll be plenty of moments where you’re not able to necessarily interact in these particular ways and you’ll end up missing out on tidbits of information – this is where the replayability comes into play, with The Council: The Mad Ones offering plenty of ways to approach the game via your acquired skills.
Where the skills are most prominent is in your interactions with others. Different characters have specific vulnerabilities and immunities in the art of conversation – take Emily Hillsborrow for example, who is vulnerable to conversation choices with a psychological approach but is a master of undermining those who utilise logic. Knowing this will allow you to take advantage of her during conversations if you have the psychology skill, but unfortunately if you opted for logic instead she’ll wrap you around her little finger. There’ll be moments in the game where you’ll essentially ‘stand off’ against characters in conversation where you’ve got to make the right choices in what you say to get what you want – get a specific amount of wrong choices though and you’ll potentially see your relationship with the person turn sour, so taking advantage of their vulnerabilities can be vital. It’s all down to what skills you have, though.
The skills mechanic is really neatly implemented, and I loved seeing how I could utilise them best to take advantage of others in-game. They can also be used outside of conversation at specific moments though – don’t forget, the things you do and choices you make will have a great influence on how the narrative plays out, so your skillset can affect this too. In one episode alone it’s hard to see how lasting an effect your choices will have, but there are certainly a few pivotal moments in The Council: The Mad Ones that may change how the game plays out in the long term…
Visually, The Council: The Mad Ones can be a bit hit-and-miss. The environments look great and the characters have a unique visual stamp to them, but when you see them interacting in-game it can look incredibly odd at times. Their faces move in strange ways, whilst the actual lip syncing wasn’t always that accurate. These things are often easy to look past in some video games, but in a title that sees you spend the bulk of your time conversing with others, it becomes a little bit less forgivable.