Every day, we are faced with choices, each one setting off a chain of events wherein the consequence is eventually felt by us. We interact with people on a daily basis and every misstep leaves a lasting impression on us and the other person. We never get the chance to try again to get it “right”. So too do these rules apply in The Council.
The Council Episode 1: Mad Ones drops you in the shoes of Louis de Richet; a member of the shadowy Golden Order. The game opens with you and your mother, Sarah, tied up back-to-back, in a room with a man intending to do you harm. His aim is to get you to give up the location of Al Azif, a book you stole from him. Thanks to your ability to untie knots, you free yourself. It is here that the choice and consequence aspect of the gameplay come into the fray.
Choosing to attack the man yourself will leave you with a scar across your face, while allowing your mother to attack him will leave you unharmed. It’s a nice way to introduce a major element in a seamless way that doesn’t interrupt the story or the flow of the game.
From here, the game jumps ahead one month and unfolds the true story. Your mother has gone to the mysterious Lord Mortimer’s manor. This manor is located on a large island with only one way on or off, the dock. You are responding to a letter from this Lord Mortimer, who claims your mother has gone missing on his island.
The Council controls very well. Each decision, no matter how small, you are presented with changes the story in huge ways. Even something as simple as not opening a letter can have massive repercussions later on. Add to that the fact that most of these decisions are timed and you have a recipe for more visceral decisions.
The game also introduces what it calls Confrontations. In certain parts of the game, they act somewhat like boss fights. You proceed through dialogue with someone, and reading their personality and cues will let you say things that tip the conversation in your favour. At the end of the conversation, if you haven’t messed up enough, you “win”, and the story continues in a favourable way.
During these confrontations, and even during the investigative portions of the game, you will have different skills that you can use. These skills come from one of three different classes, of which you will choose one near the beginning of the game. These can allow you to unlock different dialogue options or make some of the investigating easier. As you level up, you can allocate points to each skill, thereby increasing its effectiveness.
Visually, The Council is stunning. The lighting effects are top notch, helped in large part to the setting of the year 1793. Candles placed around the manor really let the engine show off. Shadows play across the wall as the candles flicker. Small details, such as real paintings on the walls and “clutter” on tables really bring you into the game world.
The character models are well rendered as well, even showing off the pockmarks on faces. One character, in particular, Sir Holm, wears white face paint, but the age of it is betrayed by cracking and flaking. While clues and items are highlighted by small balls of light, you need to get close enough to see them. This way, you can still recognize that things can be interacted with, but your hand isn’t being held by it.
The sound design is also very well done. The accents of the various people you meet, President George Washington among them, all sound native and not as though the voice actor is putting on airs. Even the smallest things, like the echo when you run on marble tiles, or the sound of dust and grit underfoot on the dock, are in the game. It might sound tedious, but the absence of these sounds would stand out. Big Bad Wolf Games really put their best foot forward on the game and paid lots of attention to the little things.
The Council is very story driven, which lends itself nicely to the episodic release schedule of the game.
The story is well-written, with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing about what’s really going on.
The gameplay is easy to pick up and everything is easy to learn.
Tons of replayability.
The gameplay mechanics can be a bit confusing, at first.
The story, because it’s a “spy/thriller”, can feel overwhelming.
*super nitpicky* The camera is over Louis’ right-shoulder, which might throw players off.