Title: The Council Episode One
Platform: PS4 (reviewed). Xbox One, Steam
Developer: Big Bad Wolf Studio
Publisher: Focus Interactive
Release Date: March 13, 2018
PS4: £25/$25 (whole season) / £7/$7 for single episode
Xbox One: £25/$25 (whole season) / £7/$7 for single episode
Steam: £25/$25 (whole season) / £7/$7 for single episode
TL;DR: A surprisingly charming adventurefull of melodrama, deceit, and the chance to piss George Washington off.
Family Friendly? Click here for more information

A cardinal asks you for the letter he gave you earlier, a letter that you promised not to open – but you did. So, what do you do? Do you hand the letter over, admitting your guily and apologising profusely, or do you try to lie your way out of it? This is just one of the social faux pas you’ll have to clumsily negotiate your way through in the first of five episodes of The Council; an adventure full of eccentricities whether it’s the scheming cast of characters or the obscene amount of priceless bits and bobs in the house you play in, and – underneath all of that – a story that strings you along nicely, leaving you to wait impatiently for episode two to arrive.

You tske on the role of Louis de Richet, sleuth and professional henchman to your far more intelligent and successful mother. So, even though when you see this mother/son crime solving duo for the first time, you would be forgiven for thinking that David Tennant and Roy Hodgson had teamed up, the de Richet family have a vested history in what they do. You’ll quickly find out that the pair are both members of the modestly named Golden Order, a secret society that – as any secret society does – twists and shapes the world to its liking.

The Council sees Louis arrive on a private island at the invitation of the mysterious Lord Mortimer, after Louis’ mother has gone missing on the isalnd since arriving some weeks ago. Now, amidst your investigation to find his mother, Louis will also be dragged into a fair amount of situations related to the other members attending Lord Mortimer’s party. The branching narratives of the episode were a nice touch, giving an extra depth to the choices you make as well as the effects it has on the relationships with certain characters. So, when George Washington hammers at your door during the night, immediately after you wake from a disturbing dream, you have the opportunity to either help Washington uncover his own mystery, all whilst making a powerful ally. Or, you can snub the American president to go and explore your dream, which really pisses George off, and leads to him making catty remarks during a dinner later on.

The first episode only has about three moments where you can have the narrative branch off, though the alternative path not taken offers a fair amount of replayability, with different stories unfolding, new conversations, and lasting effects. Now, along with the different routes the story can take, the dialogue options you can use are based on a fairly expansive skill system.

At the start of each episode in the game, you’ll have the chance to spend skill point for the three main categories: the “Linguist,” which deals with your social skills and knowledge of literature, politics, and etiquette; the “Occultist,” which allows you to spend skills to help you in your understanding of science, mythology, and being able to manipulate people. Along with these is the “Detective,” category, developing your ability to question, pick up on body language, and gain a better understanding of psychology. It’s a system that works incredibly well in the game, with certain skills allowing you to pick up on the subtle differences of characters or being able to remark on political issues to win the favour of other characters.

And though the extent to which you can ruin your relationship with other characters is limited by that ruddy essential plot (I was able to demonstrate my ineptitude by telling the cardinal that I was part of a secret society and yet still managed to convince him that I could be trusted with a secret letter), the choices you make do feel lasting. The extent to which such decisions last can only really be judged when the surrounding episodes arrive, but until then, The Council uses its themes of melodrama almost perfectly, blending a cast of self-motivated characters, including a president looking to uncover a truth about his friend’s daughter, a lady who grew up as an orphan and rises to a position of power, the catholic priest who’s looking to find refuge for priests being persecuted in France, a grizzled aristocrat, a timid and young woman who has come to the island to recover, as well as having ties to the occult, along with a handful of other characters that you’ll meet briefly.

Add to the wonderfully wacky plot of the game a setting and musical score that matches the plot perfectly, and you’ll feel like you’re sitting through a Victorian murder mystery play. With grand halls that are adorned with the greatest works of art, bookshelves filled with rare first editions on everything from politics to the occult, and the obligatory secret doors, it feels like the game is massively self-aware without ever making it feel contrite, but whether or not this is intentional is something I can’t tell you.

The Council might seem like the Thinking Man’s TellTale game, but it really isn’t. What it is, is a game that takes a genre that hasn’t appeared in games for some time, and adapting the idea of skills and dialogue options. And whilst the game isn’t perfect, tripping up on the never-quite-perfect reaction of AI characters, it’s certainly worth a shout if you’re looking for a new TellTale-esque game.

The Good

  • The game’s cast of characters are a loveable bunch
  • There’s plenty of reasons to go back and play the game again, offering a nice selection of quests and areas to explore
  • The design of the game is brilliantly eccentric

The Bad

  • The reaction of characters can be a bit hit and miss, friendly immediately after you’ve made a fool of yourself, but turn into utter bastards when you just need them to be cool
  • Similarly, some actions that are just plain stupid can just go unnoticed or people just don’t care – hopefully such actions will crop up in later episodes
  • Though the game could (and should) be played several times; you can be done with the first episode inside two hours after your first playthrough

Family Friendly?

The Council is rated Pegi 16 in the UK and “M,” for Mature in the US. Expect topics no child should understand, like the state of French politics during the revolution.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.