Click here for my verdict on Episode 2: Hide and SeekThe Council - Episode 1: The Mad Ones | Xbox One | ReviewThe Council
isn’t your typical narrative adventure game, serving up a side of role-playing mechanics to complement the impactful decision making and branching story paths you’ve come to expect. You play Louis de Richet, a Parisian aristocrat and leading member of The Golden Order, a powerful secret society headed by his ageing mother. When she mysteriously disappears on a private island owned by the elusive Lord Mortimer, you board a vessel and set sail in search of her.
Political intrigue soon abounds as Louis arrives to find leading world figures of the time, like Napoléon Bonaparte and George Washington, hosted in Mortimer’s affluent abode. Whilst outwardly putting their best faces forward, each attendee conceals a dubious personal agenda, leading a character and conspiracy-driven period drama steeped in late 18th century culture and religion.
If that sounds a little indigestible, its mischievously quizzical soundtrack and a sense of humour prevent The Council
from becoming too heavy by imbuing it with the unmistakable feel of a classic murder mystery caper. Importantly, that doesn’t undermine dark elements of the occult or Louis’ hallucinatory visions, seemingly stemming from chronic migraines, which incorporate further twists and turns by calling his perception of reality into question.
Those elements serve to make your two-to-three hour stay a compelling one, but, unfortunately, that can be in spite of questionable voice acting and animation. Coupled with a script that lacks subtlety, when a character opens their mouth the game’s budget production value can cry out on occasion. That said, The Council
is priced to match and the end result is more likely to make you crack a smile than let slip a groan, so it’s pretty easily forgiven.
When it comes to presentation, the game’s setting fares much better on the whole. We’d describe the aesthetic as stylistically gruff - similar to Bethesda’s Dishonored
- contradicting its inherent lavishness, presumably to reflect the ill deeds on which the surroundings were built. Priceless real-world paintings and artefacts are boastfully displayed on every available surface, aiding storytelling and also rewarding exploration given what little freedom you’re afforded.
In taking the time to snoop you’ll gather collectibles, consumables and clues that’ll each help in solving simple environmental puzzles and conquering verbal confrontations. This is where the RPG elements come into play, with three skill trees offering up a range of unconventional abilities, either purchased through levelling or awarded for meeting certain criteria, that encompass an intellectual arsenal and serve to improve your powers of speech, perception and deduction.
The Council isn’t your typical narrative adventure game...
New interactions open up across the game as you acquire their corresponding skills, but you’ll have to pick and choose which instances to take advantage of, as performing actions draws from a limiting pool of Effort Points. What’s more, whether you might be forcing entry into a room, translating a document, or noticing small behavioural traits, there’s always a risk your efforts are misplaced and you won’t actually discern any useful information. When you pick your moment and do uncover a relevant morsel, character-specific vulnerabilities and immunities are compiled for reference and help you to politic with the best of them moving forward.
Ingeniously, real-world historical knowledge can also be used to your advantage, for example, knowing Napoléon’s plans for the future of France makes it easier to curry favour by telling him exactly what he wants to hear. For the most part that’s off the cards though, so being afforded a few blunders during tense linguistic jousts helps to avoid blowing an encounter and negatively impacting your story - which it always will, in the absence of game over states. Before it comes to that, tactically popping one of four consumables, which offer a range of helpful buffs, can drag you back from the brink of disaster.
Once you’ve gotten to grips with the ins and outs of the non-violent confrontations, they prove a fascinating advancement over the comparatively humble dialogue systems seen elsewhere. At this stage, The Council
also seems set to dispel the infamous illusion of choice by actually bringing more significant differences between two given paths to the fore. You’ll visit contrasting locations and interact with different characters dependant on what you opt for, with each of these separate scenes then featuring more granular deviations within themselves. Ultimately, this leads to one of two very different cliffhanger endings, which certainly seems promising, though only time will tell how divergently the story continues to unfold across the series’ four remaining episodes.
At the end of a chapter you’re informed of the events that you missed, putting the web of opportunities into perspective, and coupled with achievements for making opposing choices this provides compelling reason to start all over again.
At this stage, The Council seems set to dispel the infamous illusion of choice by actually bringing more significant differences between two given paths to the fore.
The first of The Mad Ones
’ endings we encountered left us more intrigued than the second, but either way we’re eager to see where The Council
takes us next. Until then, this rough-around-the-edges introduction to the series illustrates the strengths of its unique approach, placing it head-and-shoulders above anything from genre leader Telltale Games in terms of gameplay. While it utilises similar techniques to perpetually trap you between a rock and a hard place, keeping you actively engaged with its story, when it comes to scripting and performances, the experience just isn’t comparable.Pros
+ Shakes up the narrative adventure formula
+ RPG systems make for the most engaging episodic adventure gameplay yet
+ Strong story & characters, in spite of some issues
+ Stylistic presentation is understated but effective
+ Very replayableCons
- Dodgy voice acting & animations
- Script lacks subtlety
- Occasionally choppy frame rate7/10Achievements
The base list includes achievements for all five of the season's episodes, with a majority being assigned to this pilot. Whilst you won't simply be gifted a completion for finishing a single playthrough, as there are miscellaneous and divergent path achievements, a short second playthrough should set you straight. There's nothing challenging about it, just be aware that Veteran
cannot be unlocked at this stage, as there's no way you're reaching level 15 in one episode.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Originally written for Pass the Controller, a digital copy of the game was provided for the purpose of this review.
Feel free to check out my other Xbox One (X) reviews
, as well as my PlayStation 4 (Pro) and PlayStation VR reviews on TrueTrophies
, and PC reviews on TrueSteamAchievements
Thanks for reading!