While one episodic game studio struggles to stay afloat this week, another continues its push to make a name for itself. Big Bad Wolf Studio's The Council
has reached the penultimate episode, although after a consistently impressive first three parts, the story stumbles here in the run-up to the finale. It still feels like there could be a great conclusion coming to one of 2018's underdogs because the problems all displayed in this episode are easily avoidable despite also being quite numerous.
While a lot of the good that The Council
has shown returns in the latest episode, "Burning Bridges" ultimately struggles to keep up the level of quality as all that came before it for one major reason, as well as several smaller ones. The big problem is that it feels rushed. Not only is it about an hour shorter than every other episode — about two hours for a playthrough versus three — this hurried pace causes a lot of problems for the plot. What should be major moments in the story end up getting brushed off dissatisfyingly. Some players will have Louis accidentally become painfully disfigured in episode three's cliffhanger, and yet almost no one he speaks to in episode four bats an eye at his blatant and severe injury. What's worse, as the most important developments of the mystery so far are revealed within those two hours, they come via a delivery that seems to forget any sense of "show, don't tell."
I've previously coined the game a talking simulator and I've meant that as a positive, but in this case, the story really needs to play out in a way other than having one character reveal everything to Louis over and over. The character has reasons to be so forthcoming, but the approach feels like a waste of what could've been strong dramatic storytelling. Thankfully, the plot points that are spilled so liberally in these moments continue the previous episode's new angle of taking the story completely off the deep end in a really fun way, so even while the method feels like less than it should've been, the details are still enticing for players who have stuck around this long.
Along with the backward "tell, don't show" motto of the episode come several smaller technical annoyances. Several times lip-syncing was missing, which has popped up once or twice in each episode but never as much as it does here. Other times, speaking characters fail to emote or even move much at all. These sorts of bugs are always jarring but are made more so in a game that bets it all on its story as The Council
does. Even some brief stuttering issues will give players Telltale flashbacks. It also doesn't help that this episode has few major decisions to make, or at least almost none that conclude in this episode. At best, there are some strong table-setting choices for Louis to watch unravel in the finale, but as each episode must also be judged on its own merits, this is certainly the weakest episode so far.
Very different this time is the lack of consumable items to help Louis in the chess-like conversations that act as the primary gameplay tentpole in The Council
. Previous episodes gave players a wealth to find, but as the game remembers where you found items before and the whole story takes place in and around the same manor, by now, Louis has likely searched every cupboard and chest, leaving him quite possibly low on all buffs. This, in turn, makes the conversations a more delicate tightrope walk, and it's actually better that way. You can still rely on high-level skills that no longer use your action points, but for everything else, you'll be forced to play from what you've learned and stored to memory, no longer able to make the game tell you the right answers.
Like the other additional episodes, just three unmissable chapter achievements come as newly available unlocks, although if you've still not yet finished off the larger base game list, you can keep chipping away at some of those too.
Collectively, pacing and bugs paint a picture of a rushed episode, which is too bad since the season to this point has been one of the coolest surprises of the year. The hurried storyline in episode four lacks satisfying character moments and strangely brushes past some would-be huge plot points, giving Louis and others little time to breathe and act as one would expect given their characterization so far. It feels like Big Bad Wolf was in need of some shortcuts to get things to where they need to be for the finale, and there's enough reason to get through this episode and see the series through to its finale, but that still doesn't make "Burning Bridges" anything better than the low point of an otherwise strong and commendable adventure game.
- Fewer consumable items make for more delicate conversation "chess matches"
- Still built on a foundation of worthwhile mysteries
- A hurried pace leaves some would-be huge moments strangely brushed off
- Few major choices that play out within the episode
- Some technical issues like poor lip-synching or stuttering
The reviewer spent two hours back in Lord Mortimer's mansion, learning secrets that paint the history of the world in a whole new light. He collected all three DLC achievements for 90 gamerscore. An Xbox One review copy was provided by the publisher.
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