Game Review | The Council
'Twas a dark and stormy night...
Game summary: Plunge into a tale of intrigue and manipulation in the style of a classic murder mystery, living with a cast of alluring characters each hiding their own dark secrets. Trust no one while uncovering dire truths – no matter the cost to mind and body. (Steam)
I went into The Council expecting something along the lines of a Telltale episodic game, seeing as this title is also broken up into five episodes. In all honesty, I think that's what it should've been too, as what this game really is barely holds it together to cross the finishing line after starting so very well. Well, once you get used to the game's visual style.
It was a little off-putting at first to see such such cartoonishly-exaggerated features detailed to such a degree, but that soon wore off as every character is appropriately-stylised so no-one stands out. Chuck in the fact that the setting - a large manor on a remote island - is also a little over the top in its presentation and you end up with a consistently unique-looking game.
There's no such quibbles on the sound side of things though, with a fantastic score that is very catchy and will probably have you humming along without noticing it after a while. The voice acting is all pretty damn good too, even if it's a little weird that only one of the four French characters actually has a French accent - they're all great performances, but it's a strange creative choice nonetheless.
As for how The Council plays? It's a little odd, to say the least. There's a mixture of conversations much like in a Telltale game; coupled with some interesting RPG-like mechanics determining what your character, Louis (voiced by Nathan Rippy), is actually capable of talking about; combined with being able to freely wander around and investigate the various parts of the manor.
I say it's odd because that last part doesn't really work with the first two and it can feel like you're left a little aimless at times, especially with certain rooms being considered off-limits at certain times - sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn't. It really does feel like there should've been a great focus on the story, as the exploring can sometimes slow progress down to a crawl depending on how thorough you try to be.
I do like how the RPG mechanics of putting points into various areas of expertise opens them up as conversation options, many of which you'll need to take advantage of during the countless conversations you'll have with the other guests on the island, learning the weaknesses and strengths. And you will definitely need to know those when things get serious.
Unfortunately, I felt that the last two episodes of the five were the poorest by some distance, with the first three building on each other very nicely. The last two feel like revelation after revelation and uses shock and the 'wow factor' as a meek substitute for the grand drama that it seemed like The Council had originally been building up to.
It's not enough the ruin things, but it certainly was disappointing enough for me that I don't think I'd want to play through the game again knowing where it all leads, regardless of how excellent the first three parts are - and they really are genuinely great, leading me to believe that this might become one of my favourite games of recent years. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be and, while I ultimately can say I enjoyed my time playing this game, I can't fully recommend it.
This Jekyll and Hyde nature extends to other areas of the game too, the puzzles in particular. Most are simply making observations, finding clues and getting information out of the other guests, which are all fun to do, especially as you balance out what you're going to spend your 'effort points' on and what matters more to whatever may become your ultimate goal in the game.
There are very small number of puzzles though, which are far more complex than anything else in The Council by a couple of degrees of magnitude. I do want to make it clear that these puzzles aren't unfair or too abstract to make sense, but they do require far more effort and brainpower than the rest if the game put together. They're satisfying to solve correctly, but it's that initial 'oh no' thought when you realise you've got one of them to work through that's most draining.
I did like The Council a lot, especially the characters, who are very well-written and performed for the most part, with some having genuinely eyebrow-raising revelations for you when you find out more about them. The problem is that once the plot takes over in the final two episodes, it does feel like the character depth and exploration is pushed a little too far to the wayside, especially when that was the game's true strength.
The Council starts off well and is still going great by the end of part three, which makes how the final two episodes unfold all that more disappointing. The game's indecision about what it wants to be finally pulls it apart and, despite the varying ways events can unfold, it all ends in rather limp fashion. Still, the characters are interesting, and the setting and premise certainly make for a change from the usual fare.