It’s a revolution!
When the invitation to review The Council was presented to me, I set out immediately to investigate what it was I was about to get myself into, but unbeknownst to me at the time, I was about to plunge into a narrative adventure that would discombobulate yet augment my mind!
With inspiration taken from some of the worlds most historic events and people, The Council is a fictional episodic adventure spanning across five extensive episodes that culminate into one revolutionary saga. Set in a time of monarchical aristocracy, we assume the role of Louis de Richet, a member of The Golden Order, a secret society devoted to acquiring and understanding all matters of the occult. After a somewhat sudden and hostile prologue, Louis is summoned to a private island owned by avant-garde and ostentatious Lord William Mortimer. Not alone in this little soirée, other prestigious guests include the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte and George Washington amongst an accumulation of illustrious personalities convened for a mysterious conference. The mystery, however, does not end there, as Louis’ mother, Sarah de Richet, has gone missing. Thus begins a game of conspiracy and mastering the art of manipulation and information gathering to find Sarah and uncover the secrets the island and its denizens hold.
So, have I piqued your interest? Well, I certainly hope so, if not, then the rest that follows certainly will! As an individual with adoration for narrative adventures and detective work, there was no doubt that this was a perfect game for me, having previously fallen in love with other captivating narrative adventures such as Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture and the many releases from Telltale Games. The Council thrusts you into the very heart of aristocracy, a mansion filled to the brim with exquisite works of art and literature, religion, occultism and the sciences, all surrounded by complex histories that make it no simple affair. Even Sherlock Holmes could eat his heart out here! Indeed, it is certainly more sophisticated than anything I have experienced before; as someone not well versed in the ways of politics or sciences, I was not left bewildered, instead, I was intrigued and enraptured by the lore, utilising all opportunities to uncover as much as I could. Whilst it is a work of fiction, small references to events such as the French Revolution left me with a great sense of fulfilment that not only was I being entertained, but I was in at least some small way learning some new things too.
It is not only in this regard that sets The Council apart from any other narrative adventure, it is also the introduction of RPG elements that provide a more personalised journey, with character progression and a plethora of choices, you must choose wisely and face the irreversible consequences of all your actions, no matter how big or small.
Before you begin your investigation, you are offered the choice to pick between three classes: Diplomat, Occultist and Detective. Each class has its own perks which define your basic skills, along with their own skill trees which can all be invested in using points. No matter which class you initially choose, all skill trees are available to you, allowing you to develop Louis’ character in a variety of ways to tailor your journey to your own play style, or to tactically overcome certain situations or tasks. At the end of each quest, you will earn experience points based on various factors such as the number of items found and objectives completed. With each level you reach, a few points are rewarded which can be invested in current skills to increase effectiveness or into new skills entirely. Any manuscripts you also happen to find may also be equipped or unequipped at the start of each quest, granting permanent bonus skill points based on their topic. These are especially useful if used tactically in conjunction with skill points to reach higher levels more quickly. It is the introduction of these RPG elements that allow The Council to transcend beyond any other narrative adventure, much like the unique aspects of Until Dawn, which made use of the PlayStation Camera and DualShock Gyroscope to provide a more intimate experience. Whilst this may seem like a strange comparison, there are very few games such as these that I believe challenge the norm of narrative adventures that otherwise provide you with very limited control and story progression pathways.
So you may be wondering how these skills come into play. Well, as a narrative adventure, a majority of the gameplay revolves around your investigation and the many denizens of the island you will subsequently converse with. Skills grant you access to unique choices and actions in many situations at the cost of effort points, for which the number can be increased using Amber fragments and restored using special remedies found lying around such as a Royal Jelly. Points placed in some skills may open up new dialogue choices, whilst not having some particular skills will render some options unavailable.
As the popular proverb goes, ‘knowledge is power’, and this is the backbone of The Council.
Each person has their own personality, making them vulnerable to certain skills and immune to others, both of which can be discovered as you converse with them or find clues amongst their personal effects. Whilst these can be exploited in many conversations, the real mastery of the system comes into play during confrontations, which can have dramatic consequences that will alter the story depending on the choices you make. For example, you can use manipulation to coerce them down the path you desire, use psychology to get into their psyche, or you can question them into submission. Successfully completing conversations using the right skills could gain you an important ally but be careful, as using the wrong skill against an immunity could fail a confrontation and even trigger a war! If this doesn’t sound tough enough then don’t fear, dialogue timers are also employed to create a sense of urgency, forcing you to analyse your options and make quick yet rational decisions before an answer is automatically selected for you.
Though this may sound unfair and incredibly frustrating (indeed it is!), It is this kind of mechanic that sets it apart from any other narrative adventure. However, it is not only a timer that can put your mind in a frenzy but the puzzles too! Oh yes, there is many a puzzle, and they are some of the most in-depth and complexly detailed I have come across in many years. Some may require you to recall previously gathered information, analyse and cross-examine hidden messages on paintings against biblical texts, crack complex codes and even stick your hand in holes, biting your fingernails waiting for a moment of relief or cursing over the simplest of things you just overlooked. Though you are reminded to stay rational and open, The Council excels at making you face perplexing conundrums. In all honesty, there were a few moments when I cursed them, but at the same time, I had considerable admiration for the great deal of thought they had poured into them.
That being said, unfortunately, The Council is not without its flaws. As ostentatious as the design of the island is, traversing around the island can be a chore, to the point where I wished there was just a simple quick travel option between areas that would make the experience that little bit smoother. Character animations also suffered at times, glitching into sofas or dancing around the screen mid-conversation. Making informed conversational choices at points were also hindered, with text becoming illegible in-front of certain backdrops which could have potentially been a more desired route. Sound also suffered, with subtitles not matching speech, of which some was cut off too quickly before finishing. Such flaws, however, can surely be fixed with a few patches going forward.