Intrigue in the 18th Century with ‘The Council’ (PS4)

Murder, sex, and intrigue: three components that make up a lot of my favourite stories. The Council has them all. In the post-Tellgame Games world that we live in, it’s heartwarming to see a game that is trying to breathe some life back into the choice-heavy choose-your-own-adventure style formula. Yet despite how much I desperately wanted it to be, The Council falls short of cementing itself as one of my all-time favourites.

SO WHAT’S THE DEAL?

Released in a five part episodic format by developer Big Bad Wolf, The Council tells the story of Louis De Richet. Louis is the son of the head of the Golden Order, a mysterious Illuminati-style organisation who have connections in every level of 18th-century society. When Louis’ mother goes missing, it’s both his job and ours to investigate the private island she was last seen for any trace of her whereabouts. If you have a taste for mystery, it’s an intriguing set-up.

The greatest thing about The Council – the one thing that draws you in right from the opening moment of Episode One – is the glimpse into history it invites you to explore. If you’ve ever fancied drinking whiskey by a roaring fire with George Washington and matching wits with Napoleon Bonaparte, The Council offers you a world where that’s possible. The layers of darkness and secrets underpinning every interaction you have makes them feel all the more nuanced. I came into The Council with very little knowledge about this time in world history and left wanting to know so much more.

The customisation available for Louis’ character also makes the game feel incredibly alive. Each chapter you’re given a certain amount of points to spend on Louis’ skill tree. Your Louis can be anything from a diplomat, an occult specialist, or an investigator. The skills you choose will have a direct impact on which dialogue and action options will be available for you to pick during the game. The man you shape Louis into being can change the course of the narrative.

So with so much in its favour, why doesn’t The Council quite make the cut? Unfortunately the narrative pacing of its story gets somewhat blurred as the episodes go on. While every scene in Episode One felt tightly-packed and engaging, by the later episodes The Council finds itself tripping over its own plot by the end. While the reasons behind this shift are coated in spoilers, by late Episode 4 in the game I was ready (despite my adoration for the world and its characters) for the story to come to an end.

If there’s one feature about the game that has me torn in two, it’s the puzzles. There are some puzzles in the game that were both a delight to solve and worked into the narrative with a rich fluidity. Yet there were at least a few in here too that seemed to stall the game’s pacing and drag Louis (and me) out of the action when neither us fancied reading through pages upon pages of notes to find a clue. One particular puzzle near the end fell very flat and gave the distinct impression that the final game hadn’t quite executed its idea like it had been intended. While I’d happily suffer these bad puzzles for the good ones, it does make you wonder if something happened late in the game’s production that made things feel rushed.

SHOULD YOU PLAY IT?

Confession: I loved The Council. I loved it so much that after it ended I immediately dug out my Kindle and downloaded half a dozen books on The Enlightenment. So it hurts a fair bit to say that if you’re anything like me then the final two episodes might be hard to finish once due to pacing falling flat. But there’s no denying that The Council is an incredibly special game that felt novel and inspiring more often than it didn’t. For the way it made me feel alone, I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.

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