The Council is a narrative adventure game focused on investigation, decision making and story telling. Taking its influences from the classic point & click adventures of old and bringing new things from games developed by Telltale, The Council has the potential to be something familiar but with an original twist and bringing new ideas to the genre. With Episode 1, titled ‘The Mad Ones’ just being released, it acts more of an introduction in to the many gameplay elements and the games main protagonist, Louis as he investigates the mysterious disappearance of his mother. I’m going to keep this spoiler free so if you’re thinking about jumping in to it then feel confident that no main story elements will be included.
With the nature of the style of game The Council is, you would be right to assume that there are some puzzle elements intertwined in with all the other aspects. In my time with Episode 1 however, I only really came across one puzzle, which is a little disappointing, but I hope that this aspect is expanded on the further in to the episodes we go. The rest of my experience was piecing together dialogue, reading body language and trying to get to grips with the (so far) big line up of characters involved. Episode 1 almost acts as a long tutorial of what to expect and felt like it was gently easing me in to the experience and the many aspects of the gameplay involved. Near the beginning of the game you are asked to choose your personality or class your character is to adopt and depending on which one you choose depends on what traits will be at your disposal to upgrade and use.
There is an option to level up traits from other styles but these won’t be as in depth or as useful as they would be if you chose that particular personality or class. Conversations, encounters and choices will all be heavily impacted by the amount your traits are levelled up with players being almost penalised my bad decisions, that ultimately leads to the loss of a particular trait for a limited time or permanently ruining a trust you may have with another character. It can be punishing if you make one bad move or dialogue choice but it’s something that really makes this game stand out head and shoulders above a lot of games that try so hard to implement a similar system but still end up holding your hand. What this game doesn’t do is hold the players’ hand, if anything it gives you full control of the story and executes it all really well.
There is a levelling system that you can spend earned points on to upgrade and there is also a neat little addition of equipping a book that can increase certain senses depending on the content of the book. So for example, if you choose to equip a book on politics, your character will pick up certain things that are said in conversations related to politics and you can then expand on them to help with the quest. If you haven’t got it equipped, then it’s an opportunity missed. It’s certainly an original perk system and one that widens the decision making process, adding another approach to how you start a quest. It can seem over complicated at first but once you get to grips with it, it can be rather rewarding.
What The Council does really well though is its decision choices that it offers the player and games of this style have been guilty of utilising this system with really no difference being made to the overall outcome of the game. Here though it certainly makes a difference, with one decision potentially changing everything about the story path, character relationships and the consequences of the choices made. It’s definitely a stand out feature that really adds to the replay value, encouraging multiple playthroughs of the story. Dialogue choices on offer will also depend on what personality traits you choose to upgrade with certain selection options being greyed out if you haven’t got the necessary level or is part of another class that you’re unable to access options for.
Technically The Council is a little bit of a mixed bag, especially with its presentation. Going for a third person view and an art style similar to Dishonoured, particularly in its character design, it tries to offer a realistic yet slightly exaggerated visual style. Character features are pronounced and detailed with the environments for the most part looking okay. Where the game unfortunately falls very short though is with its awful use of antialiasing, mainly in cutscenes. Jagged edges are rife within these cutscenes and the backdrops within the depth of view have awful edging and can be quite distracting. It’s rare that a game of this style can suffer with such a technical shortfall like this and it looks more like an upscaled 360 game, but like I said this occurs mainly in the cutscenes. Once gameplay kicks in though the lack of antialiasing doesn’t seem as prominent and things start to look pretty decent overall.
While there is a generous dollop of characters, they all seem rather flat and that is mainly down to the uninspired dialogue and monotone voice acting. Animations are average at best and there seems to be some very limited lip syncing to dialogue that adds to the lack of charisma that a game of this style should be full of. Instead we have boring voice acting that didn’t engage me as much as I felt it should of done. The story is intriguing but I felt that there was far too much going on to get to grips with all at once and at one point throughout the 3 hours it took me to complete episode 1, I didn’t quite know what was going on or what I was actually supposed to be doing. It tries to be a little too clever for its own good with its story and while it is still to early to tell, I hope that in the next episodes it all starts to piece together a little more seamlessly, with a little more purpose and structure.
The Council Episode 1 certainly offers a promising package but it just needs to get some structure to what it’s trying to achieve. It’s levelling system is original and the choices made really do impact how things pan out. It’s just let down by being over complicated with its narrative so early on and I’m hoping that it starts to piece together a little better as the episodes progress. Some technical shortfalls are disappointing but these could be overlooked as long as the core experience improves, but so far, The Council feels a little jumbled up, almost confused with what it’s trying to be and doesn’t have much direction. Here’s hoping the next episode brings everything back in line. It has massive potential to be something great but so far it hasn’t done enough to immerse me fully in to its world.