The Council: Episode 4-Burning Bridges Review
The more I play this series, the more confused I get. The more I read about others playing this series, the more I love it.
We are on The Council Episode 4 of a 5 episode series. Within, you play as Louis de Richet, a man called to a mysterious island to find your mother amidst a party of dignitaries there to discuss the fate of the world. Within, your conversations hold weight. Alliances are formed, people may die or live to impact the rest of the story. You may end up with serious physical or emotional scars. To be bluntly honest, if you are just now hearing about this series, you're starting in the wrong place. Go back and read the rest: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3. By now you should have a rough idea of whether you want to play the game or not. We're also at the price crunch; as anyone buying the episodes singly will have surpassed the price of the Season Pass. Therefore, we can get a bit more into spoiler territory with this episode, which honestly is the crux of the review. While I'll avoid as much spoiling of this episode as possible we will no doubt be slightly discussing plot points from earlier in the series.
You have been warned.
Each time I write a review for this series I end up reading others’ before I'm done, laughing all the way at the excellent job Big Bad Wolf has done in creating variety and impact to your choices. I've read just as many articles talking about Monotonous Episode 2 and Exciting Episode 3 as I've read the exact opposite, solely based on story bits that the opposite didn't see. In the last episode a thrilling confrontation led you to literally decide whom of two people die. I found a spot in this episode where I helped a character; another reviewer discussed how they found that character dead by the hand of the person I chose to die last time. I had a major confrontation this episode with another character who ran the risk of suicide two hours prior in a previous chapter. In Chapter 3 I held a nervous conversation at gunpoint where someone else had a befuddled conversation with completely different character. These are all consequences of the choices made in previous chapters.
I'm looking forward to what The Council can do in it's penultimate episode. There are a lot of branches going on, with this episode giving you the choice to side between two different factions and whether you are really supporting them or subverting them from the inside. As the story spreads out further and further, I'm beginning to wonder how it will all wrap up. When Mass Effect dropped the infamous ending that showed how little difference your choices made, it was highly controversial. The Council is trying to show how much of an impact your choices will have, and it's bound to disappoint people if it all comes out the same in the wash with a "good" and "bad" ending.
Episode 4 has two very extensive puzzles involved that have some hiccups that build further off the confusion of the last puzzle in Episode 3. That one was a bit of a wild goose chase looking for several items needed to unlock a door. You may remember where they are, if you paid attention through the game. In the first puzzle of this episode it feels like Indiana Jones trying to pick the right Grail. You must pick the "right" artifact after doing some research and interviews around the mansion. If Episode 5 goes the right way, choosing this item could be the difference between "happily ever after" and "forever doomed for all eternity." There's no real direction as to where the clues are in the mansion and I luckily fell in the right direction. I clearly saw how I could have gone the other direction and muddled around the mansion for way too long as you are looking for someone but have no clue where they are. The second puzzle is the most confusing. You have to decipher a code using a mysterious marking, which is a tattoo on an old, wrinkly hand. In funky light. Where the user interface is literally hovering above half of the hand. With a portion of it cut off on the bottom of the screen. With no way to move it. And no sign of your solution even being right. I really felt that this one was a step too far.
Outside of puzzles, there are frequent battles of wits that the game is well known for. I do like how this time around you seem to be able to B.S. your way through several instances and even get the option to just flat-out knock out someone who is annoying you. As my personal Louis de Richet develops his skill tree I'm seeing where my choices on levelling have helped. Certain choices are flat-out free to use whiole others would have been had I chosen a different path. Several conversations I breezed through thanks to where I used skill points. This can be frustrating as you don't know which skill you'll end up using as the game goes on, but provides a realism in the fact that you wouldn't be able to predict that in the real world. I would also like to see a bit more randomness in the game. For example in the abovementioned tattoo puzzle, the code could be different for each playthrough if they shuffled the letters in one circle, or if the twins in the last episode swapped places yet kept their lines of dialogue. I honestly looked up the solution to the tattoo puzzle online and still don't understand the solution. There's also a lot of running back and forth in this episode which can get really tedious, like in the first Resident Evil when you have killed all the monsters and simply need to get to the other side of the map. Nothing to do but walk and watch loading screens. There needs to be a "fast teleport" of sorts for those moments, or at least make the things happen closer together.
Storywise, there is a massive turn of events that I felt hinders the whole point of "choice" through the rest of the series. So far, we got to a point where we felt we were going to make a difference in this conference. Then suddenly, there was a greater evil of more importance. You run around trying to rectify this and just before you get a chance to get away there's another twist that Louis just "rolls with." I was awaiting a "tell them off, run away, and save the day" choice but Louis hears some dramatic and fantastic news about his past and basically says "okay." New powers are developed (that are actually pretty cool) that are supernatural and unbelievable, but Louis just is like "all right, I can do this now." While we are heading back to the titular Council at the start of the final episode, the reasons and motivations are completely different compared to our first meeting. The roller coaster is heading to the end and there are story bits the developers seem to want to force you toward despite any previous choices.
We still see some graphical issues present in previous pieces of the game, and I personally saw more this chapter. Characters may lose their lip sync and not move their mouth until the next recorded bit, voices may come out sped up or slowed down, and several times you come across subtitles and spoken word that don't match. This is particularly a problem where the text says "find five things" and the voice says "find six." I'm hoping some of this is fixed in updates, but this kind of series may not garner that much attention so it may stay as it is. That's up to the developers to decide.
I do like how ambiguous the choices are and am, again, curious how this will play out. You can wholeheartedly declare your loyalty to Person A, then do everything you can to subvert their desires. Nobody knows where this is going to lead yet, so Episode 5 is really going to be the clincher. My big problem with the series is the lack of fast forwarding or the ability to save branching paths. If you want to see and keep a second set of choices you must start from the very beginning and will only have three save files. This likely is pushing players to have their "one experience" but I really hope Episode 5 unlocks a story tree of some sort so you can go back and see where things go. I'd also love to know just how many branches there really are. Perhaps, if you are reading this developers, you'd be up for an interview? I can only hope. Drop me a line!
So far The Council is proving to be a wonderful experience. As an original IP with very little information direct from the developers (even to the point that the game store menus don't divulge any plot) it allows you to power through the branching story to make it truly yours. The curious mind in me wants to see all the endings but the plodding pace of the unskippable narrative will make it hard to see more than one or two endings without suffering burnout. I'm enjoying my personal ride through the mysterious mansion. Now that I know the terrible secrets within, I can't wait until Episode 5 to see where my choices may lead.
-Choices really feel as if they have weight through the season
-de Richet’s new powers are a fun addition and help more difficult interactions
-Dialog battles are still fun and offer unique resolutions this time
-I’m personally loving how this game is subverting the traditional tropes of online reviews and walkthroughs
-Still some confusing glitches that could be ironed out with a patch
-Notably a lot of running through the same empty hallways
-This is the most jolting episode in the series, seemingly throwing a lot of buildup out the window and forcing you into particular choices I would have done differently
-Give me a choice tree already! I want to see other paths! Again, probably for the best for the first run through though…
Special thanks to Big Bad Wolf and Focus Home Interactive for providing a copy of the third chapter for review! Be sure to follow The Gamers Lounge on Facebook or Twitter, or follow me personally, to keep up with release windows and future reviews as we wrap up next episode!