The Council: Episode 5-Checkmate Review
Release Date: December 4, 2018
Developer/Publisher: Big Bad Wolf/Focus Home Interactive
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Price: $29.99 for the season, $6.99 for Episode Five standalone, $24.99 for season pass
It's all led up to this. The most wonderful part being "this" is different for everyone. While The Council wraps up everything neatly in Episode 5 and makes your choices have weight and meaning, there are a few places that feel like you're going to be shoehorned into whether you like it or not.
This is Review Episode Five of a five part series. If you are new to this game, please start at the beginning or wherever you left off in my reviews: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4. We are far past the value point of the season pass, so I'm sure gamers who have gotten this far are going to finish it out. Therefore, you're going to hit some major spoilers in this article.
I've enjoyed my time with The Council this year. As I look back on my reviews, I consistently see myself wanting more faster from the series. Now that I've completed it, I think the bite-sized chunks fit the story well. Had this game been released all at once (basically like anyone new to it would play it now) it wouldn't have time to marinate and some of the basic gameplay would have been treated as mundane. Overall, The Council has you playing Louis de Richet, a man invited to a mysterious island. Inside, you have simple conversations, intense confrontations, solve puzzles, and generally run around a mysterious, large, ornate, yet empty mansion. There isn't any combat outside of the verbal swordplay, so I suggest anyone new to the series take breaks, take time to chew the thoughts between episodes. While some episodes are longer than others, most can be chewed through in a serious gaming night or two.
My personal Episode 5 began with a group meeting between Lord Mortimer, myself, and his allies. At the end of the last episode, I had the option to Sir Gregory Holm, which I can only imagine would have led to a meeting with him and his allies, as Episode 4's climax had me literally choose who to support (or at least pretend to support). I was to tour the mansion and see who I could bring to Mortimer's side. The Council has regularly been about choice and I love reading other articles and "walkthroughs" given each and every choice you make in this game can lead to an ending. There is no "game over," just a chance to run out of options and deal with the consequences. Therefore, my review may end up being vastly different from your experience.
What I feel is consistent, though, is brevity. I felt like I made "right" decisions nearly all the way through. I didn't get my hand chopped off. The woman I cared about stayed alive. My mother stayed alive. I destroyed the Evil Thing. I found the Magical MacGuffin Book. And yet, despite my thoroughness, it all ended rather quickly. I've seen a bit of a rush as the episodes go on, and it rears it's ugly head here at the end. There's a few puzzles, a confrontation or two, and that's it. I felt like my final battle would have been a perfect combination of all the gameplay designs found in the game, but it just pops up, a couple choices, and you're done. Mind you, I was able to make right choices thanks to information or items I found earlier in the game. There is the chance you can get here without the "Super Special Item" that can seal the deal, which would in turn greatly change the ending. Given the variety of options, I can see why the team decides to end like they do (with paragraphs and vignettes about each character) but I had hoped for more. I feel like we're tying all the loose ends up without necessarily understanding them all.
The puzzles in this chapter are fun and thought provoking but they kind of come out of left field. As you know Episode 4 delved into the supernatural, and 5 continues this trend. Some puzzles are taken care of in a sort of alternate dimension and the thought processes are rather obtuse. In one you have to "arrange the guests," and it took me a while to realize I was making them stand in a line near people that related to them. Just an odd piece of nonsense. Also, I was pretty much against Holm from the start. He's just too evil for me to ever side with. There comes a moment where Holm is in big trouble and calls out for help. Despite all my choices, my personal de Richet just pops into "Okie dokie, I'll help you" mode. The next section is necessary for the plot, but I could have seen a different dialogue option where he says "maybe I can find out the truth if I play along" before he goes into his valiant attempt to rescue the person who, for me, was a mortal enemy.
The Council does more to show your choices make a difference than other games (like the infamous first ending of Mass Effect 3). Some of the biggest changes seem to show the littlest differences though. I was able to save my hand in a previous episode; other reviewers say that nobody really talks about it even if your hand gets lopped off. Jacques Peru had a chance to kill himself earlier in the game. I saved him but he conveniently went somewhere else to rest it off for the remainder of the series. He could have been in the lineup of characters in the earlier mentioned puzzle, but instead we get another character that's blatantly dead and two twins that do no more than confuse you when you try to line them up thanks to the camera angles. By the way, that puzzle can be brute forced through if you have to, as can the next "memory" one. No real negatives for getting it wrong, just push and de Richet says "no, not this one" until you find the right combination.
We breeze by some major plot points and it ends. We leave a big thread open for a sequel. While good, it's short, and it's over. It feels like there were three more episodes worth of stuff and they just said "we need to wrap up now" and did it. Looking at the series as a whole, it's a wonderful culmination. Looking at it from a gameplay value perspective, gamers will find themselves wanting more. I would have at least shaved a chapter off of the previous episode to pad this one out.
Lastly, I was finally able to see what I've wanted: how the game treats you after it's over. I found that you can go back to any chapter in the game and start as if your save was right there, and hit circle to skip individual sentences until you get where you want to be. Alas, you are still stuck with only three save slots and no way to "copy" a game to another slot, meaning a full turnaround of choices means starting over from square one. I want a map. A tree. Something that shows the developers' vision so I can go back and understand where my decisions really held weight and what ones were there for fluff's sake. I suppose the original intent is to have my own personal story, so such freedom would really kill the point. I'll have a hard time revisiting The Council to see different choices if I know the end result will be me hearing someone read some slightly different paragraphs. If the hanging thread is ever picked up in a sequel, I fear what the developers would have to do to bring your choices forward, and I'd love to know how many real "endings" there are here. Maybe in a few months when online guides have picked it apart I'll head back.
Overall, I feel The Council has provided more than enough value and entertainment. At $30, it's budget priced and offers a unique gameplay element that shouldn't be missed. I loved the confrontations. There are puzzles that may prove easier thanks to your own personal real-world knowledge. Choosing how to evolve your own main character changes how hard the end game will be. While this final episode may be disappointingly short and strangely vague with it's puzzles and a sadly underwhelming final confrontation, it does a good job of showing that your choices across the entire season hold weight. Even if they leave this universe, I hope Big Bad Wolf continues to make games with this level of impact on social interaction and communication. It's a breath of fresh air amidst all the shooters and adventure games to have one where your personal choices and how you treat others can decide the fate of the world.
-Choices from all seasons are brought up and make a difference
-Final puzzles, while obtuse, are fun to complete
-Continues the unique gameplay found in the rest of the series
-RPG elements throughout make you feel like you are crafting a character that is uniquely yours
-Feels rushed. A few major plot points are just thrown at you. Sloppy dialog, subtitles, and animations continue from the last couple episodes
-Anticlimactic and a bit corny final "battle." Story pushes one major decision at you even if it doesn't match your de Richet
-Short. Feels like there could have been more. No more funding, or did the developers tire of the title?
-Needs more choices to go back and change the story after beating it
FINAL REVIEW SCORE
While Episode 5 has it’s rough edges and is a bit of a stumble, it doesn’t detract a lot from the series as a whole, which was a refreshing take on narrative adventures. The Council is easily worth your time and lets you take a personal journey through a mysterious tale. It’s up to you—and your choices—how it ends.
Special thanks to Big Bad Wolf and Focus Home Interactive for providing this series to The Gamer’s Lounge for review!