The Council Episode 2: Hide and Seek Review
Release Date: May 15, 2018
Developer/Publisher: Big Bad Wolf/Focus Home Interactive
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Price: $29.99 for the season, $6.99 per episode
Episode One review can be found here
The developers of The Council have a lot going for them surrounding the mystery of the title, but mystery can also be detrimental. Big Bad Wolf and Focus Home Interactive dropped Episode One (The Mad Ones) in March. Having played through and reviewed it for The Gamers Lounge, I was hyped and ready for Episode Two. When dealing with a group like Telltale, you tend to have a rough idea of what to expect, but a new take on the episodic story driven game from a new group means you can't always predict what is around the corner. Amazing for The Council's storyline, but unfortunately that mystery extended to release dates as well. I was constantly curious as to when Episode 2 would drop, only to finally get to play it on release day, hence the delayed review. I wanted to give the title a fair shake. While the game hits a lot of the beats that prove The Council will continue to be a quality title worth seeing through to the end, it also expresses the limitations of the genre and how the freedom of choice and variety present in Episode One can only go so far.
Episode Two drops you right in to the story with no backups. This is definitely a series you can't skip an episode on. There'll be no reminders of how to do specific things, which was actually a problem for me as I hadn't played for two months. As I stated in my previous review of Episode One, it appears there are many paths, but no real way to "fast forward" or branch a save off in multiple directions. Therefore, it cements you in picking a way to go, so I hadn't really played the game again since then. Players getting into the series late won't have such an issue, but it was frustrating to have to rewind my brain and made the two-month window glaringly obvious. I hope that the rest of the series comes out a bit faster, preventing such an issue. Without an official release schedule to be found, I'll likely be patiently refreshing and researching again looking for Episode 3.
As for the official review, players again find themselves in the shoes of Louis de Richet, who is primarily on a hunt to find his lost mother whilst at a mysterious gathering of famous dignitaries and heads of state. The game prides itself in choices that make lasting decisions, such as arguments leading to permanent scars, both on your physical body and in the emotional rift between you and your antagonist. I was excited when I saw two separate endings on Episode One due to a few subtle choice changes. In one, I spent a romantic evening with another guest and awoke to finally meet my mysterious host, while in another I slept by myself and awoke to nearly the entire cast bursting into my room accusing me of murder. Alas, this excitement was soon quelled at the start of Episode 2 due to something obvious: the story can only branch so far before they'd be two separate episodes. Path One led me to casually learn of the death of a fellow guest, with a request for me to investigate. Path two went to a place where I had to prove my innocence. Once that was cleared, I was asked to investigate the murder. Asking the developers to make branches that go that far would be ludicrous, and the murder investigation is the crux of the story for this episode, but my excitement regarding how far the story could branch was tempered a bit as I realized there's only so far they can go. I am looking forward to the remaining episodes, seeing how different the final endings can be.
Hide and Seek is a shorter episode than the previous. It opens with you finally meeting Lord Mortimer, and with his permission accessing different areas of the mansion than what you had seen before. In order to investigate, you will have to visit most of the guests' rooms, and have a chance to interview them. As the episode goes on, you'll also get a chance to twist your brain in ways that your own personal knowledge may support: for example, in my family we are churchgoers, and a particular puzzle involved biblical quotes. Having the Book on hand allowed me to look up solutions rather than simply plug and hope. Other puzzles didn't have the Biblical theme but still used real-world knowledge to complete. This fills in a bit for the branching leveling system. As stated in Episode One, your personal de Richet starts as a detective, diplomat, or occultist, and the skills he brings helps him solve mysteries in his own particular way. As you develop, you can feed experience points into your chosen field to become a master, or spread them amongst the three to be a Jack-of-all-trades. With a lot of the episode centering around puzzles instead of the enjoyable verbal battles, you'll find Louis' skills a bit less useful, though I used the game's power-ups more this time, allowing you to whittle down wrong answers or utilize abilities from another skill branch to get the end result.
Graphically, I still came across the same issues I had in the first episode. Characters look better in certain light, and it's further forced into awkwardness with the older individuals at the event. Whilst ornate, Lord Mortimer's estate does suffer from sameness. The maze of hallways that the characters' rooms are in gets confusing, and each room is lined with books and art. With no in-scene map or compass, I found myself re-reading each room card over and over to make sure I found the right one. We're also seeing a bit more of a solid direction of where the story will lead, as a strange vision your character had in Episode One turns out to be a true event that happened, so we may be leading more into a mystic storyline. I really like going through this game as it releases, so that I'm able to maximize my curiosity, though I'd really like it if the individual episodes were coming out quicker. I wish Episode One choices made more of a difference, yet I can't guarantee a different choice would have not been more drastic, as I didn't see all the permutations. I really hope that Episode Five has several endings that are based on a litany of choices through all the episodes. I'd love to see a choice tree, or at the very least be able to splice my save file at different points to see how it plays out. I suppose we won't know until Episode Five comes out and we unravel all of the mysteries of The Council.
-Continues the greatness of Episode One with a solid storyline and auto-saves that help press the theme of choice and impact
-The lack of a set license really adds to the mystery. Without adding spoilers, the story I'm seeing is branching in a way I originally didn't think possible
-Puzzles have a real-world feel, and knowledge you have of real-world events can change how well you perform in game
-Less dialogue battles this time
-Some sections felt as if you had to see all options to understand, resulting in a lot of consumables being used early on
-Telling such a narrative story makes it very hard to truly spread out. Last episode's major choices didn't seem to impact this episode much so far
Special thanks to Big Bad Wolf and Focus Home Interactive for providing a copy of the second chapter for review! Be sure to follow The Gamer's Lounge on Facebook or Twitter, or follow me personally, to keep up with release windows and future reviews through the end of Episode Five!