The Council: Episode 3-Ripples Review
What a difference a delay makes. If you have been following The Council as it releases, you may note that while The Gamers Lounge likes to make sure reviews get out within a week or two of release, an internal error with the distribution group caused a broken code to be sent my way at first. It took a week before it was cleared up. Mind you, I'm holding absolutely no fault to the publisher or PR team, this is just life. But, as excited as I was to see where Louis de Richet's adventure went next, I read up on other reviews in case the code was never cleared. Primarily, I found myself reading and enjoying Destructoid's review of the game. Thanks to seeing other's impressions, the delay in my chance to review the game adds even more positives.
The Council is starting to remind me of the classic tale of the Clue Movie being released in theaters. Without any warning whatsoever, Paramount et al. decided to release multiple endings nearly randomly across the country. Afterwards, you might go talk to others about the movie, saying "I can't believe X happened!" and they would look at you as if you were crazy, because they saw a different ending. Destructoid's Patrick Hancock discusses how Episode 3 does not start out strong, while I witnessed a very thrilling confrontation and didn't feel a slow start at all. Looking at video reviews and walkthroughs, I know Episode 2 could end one of two ways, much like when I reviewed Episode 1 and tweaked my gameplay finding two drastic endings. This kind of revelation made me hop on YouTube and watch some walkthroughs, where you find multiple gamers saying "This is HOW you play the game." No, no it isn't, and that's what makes The Council such an intriguing premise. So many people are going through The Council in their own, slightly unique way. This makes reviewing (and writing spoiler free information) so very hard, which thanks to my delay, I feel really needs to have a chance to shine.
As this episode goes on, Louis finds himself in the midst of insanity as the mysterious group of influentials set down to make choices that impact the world, namely whether France, Spain, or the United States is in control of the expansive Louisiana territory. While befuddling to think that a small council of powerful individuals could shape the fate of a nation as such, I can't help but wonder what my choices are doing. At one point, I sneaked into an office without being seen. There is a parrot inside, mimicking important information. I fed it the wrong food as a bribe and watched it fall over dead! In later scenes I see the cage, wondering what was to be. At another point, a character tries to commit suicide. Some smooth talking and quick thinking on my part wrested the weapon from their hands. I was lauded a hero. What if I had failed? At another point, I felt like my next word literally meant which one of two characters lived and which one died. As much as I have lamented in the past the inability to go back and mess with decisions to see where everything pans out, I now understand why we are set in stone like this. The Council makes everything feel permanent. While we are all heading toward what obviously has to be very similar endings from a development standpoint, the journey is our own. The lack of being able to skip conversations and having to re-do everything to get back to a single decision prevents you from playing two games at once, and the end of chapter success/fail/alternate path screens really twist the knife with "what could have been."
In terms of actual gameplay, Episode 3 feels as if it treads over the same physical space quite a lot. After all, there's only so many rooms in a mansion, so I'm not sure there's room to complain. Where it makes up for it is in confrontations. I feel that I ran into a lot more chances to play the addictive battle of words that The Council is known for. Thanks to my ever-evolving character (learning knew abilities, knowledge and wordplay via a skill tree and reading books strewn around the manor), I was more prepared for these battles, making Louis feel sharp-witted in comparison to previous episodes. And again, the variance is wonderful, as I see screenshots of games with bruises and heavy scars, even severed limbs, whilst my de Richet plays it safe and still looks the same as when he entered the manor.
In previous chapters, I felt slighted by never having enough skill points to see all the conversation options there were available. As I level up, I'm finding this twist back around. Finding enough amber adds extra skill point slots, and the recharge items are very copious this time around. The Council doesn't really have a "fail state" so much as you run out of ability to press your opponents. This time around I may have gotten close, but never felt dissatisfied with my options being exhausted. I also liked the workarounds I found: rather than pressuring someone to get into a room they blocked, I found a sneaky way around to the window and got my information without them ever being the wiser and saving my precious skill points.
The Council is so very hard to review, which is actually why it is so very fun to review. Mechanically, the game continues to deliver. Graphically, it's still facing some odd points, with the occasional loss of mouth movement and the characters' habit of standing in a circle and barely moving whilst holding conversations. The prevalence of elderly people and odd shadowing making their wrinkles look like canyons is still here, the voice acting that bounces between perfect and cornball is here, but the overall story is amazingly enthralling, even when it boils down to which head of state owns what portion of land. As the episode reaches it's climax, you begin to sense something far more sinister, maybe even supernatural, is at work. And the fact that I can't guarantee that's what you will see in your playthrough is what is making this game so enjoyable to review. Despite it's flaws, The Council continues to provide. I still hope to see some sort of path-branching rewind feature once the series is complete instead of relying on another 100% playthrough, but I'm enjoying my own, personal, thrill ride to the finish. I hope the series can continue it's steam as it barrels over it's apex here and starts careening down toward the finale.
-Still has a strong symblance of choice and impact, you will have a different experience than someone else, YouTube "guaranteed walkthroughs" be damned
-Louis de Richet is growing into a more adept speaker and conversationalist, opening up more options than in previous episodes
-We're finally heading into the home stretch and learning why we have been invited to Lord Mortimer's manor
-More of the well-done dialog battles
-I want to see the other choices! But perhaps this is for the best...
-Still glitchy at times with weird facial expressions and voice synchronizations
-Seeing a lot of the same environments over and over
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 through the end of Episode Five!