Being an avid and frequent surveyor of the narrative adventure plain, very little takes me by surprise these days. Usually just relying on a strong and engaging narrative is enough to quench my thirst, but the more narratives I interact with I come away with wanting more, something different. Sadly this is a request easier said than done. Just as I came to the realisation that innovation is difficult to find these days and I may as well make peace with the fact I’ll never truly be happy I was summoned to join The Council, a wild bunch of historical miscreants who have something to do with the disappearance of my dear mother. At first this just sounded like my typical Thursday evening, however ‘hark’ something “new” was a foot, an interactive narrative driven adventure … now with added RPG elements!? Well I couldn’t say no could I? So I strapped on my boots, packed a bag and headed to Lord Mortimer’s gaffe in hopes of reigniting that flame within me … oh and to find where my bloody mother had buggered off to.
Bordeaux based studio Big Bad Wolf cordially invite you to join The Council, a brand new episodic mystery drama releasing on Steam, PS4 and Xbox One. Spread over the course of 5 grotesque and gothic parts, The Council sees you, Louis de Richet, a member of the French division of the secret Golden Order, who has been summoned by the illustrious Lord Mortimer to investigate the disappearance of your mother, Sarah de Richet. Throughout the course of this tantalising tale you’ll be breaking bread with the likes of George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte, along with an array of vibrant characters each equipped with their own shady background, dark secrets, and personal beef with the Lord of the Island.
Inspired by the work of a certain Sherlock Holmes, Louis must not only locate his missing mother, but uncover the true nature of his mysterious host and the island on which he resides on, and the only way to do this is by grilling everyone in existence and sticking his nose in places he really shouldn’t. The Council takes the narrative adventure to a whole new level by incorporating an RPG levelling up system, which in turn rewards players’ investigative efforts with points to spend on unique skills that will aid you greatly in uncovering the truth. The premise got me hooked and the trailer had me sold, but could The Council really deliver that unique, heart pounding mystery drama in its first few hours?
“What in the world would you kill for?” is the question that The Council alludes to in its opening few minutes, which in turn leads to the disappearance of the legendary (and well connected), Sarah de Richet, the overseer for the World’s most elite secret order. On paper this may look like a tall order to deal with right of the bat, however The Council sets up both the investigation and the world you’re in with perfect pace and tone. Each character you interact with is hugely eccentric and diverse, as if lifted directly from an Agatha Christie novel, each of whom can be deeply explored, questioned and suspected right from their first breath. With all that being said however, I cannot deny that the voice casting here leaves a lot to be desired, which honestly does shave away some of the dramatic tension built up from its otherwise captivating narrative. Though playing as a detective is exciting, Louis is bland in voice, appearance and behaviour, unfortunately making him a bowl of cold, stale porridge in comparison to literature’s greatest minds. On paper the rest of the cast are a lot more refined and dynamic, however once again when their voices drip out of their mouths all of their mysticism evaporates, especially when they congregate and chat together as it sounds like an uncomfortable, wooden high school drama class rather than a BBC period classic. You may be plagued by a barrage of generic voices coming from less than enthusiastic performances during your investigation, however if you look past that and allow the story to run its course you’ll very quickly step into a thoroughly engaging and dramatic mystery.
In an effort to add a degree of innovation to the popular narrative adventure shelf, The Council lifts elements from the RPG world by giving you the opportunity to level and tune up your skills. Whether you’re a politician, occultist or detective, your career choice comes with a particular set of start up skills that will give you an advantage on some areas of the playing field, as well as considerable disadvantages on other patches. Deciding upon being a detective will grant you a leg up in regards to questioning and psychology, playing on your intuitive nature to look deeper into the words and actions of your supporting cast, however your poor knowledge of literature, policies and lock picking (strengths found in the opposing 2 job roles), may cause some clues and opportunities to slip you by. These skills also come into play during conversations, where you can best hostile confrontations and persuasions by targeting their weaknesses (appealing to their interests or frame of mind), however with every weakness comes strength, so you’ll never speak to every character in the same manner as the last. Not only is this a completely engaging and original way to tackle an investigative narrative, but it allows some elements of the story as well as alternative twists to be hidden until you start another new game, encouraging you to start a second or third playthrough as soon as you possibly can. Deciding on what skills you should level up at the end of each quest can literally be a matter of life and death for some, and it’s this stress and brash decision making that makes The Council all the more exciting, because there isn’t just one way to skin a cat.
As soon as my first playthrough concluded I immediately began a second, seeing me doing, saying and picking the complete opposite options, and just as I had hoped, it couldn’t have played out more differently. Every narrative driven adventure will tell you that your decisions have consequences and will drastically affect the unfolding story, however often those consequences are so subtle and minimal it almost feels unnecessary. The Council however, delivers on its promise. Without spoiling too much of the narrative my first play ending with me being drugged and seemingly sacrificed, whilst making the exact opposite decisions saw me uncovering a dastardly, verging on demonic conspiracy; by Jove just from making more subtle decisions I was being arrested for suspected murder! Though 75% of the story will play out the same, the decisions you make along the way do genuinely have a huge impact on how your investigation, and my 3 massively contradicting and action packed saved files are proof of that.
Despite the disappointing audio direction and questionable ‘banter’ amongst its cast, I found The Council’s opening episode to be a thoroughly engaging introduction into the perilous 18th century mystery I’ve been encouraged to solve. Not only did the over arcing narrative start tremendously strongly, but there’s clearly more than just 1 adventure here considering all 3 of my playthroughs couldn’t have had more of a contrasting ending. The RPG elements in play here encouraged me to seek out all the different paths I could follow to take advantage of the skills I had, further ensuring me that neither of my 3 saved files would ever play out the same. I for one am incredibly excited for where this investigation will take me, and I only hope that this high level of creativity, innovation and suspense carries on through to the next episode and beyond.
…to be continued.
THIS IS EPISODE ONE, PART OF AN EPISODIC ADVENTURE SERIES, EACH REVIEW WILL BE BASED ON THAT EPISODE AND THE FINAL REVIEW WILL BE SHORT AND SWEET ENCOMPASSING ALL EPISODES WITH ONE FINAL SCORE.
The first episode of THE COUNCIL, “The Mad Ones”, is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. The full season comprises 5 episodes, to be released across 2018.