I must admit I was pleasantly surprised upon completing the first chapter of The Council. I may have been hooked from the game’s intriguing synopsis, but the unique RPG elements mixed within the well-written characters filled me with a tremendous level of excitement and eagerness to see where this dark, Gothic tale would take me. Finally, after weeks of Facebook stalking the developers for updates, the news I’d been waiting impatiently for had arrived “Phil, here’s episode 2 of The Council, enjoy!”. With bated breath I returned to Lord Mortimer’s mansion carrying 3 vastly contradicting cliff-hangers to see where on Earth this story decides to take me, fingers crossed my inpatient thumb twiddling wasn’t a complete waste.
To recap, The Council is a brand new 5 part episodic mystery drama from Big Bad Wolf Studio, who thus far has released Episode 1 onto Steam, PS4 and Xbox One. 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 and mysterious Lord Mortimer to investigate the disappearance of his work associate and your mother, Sarah de Richet. In Episode 1 we were whisked away to a treacherous private island where we were introduced to Lord Mortimer’s closest friends and allies such as George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, and a rather busty spy-slash-Duchess. Everyone present at the manor has been summoned for a unique and personal reason, however, with the host himself proving difficult to find, the delayed conference meant there was time to chat with and snoop on the party. With rich conversation from its cast, alternative narrative paths and a thrilling story to tell quick off the mark, The Council had remarkable pace and depth that genuinely didn’t diminish when firing up my 2nd & 3rd playthrough, so one can only hope the next chapter in the tale follows suit.
In Episode 1 my focus was solely on tracking down my mysterious and elusive mother, however as Episode 2 opened that violently took a back seat in favour of a new mystery, a grisly murder. Regardless of what decisions were made in the previous chapter’s closing moments, Louis’ second day in Chez Mortimer is spent examining a corpse, trying to uncover every clue and cross-examining all the guests, a classic ‘whodunnit’ I thought … well at least for 20 minutes it was. Despite the climatic cliffhanger and strong premise kicking things off it was a grave shame that this murder was only a concern for 1 chapter before being brushed off and being all about your mother again. As deep and detailed as each character is they too didn’t seem to care for what had happened before them, which made me question why this was even included in the game as nobody made it an exciting or worthwhile experience. As well as the murder that has mildly inconvenienced people, the 2nd progression in The Council’s narrative is the eventual introduction to the mysterious host, Lord William Mortimer, who in actual fact doesn’t disappoint. Just as if I was sitting amongst a Jury, my impression of him shifted many times during the course of this chapter through conversation and investigation, and leading up to the chapter’s closing moments I still didn’t know an awful lot about him, giving me faith that Lord Mortimer is set to become just as detailed and no doubt more complicated than the already stellar cast; we too meet the final guest, Duke Manual Godoy, who caused a fight upon his arrival so I’m sure he’ll be a delightful addition too.
Once back to the real matter at hand the game’s tempo sadly doesn’t recover, and instead of diving into each character’s background, you’re thrown face first into a number of tedious, boring and unnecessarily vague puzzles which are an absolute chore to complete. Don’t get me wrong though, each of Episode 2’s puzzles is wonderfully intricate and thought out, however from skimming through biblical texts, deciphering paintings and stabbing statues (yes you read that right), the creativity is overshadowed by complicated solutions and unrewarding outcomes; I often solved them by mistake, and even on reflection I cannot tell you how I completed them. Episode 1 was all about introducing us to each member of the eccentric, diverse cast, hence why there were so many opportunities for questioning, confrontations, and narrative exploration, and though I presumed there would be far less of that in the follow-up chapter I still found myself terribly disappointed. The Mad Ones had me on tender hooks each time a chance arose to dive deeper into each character or give me a difficult choice to make, and despite Hide and Seek’s noticeably shorter run time I still expected the same, and not getting what I expected, albeit wanted, meant I wasn’t as emotionally invested and carried through this latest chapter.
After such a strong start it’s difficult not to be a little mift with Hide and Seek, an episode that seemed to have disregarded everything that made its predecessor so enjoyable. Instead of in-depth and revealing confrontation, I was given almost meaningless exposition and mindless chatter, and before I could say “cool, a juicy murder!” it was back to overly complicated puzzles within an already tiresome story. Despite the slower pace I still enjoyed Episode 2 of The Council, and with 3 more episodes to come one can only hope that this was just an earlier stumble in an otherwise exciting and trouble-free adventure, fingers and toes crossed that the Manor’s residents can get their affairs in order before our next visit.