The Iluminati awaits…
The Council is a game of coin flips. Every time I select a dialogue choice I’m flipping a coin on whether the recipient will respond in a positive way. Whenever I’m in investigation mode every step can trigger a new scene, thus leaving hidden elements never to be found. Tension and intrigue ramps up depending on the situation, giving even more weight to those miniscule games of chance. This is a game trying to add a new spin to a tried-and-true formula, and while I have some complaints I appreciate the effort The Council is setting forth.
The game follows Louis de Richet, a young 18th Century French noble summoned to an opulent manor off the coast of England. In this first chapter The Mad Ones de Richet’s mother Sarah, a frequent guest of this luxurious locale, has gone missing. It’s Louis’s job to figure out where she went while working with and against other guests of the house. There are some big names at this summit. particularly the first President of the United States George Washington and a French lieutenant named Napoleon Bonaparte.
“This is a game trying to add a new spin to a tried-and-true formula”
Oh, did I mention everyone involved are members of the Illuminati, or the “Golden Order” as the game calls them? And that they’re constantly spying on each other?
It’s a strange premise, but one that somehow works. Each event and conversation intrigues me, and I’m never sure where the story will take me. Each bit of dialogue has me hinged on every word, never knowing when the next clue or piece of the puzzle will appear. Most notable are the Confrontations, the “boss fights” of the game. Here I couple Louis’s attributes with information I’d found in investigations and use both in a long conversation. If I answer correctly my verbal sparring partner is satisfied, but too many blunders and I could risk losing information or worse. These Confrontations are a remarkable way to mix up the back and forth talking that games of this format rely on, and each of those conversations was made more interesting for it. All of these elements are hallmarks of good storytelling that I hope continues in future chapters.
That good storytelling is almost ruined by the manner in which the characters tell it. The voice acting borders between adequate and dreadful, an offense more noticeable since The Council relies so heavily on it. One character sounds like the actor rolled right out of bed and sat down at the mic to start recording. Another is supposed to be a certain ethnicity, but the “accent” sounds like a different part of the world. This is where The Council needs the most help in my eyes because lackluster voice acting in a narrative-based game could be an instant buzzkill for new players.
Character animations seem a little half-baked at times as well, peppered with technical issues ranging from funny to frustrating. One moment Louis floated over his bed while laying in it, another the game faded to black but never faded back. I did laugh out loud at the split-second moment where Washington’s teeth popped out of his lip. Luckily it only happened once and wasn’t a game breaker. Future episodes would do well to iron out these technical wrinkles.
For those that can bear the subpar speaking, the dialogue system in The Council more than makes up for it. It is an evolution of what other narrative games of its ilk offer up. Rather than mindless dialogue choices, here there’s a RPG-esque skill tree and leveling system. Each skill point I assign buffs Louis’s ability to navigate the game’s battles of wit. I could fashion Louis to be more of a diplomat by building his political and linguistic skill. Conversely, I can make him a master of the occult and able to lend insight on the dark arts.
I like this dynamic, as the story seems more custom-fitted to me and my choices. Other games offer what’s more of an illusion of choice, two choices that lead to the same end. This first chapter of The Council doesn’t fall into that trap. I almost want to play it again and see what would happen if I took a drastically different route. The list of successes, failures, and alternate paths the end of each subchapter gives is enough to pique my interest.
I like where The Council is heading after its first chapter. The story is intriguing and genuinely surprising. The skill trees and RPG elements add a personal touch that other similar games simply do not emulate. For everything that the game does well the small technical aspects have the most hiccups, particularly in voice acting. If Cyanide Studios can smooth out the creases and keep delivering the narrative goods, I could see The Council becoming the next big narrative-driven franchise. It’s up to Episode Two to keep the momentum going.
***PS4 review code was provided by the publisher***
- Excellent storytelling and characters
- RPG elements add a new spin
- Confrontations are awesome
- Voice acting is hit or miss
- Animations sometimes janky
- Music sometimes distracting