Narrative episodic adventure games have been thrust into the spotlight this gen. We’ve seen some remarkable adventures, such as King’s Quest and Life is Strange, and some forgettable adventures, yes, Minecraft: Story Mode, I’m looking at you and your sequel. Big Bad Wolf’s The Council aims to adjust how gamers look at this genre, and although it’s quite an ambitious experience, it doesn’t nearly stand alongside the genre’s finest. It’s fair to describe the game as narrative-adventure role-playing hybrid, and one that certainly knows how dig its hooks deep into you with its first episode; The Mad Ones. That being said, the narrative leaves a lot to be desired, and the gameplay’s foundation equally as such, but we’ll get to that shortly.
The game casts its players into the role of one Louis de Richet, a member of a secret society known as the Golden Order. Louis has been invited to a private island off the shores of England by none other than the “enigmatic” Lord Mortimer. Your invitation to this seemingly mysterious event is not exclusive, in fact, you’ll be bumping shoulders with the likes of George Washington, alongside other less notable special guests. Prior to this you’re introduced to Louis and his mother, Sarah, some months prior to the aforementioned event. Louis and Sarah are bound back-to-back, being violently interrogated by a person that’s seemingly of interest. This short section of the game swiftly introduces you to some of the game’s mechanics, giving you a light understanding as to how the adventure will function.
Before long, Sarah and her son are able to gain the upper-hand and subdue their captor before Sarah departs on secretive business. Fast-forward to the current event, and it’s immediately apparent that Sarah has gone missing, and it’s now up to Louis to solve the mystery at hand. It doesn’t take long at all to understand that something isn’t quite right. News of Sarah’s presence on the island has spread, with reports of her sighting mingling in specific conversations. It’s an interesting setup, I have to credit The Council for that, but I can’t wholeheartedly say that I particularly give a shit about any single character within. The voice acting is pretty hit-and-miss, with dialogue that’s delivered without any real effort to emphasize the situation (or set conversation) at hand.
The Mad Ones is the first of five episodes, so to judge the story based on its convoluted delivery is perhaps a little unfair at this junction. Nevertheless, I cant say that I fluidly digested what was being relayed throughout. It doesn’t help matters that the character animations are off. You see, The Council houses a very unique character design, one that oddly seems to include overly sized noses, I might add. That, however, isn’t the problem. The problem rests with other facial features, such as wide porcelain eyes that seem about ready to drop straight from the skull, or awkward animation during conversations. I quite like the overall design, but more effort should have been spared during character engagement, because as it stands, it can be quite distracting.
The gameplay, on the other hand, is much more refined and undeniably stands as the game’s best aspect. The Council plays in a way that’s similar to Life is Strange, but includes RPG mechanics that feed into the plot. When you arrive at the docks in the shadows of the vast overarching manor, you’re able to select a class. This class will eventually unfold and gift you with various skills that can be used to manipulate how the story unfolds, or more specifically, how you fit in. These abilities will reward you with different traits that you can utilize within, with more being unlocked as you earn points to attribute however you like. This alone emphasizes how much The Council wants you to replay it, seeing as how different traits will unlock unique encounters and conversation branches that will otherwise be locked unless you follow that path.
Conversations, for example, will almost always offer preset dialogue options, but also come with unique options that you may only select if you have unlocked or chosen the branch that allows you to select it. It’s an interesting take on the tried and tested format, that goes without saying, and Big Bad Wolf pull this off exceptionally well here. The Mad Ones truly makes you feel as though you’re in the driving seat, controlling the force of the story, rather than merely being along for the ride. Two playthroughs using different classes and abilities will offer up different results, often serving new and interesting information about events and characters. The same can indeed be said about the more simplistic design choices, such as simply decisions.
George Washington, for example, wanted to investigate the bedroom of a female guest while she was busy downstairs, and requested that I go down and keep her occupied. Having already played in such a way that I wanted to please him, down I went. Once downstairs I found that the lady in question was being assaulted by another robust male guest, so my choice was to either let her be assaulted to allow Washington his time, or step in and risk letting the lady run back to her room. I went with the latter, and as you can imagine, Mr President wasn’t happy with me. I was also given a letter and was made to swear on oath that I wouldn’t open it. Moments later, the game asked me if I wanted to break my word and read the contents of the letter.
I wont spoil what happens, but these are just two of the various moments in which the game forces you to make or break your morals, and it works a charm. It’s unfortunate, then, that the gameplay and narrative can be both a blessing and a curse. While I have thoroughly enjoyed the depth of the gameplay, I cant be quite as kind about traversal and interactivity. Some of the dialogue that’s spoken, despite being well written, just doesn’t hit the right mark. The more dominant issue, on the flip side, is basic movement and environmental engagement. Controlling Louis can be tedious at times, but even more so when trying to interact with specific items or objects. Several times did I have to realign Louis and the camera in a pinpoint position, just to investigate something. Granted, this isn’t a massive gripe, but it does prove to be annoying when it happens in rapid succession.
Another high point in The Council, for me at least, is the consequence system. Telltale Games’ has lost sight on this mechanic in the recent adaptions, so it was quite refreshing to see so much weight on the mechanic here. The Council will often put meaty choices on your shoulders, choices that have lasting consequences that can rarely be rectified. Screw up a conversation with one character, and you may find yourself permanently in their bad books, losing access to vital information in the process. The game goes one further by adding in Focus Points. Specific dialogue options can only be accessed if you have enough Focus Points, and Focus Points can only be replenished by picking up consumable items. This function alone ensures that you pay careful attention to your stock, because again, you may find yourselves on the wrong end of a character’s judgement if you don’t react accordingly.
The Council isn’t going to be for everyone, regardless as to whether this is your go-to genre or not. The game throws far too much at you to begin with, that it can often be overwhelming. This may be alleviated to some degree when all five episodes have been released and we have the full story to work through, but as it stands, episode one can be too taxing at times. That doesn’t just go for the story or its lore, but the several gameplay systems and character motivations as well. I’ll draw back to my point about The Council being an ambitious adventure, which it certainly is, but it may have been too ambitious given the episodic nature of play. The first episode of any split-story is vital, but here there may be a touch too much pressure put on the player. Will this risk payoff in the long run? Only time will tell.
The Council is ambitious, unique, and serves up some truly in-depth functionality. However, the otherwise intriguing story is let down by poor voice acting and daft character animation. The game also puts an awful lot of pressure on the player to learn so much in a short space of time. The Council is off to a good start, but it should have been refined more.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.