The Council: The Mad Ones (Xbox One Review)
There are long running theories that there is a marionette of world politics, someone–or something–lurking behind the scenes manipulating everything as we know it. In games, the idea of Oz revealing himself is often reserved as a last minute reveal, but in The Council, it’s just a side story to a much more personal inquisition. An inquisition that, sinks its teeth deep and leaves you begging for more.
From the word go, we invest ourselves in the bonds shared between Louis de Richet and his mother. As both are tied to a chair at the mercy of an assailant, you are prepositioned by the first of many choices that help shape The Council’s self-proclaimed “fresh new take on Narrative Adventure”. Like many of the other games in the genre, it feels truncated at first but as you proceed through the first episode, it feels like the river runs deep and you can drown in its choice. With any branching story, there are obviously some chokepoints, but The Council gives enough variety that I was already booting up a second save the second I finished. Mysteries that passed you by will remain unsolved and other avenues unexplored. That kind of unabashed desire to jump back in is a hallmark of any great game and it rings exceptionally true with The Council. After all, your mother is missing and you’ve been confronted by some of the most prominent faces of the late 18th century thanks to the enigmatic Lord Mortimer who dragged you out to this god-forsaken island.
And the depth doesn’t stop at The Council’s story. After the initial prologue, you are able to choose from 3 classes, for the lack of a better word. Each of these classes goes some ways to build up your character and backstory. You can choose from an Occultist, to a Diplomat, or even a Detective with each offering a different set of skills. Through Occultism, you are able to pick up on the unseen clues that pervade the world, while as a Diplomat you are more in tune with politics and etiquette. Playing as a Detective will see you use deduction and logic to navigate conversations and piece together complex puzzles through observation alone. It’s clear that each of these classes open up different avenues that The Council isn’t afraid to flaunt. For example, throughout a group meal you are reminded that you aren’t well versed in etiquette as an opportunity passes you by and it creates a mental note that you might want to revisit this wearing a different profession. It’s one of the many ways that The Council creates a wonderful buy-in from its players–even with the simple mechanics afforded by the adventure story genre.
Complimenting these different classes is also an experience system that allies up at the end of every section. As you slowly level up, you’ll be able to invest your points in various skills and allow for more opportunities in the next section. You’re also able to gain a few extra points in some skills through your dialogue choices, reading books that you, and successful confrontations–conversations you can fail and use your various goals to extract information to further your investigations. The experience screen even takes its chance to rub your nose in the opportunities you missed and sections you failed while it tallies up your rewards, further The Council’s goal in plaguing your every waking moment.
All of these well thought out narrative hooks do come at a cost, however. While the story rolls in as effortlessly as the fog on Lord Mortimer’s private island, the game begins to chug and it won’t be the last time. Even this wonderfully decadent mansion can’t truly thrive when the frame rate feels less than stable and the character models look a tiny bit off. It’s never truly jarring, but unsettling enough that there are moments where you clearly recognise there is a dip in performance.
As far as first episodes go, The Council already has me more invested than Life is Strange and any Telltale property. It’s something different that really appeals to me in a way that I struggle to describe. I don’t know what the big mystery is, in fact I won’t find out for quite some time how it all plays out, but I already have so many theories and I can’t wait to see if I was even close.