The Council is a narrative-driven adventure set in the 18th century. Much like titles such as Heavy Rain and Shenmue, it focuses a lot of the playing experience into making decisions and working your way through politically charged dialogue in order to form relationships and talk your way to success. It’s less about action and more about the narrative. Indeed, it feels like playing through a murder mystery entrenched in political discourse and other tricky character connections.
Playing also feels much like the previously mentioned games, where most of the player control is limited to making decisions or assessing a situation. The cast of characters involves some highly influential and historical figures like George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte. There are some brief moments involving exploration around the large mansion in which the game takes place, and these segments serve nicely to break up the pace while also allowing players to dive deeper into the strange locale.
There are also three different major ways to play the game, and these three different paths revolve around the method in which you tackle different areas of the game. For example, you can be more of the diplomatic type, the occultist type, or the detective type. All of these options can be used to manipulate or get in closer with other characters, based on their strengths and weaknesses in conversation.
As this is just the first of many episodes, the story seems highly expositional, and unfortunately episode one ends quite abruptly. Just as I was really getting involved and interested in the events of the story, The Mad Ones concluded, and left me wanting answers to a lot of the questions I asked throughout the episode. At the very least, it sets up an interesting scenario for following episodes, and I am highly intrigued to see how interactions with characters like Lord Mortimer and Napoleon Bonaparte pan out. I am also intrigued to see how the different routes of play start to interact and yield different results. At the end of each chapter within the episode, you are given a breakdown of events that were successfully completed, missed, or could have been explored further. I thought this was a very interesting way to explain the events going on beyond your own control, and it also made replay of past chapters more interesting to explore.
Although The Council is not the greatest looking game of all time, I actually really liked the art style and the interior design of the mansion that players explore throughout the episode. I was also a huge fan of the costume design, although I thought certain characters were a little bit more sexualized than necessary, especially the British duchess Emily Hillsboro. My only real complaints were that the lip-sync was way off, some of the animations look particularly stiff and wooden, and overall the quality of the dialogue leaves something to be desired. Some of the lines were delivered well, other sounded very hokey, and others still sounded like they were recorded at the end of a metallic hallway. The dialogue is occasionally campy and cheesy anyway, so I found myself jumping back-and-forth between taking the plot very seriously to not seriously at all.
As I have already mentioned in this review, The Council‘s opening act left me wondering what would happen next in the ensuing chapters. I greatly anticipate learning more about the disappearance of Louis’s mother, and uncovering more of the mysteries of this secret society. It left me feeling quite nostalgic for Shenmue and Heavy Rain, and those are perhaps two of the best things I can say about it.