Welcome to The Play-By-Play, a column where I’ll be writing about an episodic game series as I play through the season, sharing my thoughts on the storyline, the game, and generally any other things that I’ve picked up on. Today, we’re kicking things off with Big Bad Wolf and Focus Home Interactive’s The Council.
I’m a sucker for mystery games – I’m normally hooked as soon as you start teasing the tantalising threads suggesting that nothing is quite as it seems. I’m such a big fan in fact, that I think most games are made better by having some mystery involved in their story – it makes you feel like you’re uncovering something for yourself, not just relying on the super powers of your player character. It’s no wonder then, that when I saw The Council on sale (the whole season for about £5 last month) I picked it up pretty quickly. Episodic games also have a way with me. Similar to an episode of TV, I often feel more satisfied sitting down with an episodic game and just letting the story wrap me up than I would with a full-fat title, where I’d also be hoping for more impressive graphics or gameplay. They’re comforting.
The Council‘s first episode is a decent one – it sets up some interesting mysteries (what exactly is The Golden Circle, where has your mother gone, why has Lord Mortimer gathered such an illustrious crew here), has some fun leveling and personalisation mechanics, and an interesting core set of characters. Those personalisation mechanics are definitely the strength that The Council brings to the table. You can earn experience as you complete the chapters and then put these points into a variety of skills which will allow you to partake in more opportunities to gather information on the world around you. For example, when you arrive on the island where the game takes place, there is a big latin carving on the ground. If you invested in the ‘language’ skill at the beginning of the game, you’ll be able to read it. If you didn’t, you won’t. Interactions with the other characters work much the same way, but each one has their own immunities and weaknesses to exploit. Run up against an immunity and your conversation will hit a dead end. The character interactions are pretty interesting, but I must admit that coming off the back of Life Is Strange, they fall a little flat in comparison.
I’m intrigued to see where the story is going to go from here – so far, I’ve learned that I’ve been brought to this island to look for my missing mother, who is one of the heads of a secret organisation called The Golden Circle, by the island’s owner, the yet-to-be-met Lord Mortimer. Upon arriving, I’ve met with a collection of history’s most famous people from the era, from US President George Washington through to Napoleon and Jacques Peru. They’ve all been brought here for different reasons, but at the moment they are also unsure of their purpose on the island. Things get a little weird though when Washington spots Elizabeth Adams, the presumed dead daughter of John Adams walking around the manor. In a bid to investigate, we get brought further into her world, leading to a night drinking with her in her room. I decided however not to stay drinking and to instead return to my bedroom, where I was rudely awakened the next morning, only to be arrested for her murder.
While The Council has a few different plot points on the go, I think this murder charge is the one that has me the most intrigued for now. The Golden Circle stuff and the plot about my mother doesn’t really have that much going for it yet, but I’m holding judgement until I uncover a bit more in the upcoming episodes. In terms of predictions of what’s to come, I’m guessing we’ll finally be meeting the elusive Lord Mortimer next episode, and doing a little bit of our own investigation into what’s really happened to Elizabeth.
The game’s other features, the graphics and soundtrack aren’t particularly standing out quite yet – I’ve hardly noticed the soundtrack, and while the graphics are at serviceable sometimes, they look downright ugly at others. While the creators have managed to do a relatively good job with the younger characters, the more elderly members of the cast are the stuff of nightmares, their skin looked stretched and warped, almost like zombies. A small weakness that has led to some amusing moments for me as I marvel at how ugly some of these face models are. George Washington is particularly bad.
Overall though, I’m cautiously optimistic about where this journey is going to take me. There are a few good seeds laid down in the first episode, so I’m hopeful that the developers will be able to build on that groundwork over the coming installments. I’ll keep this blog updated as I make progress!