Game review: ‘The Council Episode One: The Mad Ones,’ genre evolution


Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Style: Narrative adventure
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Big Bad Wolf
Rating: M, for mature

Despite technical flaws, the Telltale formula has propelled the studio to the upper echelons of gaming, leading more developers to leap into the episodic adventure pond following their games’ success. Big Bad Wolf, a French indie developer, is latest to step up to the plate and is doing so with a secret society-centered mystery adventure set in the 1700s. The first episode, “The Mad Ones,” introduces us to “The Council’s” colorful cast in grand fashion and what an introduction it is.

“Episode One: The Mad Ones”

Setting the foundation for “The Council,” episode one welcomes our protagonist Louis de Richet to the home of Lord Mortimer. Louis is a member of a secret society alongside his mother, who has gone missing at the home of Lord Mortimer. Mortimer occasionally welcomes esteemed guests to his home and, while Louis has an agenda of his on when accepting his invitation, it seems everyone else there has a mystery of their own.

I’ll end discussion of the story by expressing that, while a murder isn’t seen explicitly in the first episode, it feels like there’s certainly murder you don’t want to acknowledge just lingering in the air. There’s a whole lot of mystery in Lord Mortimer’s home and it’s the foundation of the game’s charm. Now, on to the gameplay experience and why “The Council” gets me excited for future episodic experiences.

“The Council’s” rhythm adheres to the adventure genre’s basics, progressing similarly to Telltale’s many experiences or “Life Is Strange.” There are short cutscenes and conversations that lead into free exploration of an environment, imploring me to investigate their surroundings thoroughly. Also, like the other titles, there are dramatic moments that usher the story along and typically result in a major choice I needed to make.

The biggest key to The Council’s improvement on the episodic adventure formula is the embrace of RPG elements and the willingness to communicate what things I was missing out on in conversations and encounters. I started the episode by choosing whether Louis specializes as a Diplomat, Occultist, or Detective. This choice determines starting skills, which influenced my choices in conversation and what things Louis would notice with characters and the environment.

The episode is broken into sections and I gained experience in-between that allowed me to improve my skills. The ones that land under my chosen expertise were cheaper to improve, while things outside my understanding were harder to acquire. As I progressed through the episode, various prompts would appear on screen to remind me that there are some things going on that beyond my character’s understanding. This is a rare insight into the machinations of this type of adventure game and actually inspires me to want to play through again with a different skill tree. Nearly every action you take including the interactive cinematic moments, called Confrontations, require exertion via a depleting bar of points and there are status effects that influence this in positive and negative ways. There are items found in the environment that repair or enhance these effects, adding another layer of interaction that is sorely missing from adventure games.

Visually, “The Council” can seem very stiff in some moments while feeling fluid in others. The textures and light stand out, but the animations and expressions for the characters themselves could stand to be better. Nevertheless, the art style perfectly matches the game’s 1700s setting. The more realistic style, versus Telltale’s more comic book influenced approach for “The Walking Dead,” for instance, enhances the impact of the character’s interactions and adds to the more grotesque elements in the art design. The voice acting is adequate as well

Episodic games have a very special appeal to me, as they’re able to fit snugly into my busy gaming schedule without too much demand. Despite the bite-size experiences, the stories are impactful and entertaining, so the evolution of genre concept “Big Bad Wolf” has infused “The Council” which excites me. The length of these episodes is no reason not to include a skill-tree and progression system, actually adding even more weight to your every decision. Episode One of “The Council” isn’t a perfect start, but it is quite a wonderful foundation to build upon.