Author Topic: The Council [2018 -- Big Bad Wolf Studio]  (Read 45 times)

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The Council [2018 -- Big Bad Wolf Studio]
« on: January 04, 2019, 07:30:15 AM »
The period is January 1793. Louis de Richet is a young French man and the next in line to take the head of a secret society known as the Golden Order which has ramifications in other countries such as Great Britain and the United States. His mother, Sarah de Richet is the current top head of the French branch of the Golden order (her counterpart in the United States being none other than George Washington -- that you learn very early in the game so it's not really a spoiler). One day, Sarah takes off in pursuit of the buyer of an occult and forbidden book. To learn the name of this buyer she goes to an isolated Island (a rock more like) off the coast of England which is the property of William Mortimer, an intriguing and somewhat eccentric British aristocrat. A few days after her arrival, she disappears and so Mortimer write to Louis and invite him to come to his island and participate in the search and rescue efforts to find his mother.

But Louis soon begins to have  questions about the true motives of his invitation. He's not the only Guest on the island. Some of the most famous and influential names of the era are there, some that we even remember today. George Washington (do I really need to introduce him?), Manuel Godoy, the prime minister of Spain (and not so secret lover of the Queen), Johann Von W├Âllner (Minister of Justice of Prussia and close to Emperor) and Napoleon Bonaparte (which at the time of the events was a mere Artillery Captain of the French Revolutionary Army but he wouldn't remain that for long as is common knowledge). The game add to the mix some fictional characters (that one doesn't find on Wikipedia) but all at high level of power, like Emily Hillsborrow, a duchess and the personal secretary of William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister of England and Cardinal Giuseppe Piaggi, which is here as a direct representative of the Pope.

And of course there are the two singular hosts of the mansion, William Mortimer and his friend Gregory Holm, both British, both aristocrats. And this whole little world stage the story for The Council.

Imagine if the world we live in was just the result of carefully planned and monitored events arranged by a small number of people. Imagine if the French Revolution or the American Independence War were not the decision of the People but people being pushed to act because those events needed to happen to accommodate bigger plans unknown to all but a few? I can already hear you cry "Illuminati, that's already been done!"... Well you couldn't be further from the intrigue of The Council. It's a whole new twist that has been put in the whole conspiracy theory thing. The game use historical characters and facts to establish a backstory that is both compelling and really frightening... even when one puts away the most outlandish claims made in there.

As the game says as a warning "This is probably a work of fiction". Hey, because, one never knows right?

The writing of the game balances between excellence especially during the early-episodes to somewhat lackluster unfortunately mainly during the ending... However I must say that might be due to the choices I made during the game that ended up turning into an ending that was underwhelming -- as far as I feel about it -- compared to the other episodes. Maybe doing other choices would be more interesting but I don't really have time to check on that for now.

To truly appreciate the full story of the game, it would also be preferable -- although it's by no way required to finish the game -- to brush up on your History lessons at least for the period of History between 1790 and 1805 and on the backgrounds of the main characters. I've seen people assume that events in the game never happened. The thing, is that the historical events depicted in the game all happened and in the same way... The reason for these events to occur though differ between the game and History. Also I've read someone that exclaimed about something in the game that "Why does it matter? Napoleon wasn't a writer." Oh, indeed he was... In fact he was even pretty prolific. I have in my collections 5 volumes of the stuff he wrote between before becoming a General until the years of his second exile. In particular, the manuscript referred to in the game is the political pamphlet that made him remarked and allowed him to start his grab for power. He also wrote in newspapers under a borrowed name which allowed him to say things that he couldn't have possibly said as a public representative of France. Napoleon is mainly known for having been a great military leader but he was also many other things and among them he was a propaganda master and his writings were very important in that respect. The reason why you find the manuscript in the game though does not correspond to historically established facts.

There is also a few issues with the translation of the game from the original French to English between the subtitles and the voice over. I don't know why but weirdly enough, the subtitles are at time different of what the characters are saying like if the team in charge of the subtitles received a text of the actual voice over somehow altered. Fortunately translation problems is something that can be easily corrected with patches... if they want to. In this case it doesn't really impact the solving of puzzles. Still it underlines the rushed aspect of some parts of the game.

But enough about the story or I'll jump into spoilers.

I was talking previously about choices which is something that ones normally does not meet often in an adventure game. It's because The Council, as the other game I recently reviewed Call Of Cthulhu, belong to to the relatively new blend of investigative adventure and RPG. Cyanide Studio worked on both titles, as a developer on Call of Cthulhu, as technical advisor on The Council and it's only normal that both games, published by Focus Interactive, have similar gameplay mechanics even though there are some glaring differences.

First one is that one can select a professional background for Louis. He can be a detective, an occultist or a diplomat. Each profession brings the corresponding set of 5 skills to a basic level of one. One can acquire the other 10 skills corresponding to the other two backgrounds but it will have a cost because one must bring them from zero to one just to be able to use them. However, unlike Call of Cthulhu in which not having a skill of a sufficient level means that one can't use it The Council is more flexible. You can use any skill as soon as it is at least level one, no matter the difficulty of the task. And that's where the notion of "Effort" points comes into play. Louis starts the game with a certain number of effort points (a number that can be upgraded along the game finding special objects or as a reward for completing some tasks). The effort points are there to compensate the lack of an appropriate skill level. For example, if one want to use a skill but that this use requires the skill at a level superior to the one possessed effort points will be used to match the appropriate level.

From there, the gameplay is a balancing act, because effort points are not unlimited, although they can be replenished with a pot of Royal Jelly (but those are not unlimited either). So it's all about using the skills one is the best at and others only when one has to and managing the stock of potions carefully. There are four of them. Royal Jelly allows to restore effort points, Carmelite Water gives the ability to use the next skill for free (no effort points), whereas Golden Elixir and Devil's Thorn are used in conjunction with immunities and vulnerabilities, which brings us to another game mechanics.

Each character Louis talks to in the game can bend to his will or be swayed to his point of view (yes even, Washington and Bonaparte) if he hits them with a skill to which they are vulnerable. On the other hand if Louis hits them with a skill to which they are immune, not only the result hoped for won't happen but Louis will become "fatigued". Fatigue is one of several conditions Louis can be affected by. Some are positive -- but generally temporary -- and some are negatives and need an elixir to be cured. In the case of "fatigue" Louis will need to spend one more effort point in any future use of a skill until the condition is cured.

The thing is: Louis has no idea what vulnerabilities or immunities his interlocutors have before actually testing them or finding a relevant piece of information snooping around their belongings. Although Bad Wolf didn't go mad there. If you know a little about important characters like Napoleon or Washington you can easily enough determines what immunities and vulnerabilities they have. Napoleon for example was a strong military leader and politician but maybe he wasn't that strong on the subject of dressing a table or respecting protocols and he was definitely too trusting of his immediate entourage for his own good (which basically cost him Waterloo). Of course, I won't tell you what are the vulnerabilities and immunities (where would be the fun) but from such simple thoughts one can deduce. However determining weak points and strengths of less known characters might not be so easy.

Outside of their strengths and weaknesses, characters however does not react particularly to most skills one way or another. In that case the skill will work but Louis won't gain any additional effect, neither bad nor good.

For the rest of the gameplay, investigation is put forward and the game features puzzles that are logical enough and mostly just require the right amount of thinking.

In the end, The Council could have been an excellent game but it is hampered by an unequal story writing oscillating between excellent and just average. There are some twists in there that are so outrageous that they are almost hilarious and this is the kind of game that will deliver you an uppercut just when you though you got the gist of it and understood what the story was about, sending you flying in an all new direction.

It's all the more unfortunate that The Council seems to have been rushed and left unpolished, especially in the last episode leaving it like a diamond in the rough. All the potential is there but obviously the planning for the development wasn't. Still I had a genuine fun with this game despite of its polishing flaws.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. -- A. Einstein