The Council could have been a detective game for the ages. It tells the tale of a secret society made of world famous leaders such as Napoleon Bonaparte and George Washington who have taken it upon themselves to decide the fate of the world. Your character happens upon this meeting because you’re looking for your mother, a fictional but nonetheless equally important character on this eighteenth century world stage, who’s also been invited to take part in this elaborate game of real-life Risk. It’s a mix of history and mythology-themed puzzles with branching dialogue like the kind you’ll find in a Telltale game. But then it does something very silly in the middle of episode four and it all ends up being a terrible disappointment.
I won’t tell you what said silly thing is because, well, spoilers, but suffice it to say, the story goes in a very strange and nonsensical direction in the middle of the fourth episode that doesn’t really make a huge amount of sense, and more or less turns your main budding detective man Louis de Richet into a completely different character. All your choices and decisions from previous episodes are thrown back in your face, and it feels like its branching narrative gets axed in favour of something a lot more linear.
It’s a bad ending, no two ways about it, but before it goes completely off the rails, it’s arguably one of the more interesting narrative detective games I’ve played in ages. Instead of taking the Telltale approach and simply giving you a selection of different dialogue choices to pick from, for example, The Council throws in light RPG elements to give your encounters a bit more spice. Some options, for instance, require the use of skills, such as logic or subterfuge or ‘erudition’ (it’s 1793, duh), which can then be used to exploit personality traits in the other guests, getting them to reveal more information about themselves, or the task at hand, than they otherwise would. They’re also immune to certain skills, however. George Washington won’t be beaten in a game of politics, for example. Working out which set of options to go for can give your brain as much of a cerebral workout as its environmental puzzles.
It’s an incredibly satisfying system, especially when you can pick and choose which skills to develop in order to shape Louis’ approach to each scenario, and I hope the developers get to build on it in their upcoming Vampire: The Masquerade ‘narrative RPG’. It’s just… that ending. Oooof. What a horror show. You can give the whole thing a go on Steam if you like, but don’t say I didn’t warn you…