Behind The Curtain!
HIGH The letter-writing puzzle and its setup.
LOW Traversing the hedge maze four times in one hour.
WTF It’s pretty late in the game to be dropping new mechanics, isn’t it?
As The Council gets close to its grand finale, things have, counterintuitively, slowed down quite a bit. While there are still some large plot reveals and at least one major potential death in this penultimate chapter, fundamentally it exists to put pieces in place for episode 5. As such, it forces players to focus mostly on the mechanics of gameplay — a pity, because it features some of the weakest puzzling in the series so far.
From a story standpoint, The Council once again impresses. Questions that have plagued the narrative since the beginning are finally answered — everything from Louis’ penchant for drifting off into psychic visions, all the way to the origin of Mortimer’s island. In what might have been a sly joke on players who are a little too into the lore, I found myself caught up in a conversation about various backstories only to discover that something terrible happened elsewhere because I was too busy chatting to stop it. While the game had previously contained situations that could go awry if the wrong thing was said or done, those were accompanied by clearly-marked decision points. Now that the story is almost over, characters are getting killed off without ceremony. It’s as impressive as it is surprising.
While the chapter is narratively interesting, the puzzles fall far short of what I’ve come to expect from The Council, and they also show the limitations in the design.
There are two new locations in this chapter, and each one is associated with a different puzzle. The first is at least compelling — players finally get a look at the hand-slicer that’s been promised for two chapters. The second is a terrible slog, as the player has to pick out a genuine artifact from a pile of forgeries. If all of these items were in a case or arranged in some way, it would be one thing. Instead, the developers built a huge space that takes forever to walk through and randomly strewn the artifacts around it. Not only do players have to gauge the authenticity of an item, just finding the items to authenticate is a huge chore.
The larger issue, though, is that both the hand slicer and the artifact hunt force the player to leave the puzzle area and walk back to the main house to track down items and people. It’s bad enough to do this kind of backtracking/item hunting once an episode, but twice, and back-to-back? That’s just ridiculous. By the end I was absolutely begging for some kind of fast-travel function, but sadly I was forced to hoof it every time.
I don’t now what the developers have in store for the final chapter, but I can only hope that once the tale has wrapped up that they’ll unlock some kind of New Game+ to let players explore the story branches they missed the first time around. While I’m extremely curious about the other paths the plot could have taken, there’s so much busywork in the game that I can’t imagine putting myself through it a second time. If the developers allow players to jump back to key points in the story and take it from there, or even restart with fully-leveled characters, it would go a long way to encouraging people to spend more time in this fascinating world.
Even with all that said, the relative weakness of the puzzles in Episode 4 can’t dull my admiration for what The Council has accomplished so far. As a political thriller featuring real-life characters, the game had a few strikes against it – after all, everyone already knows that America ends up owning Louisiana – but the characters and their interplay has proven so fascinating that even a comparatively lackluster slice can’t keep me from being excited about what comes next. Episode 4 just doesn’t offer the thrills or compelling mysteries of the previous episodes because it’s all about the setup for Episode 5, but the developers have earned enough goodwill to trust that this is all building to something truly memorable. Rating: 7 out of 10
Disclosures: This game is developed by Big Bad Wolf and published by Focus Home Interactive. It is currently available on PC, PS4, and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the episode was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Mature and contains Violence, Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Use of Alcohol. Drinking, drugs, threatened sexual violence, a whole lot of swearing — this is as “mature” as these things get. It’s a gritty and violent mystery about great people of history being caught up in the occult and manipulating one another. No kids anywhere near it, please.
Colorblind Modes: There no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are subtleties to the tone of voice in conversations which are relevant to figuring out what characters are concealing. There are often facial cues to offer the clue as well — but not always — so the confrontations may be a little more difficult. On the upside, I didn’t encounter the subtitle-disappearing glitch from the last chapter even once! Text cannot be resized.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Players control the movement of their character with the left thumbstick, and the camera with the right. Face buttons control interaction, with arrow buttons managing item use. A trigger is used for sprinting.