Reviews// The Council: Episode 4: Burning Bridge

Posted 1 Nov 2018 11:00 by
TellTale Games is dead and once again I am worried about the future of narrative driven games. Sure, there has been a general increase in quality of story in games over the last five years, but purely narrative-based games once again seem to be under threat.

Episode 4: Burning Bridges
Episode 4: Burning Bridges
Fortunately, studios such as ‘Big Bad Wolf’ are continuing to not only bring adventures to consoles but are also experimenting with innovative systems that point towards a future of significantly deeper story experiences. The first few episodes of The Council introduced these ‘RPG-like’ systems to the game and set the groundwork for their implementation in later episodes, where the consequences of the player’s actions would, at least ideally, become clear. Unfortunately, the release of the fourth episode in this five-part series rather undermines the systems upon which the game has been built.

In the opening episodes of The Council, the player is encouraged to craft the type of character they want, focusing skill points in order to determine whether they will follow the path of master diplomat, spy, or occult specialist. The choices do allow for flexibility and it quickly becomes clear that assigning points across the range of skills is the best approach. I was disappointed by this as by the third episode it became clear that the only way to progress with certainty was by becoming a generalist. Given the collective cast of the game I initially put everything into etiquette and politics as the thought of engaging in debate with Napoleon and George Washington was too good to pass up. However, I quickly found myself having to assign points in other areas in order to progress and the epic battle of wits between world leaders failed to materialise. The experience points I had carefully managed were seemingly only really useful for the first two chapters of the game.

Episode 4: Burning Bridges
Episode 4: Burning Bridges
In addition to skill points, Chapter 4 has also added another type of special ability that rather undercuts the existing system. I won’t go into depth here about how it works as it is part of a significant plot development. However, I found this addition to be most unwelcome as it helped the plot to veer into territory I was hoping would not be explored. The original premise offered great diversity in the way in which the story could potentially unfold, but as the game nears its conclusion it appears to be pulling back on the amount of choice offered in order that a more straightforward path to conclusion be established. This is perhaps understandable, but it is also rather disappointing. However, Chapter 4 has set up the foundation for an interesting concluding chapter. I look forward to seeing how Louis’ adventure concludes, even though the narrative has not gone in quite the direction I would have liked.

Episode 4: Burning Bridges
Episode 4: Burning Bridges
Technically the game still suffers on the Xbox One and appeared to be jerkier this time than in earlier episodes. Sequences inside the mansion are particularly troublesome as the voice work seems to be causing additional problems. Sentences frequently start before others have finished in a way reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed Unity. In other areas the game performs adequately. The user interface and inventory management methods are still excellent. The more complex systems management of The Council are well mapped with good attention to accessibility, particularly during moments of tense negotiation. It’s just a shame that there are not more situations that put them to the test.

Big Bad Wolf has assembled a fantastic range of historical figures, each with complicated pasts that would be ripe for exploration. Napoleon alone is a figure of contradictions and it is a shame that the player is not able to engage in deeper conversations that would lead to an exploration of his character’s motivation. Instead, as with the other figures, he plays a bit-part, providing context in order that the narrative be advanced. The game instead focuses on characters that are far less intriguing, largely because they don’t have the historical baggage of the world leaders they have assembled.

Episode 4: Burning Bridges
Episode 4: Burning Bridges
It would be unfair to criticise The Council for not taking its narrative in the direction that I wanted, however I do feel that what started as a multifaceted adventure with a great deal of possibility has now been rather reduced in scope. Narrative adventure games most certainly aren’t dead and studios like Big Bad Wolf are hardly standing still as they provide new iterations on established formulas. It is just a little unfortunate that the story that has unfolded is so conventional given the fascinating premise. I’m certainly looking forward to the final episode, perhaps there are more twists to come that will re-frame the narrative once again and provide a more expansive conclusion.

Pros
+ Fascinating dialogue
+ The setting is still superb
+ Excellent set up for the final episode

Cons
- Technical problems still an issue
- Historical figures go to waste
- Introduction of new systems undermines existing structure

Score: 6/10

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