Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

The Council Episode 2: Hide and Seek Review

leave a comment »

If you have not read our review of Episode 1, it’s highly recommended as it’s not only referenced, but we do not discuss many of the mechanics present in both episodes.  This was to prevent redundant comments and move directly into the changes in Episode 2.  This review contains no spoilers from either episode.

It has been nearly two months since the premiere of The Council, which has now returned in its second episode Hide and Seek.  In my previous review I said that I was optimistic about the future of this new interactive fiction, but sadly I have to report that this sophomoric effort has me wavering.  The initial episode bombarded you with plot, characters, and mechanics that both fascinated and daunted.  This is to be expected, it’s an introduction, but sadly this episode doesn’t even make good on some of the concepts introduced in the first.  That’s not to say the core design is absent, just that it feels like a padded experience relying far too much on the ebb and flow of your build and points than with an intriguing plot or well thought out puzzles.  I also didn’t like that this chapter leans heavily on classic adventure game mechanics, a genre I personally despise due to your need to basically read the developers mind, and was mostly absent from The Mad Ones (episode 1).  Probably my biggest concern coming into Hide and Seek is that almost none of my decisions from The Mad Ones seemed to have much of an effect.

The Council_20180512110604

In this second episode Louis is thrust right in the midst of a murder investigation. With so much secrecy surrounding Lord Mortimer, I was surprised to see he’s immediately introduced and integrated into the story.  While I find his character worthwhile, it seemed a shame that he was built up so much only to have him introduced like any other character without any particular gusto.  The first third of the episode is dedicated to questioning the remaining guests, searching their rooms (with consent this time), and investigating the crime scene.  As expected, if you’ve specced for logic and science you’ll be able to learn much more about the crime than the builds I had that focused on things like picking locks or talking your way out of situations.  On the other hand I found success either interrogating guests or working over their rooms thanks to these other skills, which further strengthens that you can’t have a perfect character who can solve it all.  After making the rounds and vaguely checking the map, I returned to Mortimer to discuss what I’d found only to have him demand to know who did it.  I didn’t have a clear answer for that but I was being asked to make a decision anyway, complete with a disclaimer that if I act carelessly there will be dire consequences.  This bogged down the whole experience because I was certain that in some corner of the second floor – you’re limited in exploration at this point – were clues or information that the developers wanted me to find.  In a chapter that was already filled with way too much dodgy writing to try and have you pick the wrong culprit or retracing your steps to find the missing link was flat out boring.  I admit I had to stop the game for the night because I just was not feeling the experience, something I never felt in the first episode.  Returning to it the next night revealed that a back room in one of the guests chambers had a few bits of information I had not looked into.  This was mostly due to the fact that each room in the second floor all look similar to one another.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I returned to Mortimer after nearly 45 minutes of endless backtracking to get more dialogue options suitable to my findings.  I don’t like adventure games, I don’t like trying to read the developers’ minds, and I definitely don’t like story based games that put most aspects of character development on pause to focus on a throw-away task.  On top of that this is a murder investigation; someone died and it appears neither Louis, nor most of the guests, nor even me as the player really cares that one of the cast has perished.  Needless to say this was the weakest part of the episode.

Once you get into the second chapter, both the plot and character development ramp up heavily.  If I were to guess, I’d probably say that the rest of this episode was planned from the beginning, but due to how short that portion was – probably about 90 minutes – the bogged down investigation portion was added to get this episode more in line with the length of the first.  Everything I really enjoyed about the first episode came back into play almost immediately.  We meet a new character of historical context, Manuel de Godoy, Prime Minister of Spain who enters enraged at the execution of French King Louis XVI.  Those who aren’t history buffs should know this is a milestone in the French Revolution and even more intriguing is the fact that Napoleon Bonaparte is also present here at Lord Mortimer’s estate.  These two men would work heavily in the years to follow this storyline to keep a fragile alliance between France and Spain.  Okay, history lesson over, but I want to add that you aren’t really told any of this, it’s just some subtle context that those who know their history can pick up on.  The main goal in the second chapter is to return to tracking down your mother and with that comes some puzzle solving.  While your build may net you some clues, there’s a large degree of searching you’ll have to do and it isn’t much fun.  In particular, having to read from several verses of the Bible was, again, boring.  I am a bit more versed with that book than some, but even I didn’t remember exactly what apostle and what verse referred to some of the events you’re tracking down.  I’m guessing most will, like me, read through each and every of the 30 or so excerpts until the answer reveals itself, which guess-and-check, not gamplay.  There is a later puzzle that uses a bit more critical thinking and I found enjoyable, which is then rewarded with another barrage of historical context.  This secondary history dump is more about the politics of the world in 1793 that I particularly find fascinating, but again if history isn’t your thing it may come off as nothing more than another clump of random information that doesn’t yet pose interest to the overall plot.

The third and final chapter in this episode is really a brief surge of exploration, a puzzle, and then a cliffhanger  If it weren’t for conversations that basically tell you where to go and what to look for, the chapter would be less than a half an hour.  This final chapter best sums up what appears to be the developers’ track for this episode, which is to move things along at a slower pace and use various mechanics to trick you into thinking this is a robust experience.  There are also some notable parts of the first episode that are oddly absent.  The first being the confrontations, which I thought would be this game’s staple, but these were all but missing in this episode.  In the first episode you had a few of these and each one seemed like it had high stakes where you had to listen tentatively, putting your knowledge of the other individual to the test.  There’s only one this time and while the stakes are high – if you fail even one of the four questions you lose the whole confrontation – having enough points and helpful items made for an easy victory.  All of the novelty of this type of interaction are lost this time around to the point that you wonder if it was given any care at all.  There were also quick moments in the first episode where you had to react by noticing something on a person that would reveal something about them.  It was basically a “click on the white circle when Louie focuses on a person” mechanic that, while rather basic, served a purpose of keeping you engaged in any discussion.  Those are gone completely, forgotten for another game, and wouldn’t be so noticeable were it not yet another thing to keep me from paying attention.  Finally the plot being an underlying theme and not really the focus of any of the events or conversations in this episode made the whole thing seem sluggish and without proper pacing.  When you put it all together, you’ve got a plot-heavy game that is lacking in both events and character development, which strikes me as a failure.

The Council looked to offer the next step in interactive storytelling, somewhat merging a period piece movie with a role-playing game.  As an avid fan of the Full Motion Video (FMV) titles from 90s CD-ROM consoles, this piqued my interest and I was impressed with how well it did at making the gameplay elements fun.  Sure, the aesthetics and character performances lacked at times, but overall the experience was enticing.  Much of that strong foundation from the first episode is washed away for what seems like an experience that’s part lazy storytelling and part side story.  If this is possible, this episode seems to move the whole project closer to the Telltale formula I so eagerly wanted to escape.  Not everyone was impressed with the first episode, some even saying it was nothing special, and I have a hard time seeing any of those players sticking with this episode out until the end.  Fora game that should be trying to encourage you to keep going, it’s a misstep, and hopefully not one large enough to dissuade too many.  In almost every game of this type the second episode fails to deliver the strength of the first, which is probably equal parts the nature of a follow-up and the deadline put on a production like this.  Developer Big Bad Wolf better up its game when it releases the third episode because this direction will not keep me around beyond that.

Final Score: 2 out of 5

A review code was provided by the publisher for this review.  Hide and Seek is available today for season pass holders and later as an individual episode.  It took approximately 2 1/2 hours to complete, with a total play time of about 4 hours for both playthroughs.  The Council can be found on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Steam for $29.99 as a complete season package.  On consoles only, individual episodes can be found for $6.99 apiece a week after it releases to season pass holders.

 

Written by Fred Rojas

May 15, 2018 at 11:00 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: