The Council Episode 5: Checkmate Review

The Council has, over the previous four episodes, been a bit up and down.

Starting on a high, it introduced an interesting alternate history. Famous historical figures – George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte, among others – gathered together with the rich and wealthy for some kind of meeting. It was instantly intriguing, with a mysterious plot that was drip-fed. Who really are all these people? Why are they together? Just who is Louis, the protagonist, and his strange mother Sarah? Then a murder kept us on the edge of the seats as a cliffhanger to episode one. A murder! The occult! This is going to be good.

Or so it should have been, really. Between episodes three and four, The Council lost its way for me somewhat. Those mysterious plot threads that kept me hooked early on gave way to politics; boring discussions of handing over Spanish territories to France completely clouded what made the game so interesting. Thankfully, episode five, Checkmate, brings back to the surface The Council‘s dealings with the occult and supernatural – but I’m just not sure if it’s too little, too late.

Now it’s finished, playing The Council straight through as a full experience rather than five episodes may have a more positive effect. After all, waiting a couple of months between episodes means that events aren’t quite as fresh as they should be, and I’ve had trouble remembering some of the finer details that make the game what it is. The Council relies on character development; discovering traits about each character and finding out small tidbits of information that could be used at a later date.

Recalling these from episode to episode is nigh-on impossible, and requires considerable time trawling through the game’s menus to find everything you’ve collected. At least the information is there, but having to revisit it regularly really does nothing for the game’s immersion. And it’s a shame, because the world of The Council – its time period, its mysterious supernatural ongoings, the mansion you find yourself in – is all stellar. You want to be fully immersed in it; hell, you need to be fully immersed in it to get the most out of the game.

Towards the end of episode four, our protagonist Louis had a big revelation about who he really is. He’s got some new skills because of it – he can read people’s minds and even possess them. How you suddenly realise it’s something you can do in the course of an afternoon is beyond me, but realism isn’t something that The Council worries too much about. It’s a shame that these skills only came to light so far into the adventure. It’s even more of a shame that we’re never really given free range with them during episode five. There are a few conversations where you can exercise your ability to read minds, but it’s limited. And the only time you can possess someone is as part of a cutscene.

It feels like a massively wasted opportunity. Had Louis had more freedom to go enter into the minds of the other guests, there’d be a great deal of potential fun to be had with the game. Instead, something that should be a massive plot point is merely a “oh, by the way”, something that’s massively underutilised and under-explained.

But then, that’s a theme that runs through much of The Council, especially in chapter five. There are a lot of loose ends to tie up, but the final episode doesn’t do a great job of explaining very much. It’s one of the shortest episodes yet; I was done in around an hour and a half, and that included a bit of extraneous exploration. Supernatural revelations are given very little consideration – Louis barely bats an eyelid when he finds out about his special abilities. And on learning he’s related to some of the guests there? That’s no big revelation either. Louis barely gives it a second thought.

And yet… hang on a minute. Didn’t Louis sleep with this woman that he’s just found out is his sister in an earlier episode? Maybe he did – it depends on the choices you made, but there were definitely romantic connotations earlier on in the game. But finding out they’re related raises nothing more than, “I have a sister?” before moving on in the conversation. Come on. It’d be a bigger shock than that… surely?

But just like nothing was a shock for Louis in earlier episodes – learning he’s not who he thought he was, or that supernatural entities exist, or that he LOST HIS GODDAMN HAND – nothing phases him. He barely reacts, making him seem like a wooden, two-dimensional character. It’s meant to be a real world – it’s even got real historical people in it – but any credibility or sense of realism is completely lost by the way Louis (and occasionally other characters) fails to react to shocking and life-changing events.

Checkmate wasn’t a bad episode. It was interesting enough and well-paced enough to keep my interest for its short running time. There were some very well-delivered scenes, and it finally threw itself headfirst into the occultist themes that The Council has so far only teased. But to only fully arrive there at such a late stage in the game makes it feel almost pointless. And as such, I couldn’t feel particularly satisfied when the credits rolled. The Council had a great deal of potential, but ultimately, the final package ended up being rather disappointing.

GameSpew Our Score 6

The Council is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. We reviewed the Xbox One version.