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Big Bad Wolf lays solid foundation for new ‘Council’ series with ‘Mad Ones’

The Council’s “Episode 1: The Mad Ones” plunges players into a tale of intrigue and manipulation in the style of a classic murder mystery, where a cast of characters hide their own dark secrets.

BIG BAD WOLF

By CHARLES SINGLETARY | Shacknews.com | Published: April 27, 2018

Despite technical flaws, the Telltale formula has propelled the studio to the upper echelons of gaming, leading more developers to leap into the episodic adventure pond following their games’ success. Big Bad Wolf, a French indie developer, is the latest to step up to the plate and is doing so with a secret society-centered mystery adventure set in the 1700s.

The Council’s “Episode 1: The Mad Ones” introduces us to a colorful cast in grand fashion. Our protagonist, Lou-is de Richet, is invited to the home of Lord Mortimer. Louis is a member of a secret society alongside his mother, who has gone missing at the home of Lord Mortimer. Mortimer occasionally welcomes esteemed guests to his home and, while Louis has an agenda of his own when accepting his invitation, it seems everyone else there has a mystery of their own.

I’ll end discussion of the story by expressing that, while a murder isn’t seen explicitly in the first episode, it feels like there’s certainly murder that you don’t want to acknowledge lingering in the air. There’s a whole lot of mystery in Lord Mortimer’s home, and it’s the foundation of the game’s charm. Now, on to the gameplay experience and why The Council gets me excited for future episodic experiences.

The Council’s rhythm adheres to the adventure genre’s basics, progressing similarly to Telltale’s many experi-ences, or “Life Is Strange.” There are short cutscenes and conversations that lead into free exploration of an envi-ronment, imploring me to investigate their surroundings thoroughly. Also, like the other titles, there are dramatic moments that usher the story along and typically result in a major choice I needed to make.

The biggest key to The Council’s improvement on the episodic adventure formula is the embrace of RPG ele-ments and the willingness to communicate what things I was missing out on in conversations and encounters. I started the episode by choosing whether Louis specializes as a diplomat, occultist or detective. This choice deter-mines starting skills, which influenced my choices in conversation and what things Louis would notice with charac-ters and the environment.

The episode is broken into sections, and I gained experience in between that allowed me to improve my skills. The skills that land under my chosen expertise were cheaper to improve, while things outside my understanding were harder to acquire. As I progressed through the episode, various prompts would appear on screen to remind me that there are some things going on that are beyond my character’s understanding. This is a rare insight into the machinations of this type of adventure game and actually inspires me to want to play through again with a different skill tree. Nearly every action you take including the interactive cinematic moments, called Confrontations, require exertion via a depleting bar of points, and there are status effects that influence this in positive and negative ways. There are items found in the environment that repair or enhance these effects, adding another layer of interaction that is sorely missing from adventure games.

Visually, “Mad Ones” can seem very stiff in some moments while feeling fluid in others. The textures and light stand out, but the animations and expressions for the characters themselves could use some improvement. Nevertheless, the art style perfectly matches the game’s 1700s setting. The more realistic style, versus Telltale’s more comic book-influenced approach for “The Walking Dead,” for instance, enhances the impact of the character’s interactions and adds to the more grotesque elements in the art design. The voice acting is adequate, as well.

Episodic games have a very special appeal to me, as they’re able to fit snugly into my busy gaming schedule without too much demand. Despite the bite-sized experiences, the stories have impact and entertain, so the evolu-tion of genre concept that Big Bad Wolf has infused into The Council excites me. The length of these episodes is no reason not to include a skill tree and progression system, actually adding even more weight to your every deci-sion.

“Episode 1” isn’t a perfect start, but it is quite a wonderful foundation to build upon.

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