The Council Episode 4 - Burning Bridges

"...The Council certainly keeps you guessing."

If there's anything that developer Big Bad Wolf has proven with its genre-bending narrative adventure The Council, it's that this series is not shy about shaking things up. Perhaps it shouldn't have been surprising, then, when they threw a narrative curveball at players with explosive revelations that turned The Council's plot on its ear during the series' third episode. In terms of twists and turns, they definitely didn't take their foot off of the pedal with The Council's penultimate episode, Burning Bridges.

As I noted in my review of Episode Three, The Council requires a healthy suspension of disbelief to achieve maximum enjoyment. That's obviously true for many works of fiction, but it applies to The Council especially because of how thoroughly entwined actual world history is with its plot. Episode Three disrupted the assumptions I had for the story's eventual trajectory, but once I adjusted those expectations, I was able embrace the craziness that The Council threw my way. I'm not so sure I feel the same way after completing Burning Bridges.

There's no way to thoroughly opine on the story's twists without significant spoilers, but after playing through the series' latest installment, it's clear that it's quickly descending into a convoluted mess. That's not to say that the overarching plot isn't itself intriguing. Indeed, the implicit and explicit scrutiny of mankind's ability to govern itself ties in nicely with the series' recently-changed direction. At the individual character level, however, relationship revelations threaten to devolve the narrative into daytime soap opera inanity.

The Council's gameplay continues to be engaging, and confrontations are as intense and fun as ever. The introduction of a new player ability manages to add an interesting wrinkle to the Social Influence system and find renewed purpose for an item I rarely used. I've previously noted that the skill-based RPG elements that make The Council stand out have all but lost their purpose, and at this point Louis has become the RPG equivalent of overpowered. Big Bad Wolf's counter to this, at least in some instances, appears to be an inexplicably absurd increase in the Effort Points required for some dialogue options. That's not a tenable solution for a game with a lot of time left on the clock, but The Council can get away with a shortcut vice re-balancing because it has just a single episode remaining.

There's not much to note in terms of music and visual updates, as The Council remains a great-looking game plagued by unsettlingly creepy character models. Players are finally treated to a new area to explore, though I wish the developers leveraged its visual scale to do more gameplay-wise. The music is still pleasant, but there were instances where I questioned specific track choices because they didn't quite fit the drama and intensity of the scene. Voice acting continues to be uneven.

This series also continues to display odd bugs and glitches that, while not game-breaking, are noticeable nonetheless. Scattered typos, subtitles not matching spoken dialogue, and instances of character mouths not moving during speech rear their head sporadically. I did experience a few points where the aforementioned new ability did not behave as it should have, but I'm unsure if this was a glitch with the ability or an issue with choice mappings. There's also still no option to skip dialogue, which I'll continue to contend is a vital quality of life option for any game that encourages multiple playthroughs.

Four episodes are generally enough to make a quality judgment on an episodic adventure game, and The Council has firmly established its identity in ways both good and bad. It's nothing if not unapologetically unpredictable, and it's unclear how Big Bad Wolf is going to leverage the series' latest revelations and player choices in its finale. For all of its warts, The Council certainly keeps you guessing.

This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.

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