WARNING: Episode 1 spoilers inbound. Do not read without finishing episode 1.
The Council: Hide and Seek marks a shift in priorities. Whereas The Mad Ones centered mostly around conversations, Hide and Seek‘s 2-3 hour playtime primarily consists of puzzle solving. It’s more cerebral and mechanically involving, but far less replayable and enjoyable due to its rigid nature. Once you’ve encountered every puzzle’s solution, subsequent playthroughs feel more like appetizers for episode 3 than substantial experiences.
Do you like puzzles?
With three major puzzles, The Council: Hide and Seek certainly shows how high strung the development studio’s creativity can be. Each puzzle, rooted in religion, mythology, or historical European politics, is technically well-crafted. The level of information thrust at the player further reinforces Big Bad Wolf’s attention to detail. Players with little knowledge of the presented material will struggle more than those that know their stuff. They’ll have a leg-up in character progression.
Two of the three major puzzles imbue positive or negative character traits depending on how few attempts are made before reaching the solution. Puzzles require a higher level of scrutiny than anything The Mad Ones offered. Unfortunately, because puzzles are this episode’s bread and butter, additional playthroughs are inherently less exciting.
Conversations, one of the first episode’s most compelling elements, take a backseat to these borderline obtuse puzzles. Due to Hide and Seek‘s sleuthing nature, the different class’ abilities take on a passive role. Rarely do Louis’ skills open up narrative-branching opportunities. Rather, they exist to provide additional information about miscellaneous items strewn about the environments. With the Linguistics skill, Louis can examine strange writings on a piece of Obsidian. With the Occultism skill, Louis can perform a Tarot card reading. They’re neat world-building nuggets of information, but pale next to the last episode’s use-cases.
Did Episode 1 Matter?
My first save file saw Louis finally greeted by Lord Mortimer after sleeping with Emily the night before. The second save file ended with Louis drugged up by Elizabeth in her room. Does Hide and Seek meaningfully follow through on both endings? Without delving too deeply into spoiler territory, this episode’s opening is radically altered depending on The Mad Ones‘ ending.
The first save file involved lord Mortimer entrusting Louis with a detective’s role after one of his guests has been found dead. The following segment grants players access to every guest’s room. Louis can rummage through their spaces for clues and question every suspect before arriving at a conclusion for Mortimer. The investigation outshines everything past that, as it contains the core essence of what makes The Council a charming and compelling adventure story. Its mix of environmental storytelling and conversations struck the same balance that made The Mad Ones such a glorious dumpster fire.
My Second Save File
My second save file removed the investigation entirely. Louis found himself as one of the prime suspects of that same character’s disappearance. After succeeding in the confrontation and clearing my name, the rest of the core experience except the ending remained largely the same. As expected after The Mad Ones‘ conclusion, Hide and Seek also ends on two different notes for both of my playthroughs, indicating The Council‘s commitment to a personal narrative.
It’s a shame, then, that the heavily reliant puzzle-solving nature offers few opportunities for the story to continue to diverge. Contextually, following Sarah’s paper-trail makes perfect sense. Episode 2 is the slow rising action, leading up to what feels like it may end up being a chunky and climactic third episode. Episode 3’s actual direction remains to be seen, but Hide and Seek is an inoffensive stepping stone toward a larger narrative revelation.
Remember The Council’s Tech?
The Council‘s well-documented technical issues hit a new low this time around. At one point during my playthrough, I walked through a locked door and ran around a void of endless white. After passing through that door, the game’s clipping stopped functioning properly. I could walk through every single wall and solid object on the second floor. Not a single thing stopped Louis until I interacted with a staircase to the first floor. After the loading screen, solid objects actually halted Louis’ movement. Imagine that. The framerate is still a mess with no updates doing anything for the game’s performance. It still feels like a Windows ’95 slideshow.
The Council: Hide and Seek is a middle of the road follow up to an ambitious first act. It still has heart, but falters after episode 1’s intriguing start. The opening differs greatly depending on the last episode’s ending. An hour-long chunk missing entirely based on player actions is noteworthy, though few opportunities exist to engage with characters and directly impact more significant plot threads within this episode. Hide and Seek‘s central puzzle solving focus is its greatest weakness. It prevents future playthroughs from feeling as exciting as the first episode. With that said, the two endings I arrived at were different enough to leave me hopeful for Episode 3.