The Council started off strong with an intriguing first episode that set a mystery-fueled plot in motion. Its eccentric cast of characters were charming while its RPG elements shook up the traditional adventure game genre. Unfortunately, it’s seen a stark variation in quality between episodes. Episode 4: Burning Bridges is no exception to this worrying trend.
Muddling the Plot
Episode 3 ended with Sarah and Louis manipulating a circular contraption to access an underground cavern. Unfortunately, the seams I began to mention in the last episode continue to rear their ugly head. The Council‘s first two episodes showed a meaningful commitment to honoring player choice. That commitment started to waver a little last episode.
With Burning Bridges, Big Bad Wolf further fails to realize that ambition. Throughout the review process, I have kept two separate save files, making different decisions as the season has progressed. Episode 3‘s finale ended like this for me:
- Save File 1: Louis failed the puzzle, resulting in the severing of his right arm
- Save File 2: Louis succeeded, opening the path forward with no issues
As polar opposites, I expected consequences for my failure. The only through-line comes in the form of Mortimer making an off-hand comment about your arm, asking what Sarah got you into. Aside from this minor quip, the rest of the conversation, and the entire episode really, plays out exactly the same way.
The Silver Lining
While Ripples‘ ending impacted practically nothing, other choices players have made in past episodes do show up. The ramifications of identifying the real Emily Hillsborrow as well as whether Jacques Peru’s life was saved come to fruition. That’s all fine and dandy, but how does the core writing hold up?
Some Secrets and Some Fluff
That depends entirely on your personal narrative branch — Something I unfortunately can’t speak on outside of my own experiences. My first save file felt abrupt and unfulfilling. My second save file, while also inciting much of the same emotion, contained a few additional scenes and lines of dialogue that made me more hopeful for the season’s conclusion. That investment made the roughly hour and a half run-time somewhat worth it, leaving the first save file feeling like a missed opportunity by comparison.
This highlights the writing’s inconsistency. More than ever before, Big Bad Wolf’s narrative branches are beginning to show some semblance of a Golden Path for the player. More major deviations from said path are starting to feel weaker and weaker.
The Council Episode 4: Burning Bridges introduces a new gameplay mechanic that barely sees any use; One tied directly to a poorly telegraphed plot revelation. To say it came out of left field is an understatement. After The Council bares this new thread, its tone shifts instantly. It transforms from a kind of hokey mystery/thriller to something more serious.
This new tone doesn’t work. It betrays what made The Council so charming in the first place. Sure, it had interesting characters and gameplay elements woven into its conversations, but it also delivered on the cheese. Burning Bridges‘ second half delves a little too far into serious territory.
Where’s The QA
During my review of the third episode, I urged the studio to spend an extra two months of development time to sidestep the technical mess Ripples ended up becoming. With the team delivering on a consistent two month grace period between episodes, it’s time for them to slow down before it’s too late.
As with the last episode, lip syncing is uncharacteristically awful. The issues don’t end there. After a major story scene with Cardinal Piaggi, his character model went into a half-step toward a T-pose. His lifeless body with vacant eyes remained until later story scenes triggered his model’s disappearance.
I also failed to initially trigger the ending cutscene on my second file because I approached the character from the wrong side.
I don’t know what’s going on with Big Bad Wolf and Focus Home Interactive. They need to realize that this is a passionately driven experience with a unique framework. If the finale isn’t given the time it needs to gestate, video essayists will be detailing the downfall of The Council and its studio a decade from now.
The Council Episode 4: Burning Bridges still contains decent scenes and unintentional cheese-ball humor, but this chapter feels like a stop-gap. It comes up woefully short as a follow-up to Ripples‘ nail-biting return to form after Hide and Seek‘s puzzle-centric misstep. Its major plot thread feels randomly placed, opening up a new mechanic before the player gets the time to do anything significant with it.
Big Bad Wolf should hold out until 2019 before releasing the fifth episode. As the season’s conclusion, it needs to be tightly focused.
Disclaimer: Review code provided by publisher.
- Confrontations are still interesting
- Possibly the shortest episode to date
- Buggy as hell
- Fails to meaningfully follow on from Episode 3