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Second album syndrome: The Council – Episode 2 review

We lavished the first episode of The Council with praise, a wonderfully strong first entry in a narrative adventure game that broke the mold. Unfortunately, that standard was set a bit too high to follow, and Episode 2, shorter and much less rich with intrigue, falls back on trite puzzle-solving that wouldn’t have been out of place in 2D games twenty years ago.

Hide and Seek is a filler episode if ever I’ve seen one. There are only some very brief encounters with the manor’s other guests that don’t really advance their plotlines in any meaningful way, and the powerful ending of Episode 1 is very quickly swept under the rug. This is a common danger with narrative adventures, and it’s why most characters that live due to player choice in Telltale games will eventually be killed in some unavoidable way later down the line. When a path becomes determinant, it’s harder to sustain across a longer story, but The Council doesn’t seem to make any effort at all to at least offer the illusion of our actions making a difference. For the most part, Louis will be wandering the manor alone, reading books and staring at paintings.

The characters seem much stiffer and completely wooden, a drop in animation quality mirrored by a decrease in depth.

There’s a sequence that involves deciphering a set of riddles hidden in a bible, and it’s about as much fun as actually reading the bible. The grandiose problem solving gives way to something that feels more like homework than uncovering conspiracy. Weak second episodes are common in the genre, as debuts are often as drama-packed as possible to sell season passes, but so many of the things that made this series feel so special are completely absent. Polish, nuance, and enigma were in amazing excess with Episode 1, and at its worst, this feels like a shallow imitation. This goes for the characters, too, who pretty much double down on a single trait and stick with it throughout. Louis comes across as someone who’s kind of bumbling his way through something he doesn’t really grasp. One choice sees you spying on two conspiring guests by literally standing a few feet away from them.

The closing puzzle, set in a shallow maze involving finding cracks in statues, sort of sums the whole thing up. Cracks are starting to show in the game’s core systems and it’s striving to appear deeper than it truly is. The RPG elements, allowing you to level up different abilities to solve problems in specialised ways, forces you to become a jack of all trades, meaning harder skill challenges will be inaccessible or cost too many effort points to be viable, or specialise in one area intensely which will render you completely useless in the others.  This is certainly something that could be rectified in later episodes, but it makes this one downright painful at times. More often than not one skill gives exactly the same result as another and it comes off as a thinly veiled attempt at the illusion of choice.

One of Episode 2’s successes is suddenly making this guy interesting – he was a clear-cut douchebag at the beginning but there’s clearly more to his story.

Alongside the drop in puzzle strength there’s a strange lapse in overall quality. Whereas all the conversations in the first game took place with fixed cinematic camera angles a majority of the chats you have this time will be in-game, and the lip-syncing is drastically worse. Subtitles will often leap ahead of spoken dialogue and it is rife with glaringly obvious spelling errors which may seem like a minor bone to pick but after a while they really start to stack up and it feels low effort – which is something the stellar first episode never had. Louis’ voice actor even regularly muddles words up which leaves the return to Mortimer’s manor with a distinct “Eh, this’ll do” feel. It seems as though so much time and attention was spent on getting the first instalment right that they’re now rushing the follow-up.

Despite the sour taste Episode 2 left in my mouth I’m sure that Big Bad Wolf have the potential to recover from the rocky middle. If they deliver an Episode 3 as marred by issues as this one, the series may well be dead in the water. This could either be a boring but necessary link between two huge segments or a portent of doom. I left The Mad Ones desperate for more, but Hide and Seek has cast some serious aspersions on what genuinely had the foundations of a GOTY. I’ll be waiting with everything I can possibly cross for the next episode. Even The Council’s incredibly strong start won’t redeem it if future instalments are as mundane and forgettable as this was. If you’re still unsure on picking the game up, I’d say hold fire for now and wait to see if the pace picks back up again. It’s either going to be special or completely unremarkable.

THE TL;DR:

  • They set the stage for something incredible but it certainly doesn’t pay off here. Your choices in Episode 1 don’t matter.
  • The general quality of the game has dropped and text is rife with blatant spelling errors – together with some clumsy, uninspired puzzles this makes the game feel incredibly rushed.
  • Louis has become a simpleton. There are a lot of story threads made obvious to you that he’s unable to put together.
  • Encounters with other characters are brief and aside from one moment nothing really moves forward in the entire episode.

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