The Council - Episode 2: Hide and Seek Review
This review may contain SPOILERS for the previous episode. The reviews for all other episodes can be found here:
It takes a formidable effort to sustain an episodic point-and-click over five chapters, as Telltale has discovered to its cost in recent years. But with Big Bad Wolf providing a fresh take on the genre, the first episode of The Council mostly succeeded in creating an intriguing new world which pulled historical figures into a shady cabal, while incorporating RPG elements into its gameplay. The second instalment entitled Hide and Seek, however, undoes a lot of the groundwork set by its predecessor, resulting in a far less satisfying experience.
Following the events of The Mad Ones, Louis de Richet is on the hunt for his missing mother. However, depending on your previous choices you may either first be given a murder to solve, or a seemingly unending conversation which culminates in a similar situation. Neither outcome is fun, but the former sees you doing your best Poirot impression up and down marble hallways, clicking on any hotspots and gathering clues. It is a painfully slow endeavour, since each of the guest rooms you need to hop between are miles apart and Louis’ jogging would make a sloth look brisk. Loading times, which were bearable previously, are intolerable here.
Even after quizzing everyone and partaking in the back and forth saunter, you may still struggle to put the pieces together. Part of this is down to the traits and skills acquired (or not) from the last episode; there are far more dialogue options gated off by specific skills this time around, which makes doing detective work much more difficult than it should be. Consumables, of which there are umpteen dotted about, can assist — but only the Carmelite Water, which unlocks one option for free, is of any use. In short, if you haven’t picked the right options for Louis, you will have a hard time pinpointing a culprit.
However, this isn’t the biggest disappointment with Hide and Seek. The crux of the episode’s problem is centred mostly on what isn’t here. Confrontations, which served as lively back-and-forth battles of wits between Louis and other guests at the manor, have been all but expunged. The snappy tête-à-têtes were the highlight of The Mad Ones and helped distinguish the game from its mediocre genre rivals. Instead we’re treated to dull conversations which reveal very little about the overarching plot, and po-faced delivery from a cast which switches to a more male-heavy focus. Two new characters make an appearance, including the mysterious Lord Mortimer whose motives remain just as mysterious by the time the credits roll. Two episodes in, it would be nice to have some idea as to why Louis and his mother are at the manor. The other new face is Godoy of Spain, whom we learn very little about.
Voice acting by all parties is passable, but the game suffers from transferring much of the intrigue to books and letters dotted about the building. Worse still, most of the puzzles are reliant on you poring over dry text for clues to unlock doors or chests. While the final head-scratcher is more tactile and feels in keeping with the first episode, there are only three parts to the chapter compared to five previously, which makes Hide and Seek’s two hour running time feel pretty stingy, especially when half of that is spent trawling empty rooms just to locate the next guest.
Technically, things have regressed too. The frame rate is shocking at times, even on a PS4 Pro, and the character models are eerie, especially when the closeness of the camera can often see you looking at the inside of Louis’ head. The loading times mentioned previously point to an unoptimised release, which is in keeping with the rushed feel of the game — ironic, given the plodding pace. The game’s music is one saving grace, adding to the sumptuous locations and general atmosphere of intrigue which just about keep you playing.
Big Bad Wolf has taken a step back with this release, and while it hasn’t completely derailed the fine introduction created by The Council’s first episode, it certainly hasn’t done anything positive. Even ignoring the technical issues and horrible pacing, it seems bizarre to have omitted most of what made the first game shine (namely, the conversational battles between Louis and other characters) in favour of a hotspot hunt and unending exposition from books and notes. While it seems unlikely that the series’ bugs will ever be properly addressed given the rapid pace of the game’s development, these may be overlooked if a more interesting story and gameplay can be delivered. On that front, The Council has a lot of work to do.