The Council - Episode 3: Ripples
There are some game genres where repetition is key to their success. They rely on positive reinforcement, promoting that “one more go” mentality where synapses are firing and endorphins are rushing through your blood. You simply can’t get enough of doing the same thing, over and over, with an ever-so-slightly different outcome. They may be brawlers, first-person shooters, or even family co-op games like the wonderful Overcooked! 2. They carve out a niche, employ clever methods of keeping you hooked, and rip through your free time like a deftly wielded flail through a flimsy crate. Where repetition doesn’t belong is in a point-and-click.
If you come into the third episode of a five-part story and you’re still traipsing around the same location, talking to the same people and collecting identical items, you may start to wonder what you’ve signed up to. This is the issue facing The Council, which has been chugging along with a muddled story of a conspiracy involving famous historical figures for a few months now, but has reached the halfway mark and a point where you’d expect at least some of the pieces to fall into place. Or if not, at least offer something different to look at while you try to work out what the hell is going on.
In Ripples, Louis de Richet, aristocrat detective and son of a one-armed mother, continues to be a grating lead in a story that earnestly strives for importance. His sub-par voice acting is just one aspect in a series which is burying its potential under a swathe of problems, not just technical in nature. At the forefront is the story, teased for the previous five hours as a world-changing decision which needed the aforementioned historical cabal to assemble and decide upon, and which ultimately proves to be even more disappointing than the most cynical gamer might imagine. Lord Mortimer, host of the mansion that Louis — and you — will have gotten to know very well at this point, is a bureaucrat. His scheming, while potentially interesting if there was any relatable context for it, feels like the machinations of a backbench member of parliament rather than someone in charge of an 18th century new world order.
Confrontations between Louis and some of the other guests make a more robust return than previously, and the minigame-style questioning which relies on you eking out the strengths and weaknesses of your verbal sparring partner continues to be a highlight. Conversely, the RPG mechanics which proved to be such a fresh take on the genre when they were originally introduced now feel stale. You continue to use the skills you upgrade as you progress and expend Effort points to help you unlock different conversation choices, but they are almost always negated by the huge number of restorative items dotted around. It’s not a tough decision to use Effort unlocking a favourable line of dialogue when you know you’ll be able to restore those spent points five minutes later by collecting yet another jar of royal jelly. The proliferation of these collectibles spoils an otherwise interesting risk/reward system.
Even more disappointing is the reuse of locales, especially given how much time you’ll spend walking around them. At times it feels almost claustrophobic, a nightmare where you’re trapped in a house, unable to leave the grounds and forced to traipse backwards and forwards through similar-looking bedrooms, interacting with expressionless character models with awful lip sync and pedestrian dialogue. If you’re unfortunate enough to watch two of them “kiss”, you may think you’re playing on a PS3 rather than a console from this generation. The musical cues are also reused, but glitches in both visuals and sound are more prevalent this time around. From dropped frames to weird buzzing as dialogue skips between characters, it appears as though the production values have taken a hammering in order to get the release out of the door — and the addition of only a single new area would seem to back that theory up.
What frustrates most is the squandered potential, since there are a few interesting moments in Ripples. A couple of the supporting characters provide moments of genuine intrigue, although the labyrinthine plot scattered across letters found in the mansion makes digesting their motives a dry, thankless task. But the biggest surprise comes at the finale, where the repercussions of Louis’ choice will surely prove to be life-changing, and with it bring a series of challenges that we are fascinated to see how Big Bad Wolf handles.
Ripples is arguably the weakest episode to date in a series that still hasn’t found its footing after almost eight hours of gameplay. The plot doesn’t excite, while the colourful cast of figures should be bringing more to the table than land disputes and familial angst. But with some solid testing and a concerted effort to expand the game into new environments and push the plot forward, The Council may finally serve up a satisfying mystery to solve.
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