The Council - Episode 4: Burning Bridges Review
This review contains BIG SPOILERS for the previous three episodes. The reviews for all other episodes can be found here:
I have honestly never played a game quite like The Council. The first episode was an engaging point-and-click with genuinely fresh ideas. The second lost much of its momentum and squandered many of the new RPG elements the series had brought to the table. The third was simply dull, right until the end where an incorrect decision could have cost Louis his arm. Big Bad Wolf wasn’t joking with the title of the penultimate chapter: almost everything you’ve learned about the game’s world and its inhabitants gets razed in Burning Bridges — and that really isn’t a good thing.
Let’s start with that decision from Ripples. I made the wrong choice and Louis ended up weighing a little less than he did previously. Yet a bit of ad hoc cauterising from mum Sarah and two tons of bandages mean he’s back on his feet in no time. What’s remarkable is that he doesn’t seem bothered about it at all. He lost a limb, but it falls to the supporting characters to express their shock and concern while Louis waves them away with his remaining hand, concerned instead with the core mystery. This reaction is frankly bizarre. Even in the 18th century where bouts of leprosy weren’t uncommon, I would still have expected to be a little more pissed off about losing one my limbs than Louis is here. The Council has often struggled with getting the tone right in its voice acting, but this is just poor writing. “Yeah, I’ve only got one arm. It’s fine. Now tell me everything you know about the Crucifixion.”
The flip side of this is characters who don’t even mention the injury at all. Yesterday, Louis had two arms. Now he has one. Is this a normal occurrence for members of the Golden Order? Or does Bonaparte think that Louis is just trying to be the centre of attention, so refuses to acknowledge it like someone with, well, a Napoleon complex? Treating the situation with the seriousness of a grazed knee makes a mockery of its importance at the end of the last episode, but even that isn’t as weird as other events in this two-hour playthrough.
Putting that aside for the moment, Burning Bridges does return to its roots somewhat for the first half. Confrontations — the game's equivalent to a boss fight — abound this time around, and they again rely on you having enough skill points to be able to brute force your way through each situation, should you not have pored over every character's motivation or recalled each dialogue snippet from the previous three chapters. And, as before, there are so many consumables lying around to restore your energy that you'll be hard-pressed to fail. The secret behind the door that Louis and his mother were willing to risk a limb for leads them to search for the Spear of Destiny (because no story mired in biblical history can seem to escape it), and just like the Grail at the end of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade there are plenty of red herrings when it comes to picking the correct one. Tracking down clues to locate the correct pointy bit is diverting for a time, but despite the game urging me to search books, look at paintings and converse with knowledgeable people, I was able to choose wisely after ten minutes of back and forth. The game admonished me at the end of the first part for not following up with every aspect of the story, instead of rewarding my efficiency.
Even then, it wasn’t enough. You see, what Burning Bridges doesn’t make explicitly clear is that you’re fighting against the clock to save someone, and every moment you spend dilly-dallying is another moment that person — the one you have no idea is in danger — could end up dead. And so it was. To further insult your effort, the second half of the game takes every decision you’ve made in the last three chapters — every moment of political manipulation, every act of subterfuge, every heroic gesture, every horrifically animated kiss — and discards them in favour of a crazy supernatural trip to WTFville, population: you.
I cannot be explicit about this plot twist, since it’s so diametrically opposed to everything revealed so far that a mere allusion to it would be a spoiler. What I will say is that the big reveal was the point that I honestly stopped caring. I’d been given the opportunity to craft Louis into a fine detective in a post-Enlightenment setting surrounded by interesting historical figures. I’d bought into the secret Illuminati-style cabal manipulating the world and I had even forgiven the ropey voice acting, horrible animations and repetitive locales. But to take all of these relatively grounded aspects of the plot and shred them for a plot twist so ludicrous, so utterly unnecessary? To spend the second half of the game ignoring several other huge twists that occur in the same episode, simply because you now have to get your head around an entire paradigm shift in the game’s narrative? It’s simply unforgivable.
If The Council had laid these cards out from the beginning and had immediately established this new framework as the base reality in Episode 1, rather than revealing it with a proud flourish like a drunk magician at a children’s party, I may have been on board. It’s an interesting concept which I’ve not seen before in a point-and-click setting. However, it comes at the expense of the hours I’d invested in the game previously up until now, battling foes with words, observing their traits and scouring their rooms. All of that is swept aside, petty politics and devious machinations ignored in favour of this new shiny thing, simply because. It leaves just a single episode to try and make sense of a plot which was already dangerously close to running off the rails. There are events which happen and choices I’ve made in Burning Bridges which may result in fundamentally different playthroughs in the final chapter. I have no idea what the conclusion will look like or if things will wrap up satisfactorily. The problem is that I don’t care, because it doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Bridges may have been burned, but so have their very foundations.
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