The Council - Episode 5: Checkmate Review

December 13, 2018
Also on: PC, Xbox One

This review contains BIG SPOILERS for the previous four episodes. The reviews for all other episodes can be found here:

Episode 1 - The Mad Ones / Episode 2 - Hide and Seek / Episode 3 - Ripples / Episode 4 - Burning Bridges

If you’ve stuck around with The Council thus far, it’s likely you’re willing to see it through to the bitter end and overlook the shark jump of episode four. Some may call it masochism to put yourself through yet more awful dialogue, stilted character animations, bug-ridden gameplay and a plot which is simultaneously ludicrous and deathly dull. But given the entire premise of the story shifted to a supernatural bent last time, I was oddly fascinated to see what kind of dog’s dinner this conclusion ended up serving.

It's a who's who of underdeveloped characters.

As Louis de Richet, in possession of one or two hands depending on episode three, you would have decided last time to take the side of either the scheming Lord Mortimer (who turned out to be his father) or the equally scheming and hideous Sir Holm (who turned out to be his uncle). They are both demons, determined to get one over on the big bad boss of demons — presumably Satan, but he isn’t name-checked — for reasons that are never revealed. Oh, and you’re a demon too. Also, it seems that all demons are related and Elizabeth, or her twin sister Emily depending on who you saved, is also a demon. And since you possibly slept with one of them, this makes for a worrying family tree. If you’re lost, don’t worry, you’re unlikely to be alone. The main plot involves something to do with who gets to own Louisiana. I’m not entirely sure why this turned out to be the focal point of the entire story after all of the early machinations and a celebrity line-up of powerful historical figures, but since Godoy, Washington and Napoleon are relegated to mere bit-part players you have to make do with what’s left, however obscure the incentive for your motivations.

The mind-reading ability granted last episode is forgotten about here. It exists, but no reference is made to it.

Firstly though, you have to tolerate yet more walking around Mortimer’s mansion to speak to people aligned with the opposite side to you, to try and convince them to switch over. Sometimes this is as simple as chatting to them; in other conversations you’ll initiate a verbal Confrontation battle with limited chances to succeed. At this point in the game a challenge like this is unlikely to prove troublesome given the amount of consumables and skill points you’ll have acquired to bludgeon your way through the dialogue choices. And still at key points — and this is the final episode, don’t forget — Checkmate does its best to lose you. At a critical juncture when it came time to cast my vote early on, I selected Mortimer. Yet the game decided that I had sided with Sir Holm. Why? I have no idea. Mortimer’s visage was in focus. I’d chosen that option. But my choice counted for naught.

Put the people in order. Why? Who knows.

The issues didn’t end there. In what is possibly the most obscure puzzle yet, you’re required to line up various members of the council in order of their “affinity” to each other. The reason for doing so is not explained in any way, and even the clues you’re given amount to each character vaguely stating that they don’t trust anyone, or they need to be next to a specific person. It’s essentially the fox-chicken-grain game, but with eight characters and no boat. But here’s the kicker: on my playthrough one of the characters — von Wöllner — didn’t have anything to say. I couldn’t select him, so I assumed, wrongly, that he needed to stay where he was. Even ten minutes later after I thought I’d arranged the rest of the characters in the right order, I had no idea where von Wöllner needed to go. It was only after consulting the ever-knowledgeable internet that I found out that it was a bug. Von Wöllner did have dialogue. The game just wasn’t letting me activate it. So not only did I have to twist my brain into knots trying to fathom the answer to a puzzle which made no sense, I was hamstrung from the start by a bug.

"'Cos this is Thriller, Thriller night..."

This sums up The Council perfectly. When you do things wrong it’s a 50/50 chance that it was the game forcing you down an incorrect path, and when you manage to get things right you’re unlikely to understand why or how you did so. The saving grace of the episode is that it is over quickly. It clocks in at around an hour, and probably less if you’re fortunate enough to avoid any in-game issues. The denouement is so rushed you can almost hear the sound of the team at Big Bad Wolf packing up their things and heading off to something else, anything else, post-haste. For reference, tacking a few paragraphs of expository text onto the end of an unsatisfying ending does not improve it. But even the game’s brevity can’t save you from the abysmal script coupled with tonal inconsistencies where characters talk over each other disregarding whatever emotion the other is projecting. Anachronisms pepper the dialogue and dead characters are resurrected for no other reason than because, and at one point a character genuinely says “I want to make you an offer you can’t refuse.”

Well, here’s an offer which you definitely can refuse: Play The Council.

A rushed, muddled, bug-ridden mess of a point-and-click. The Council dropped off a cliff in its penultimate episode and ends with a limp, unsatisfying thud in its finale.

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Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.