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The Council (Focus Home Interactive)

Parents need to know that “The Council” is an episodic, downloadable narrative-focused adventure for Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. A tale of intrigue and manipulation set during the meeting of a secret society in 1793, this is a game of cunning and careful planning. Although social skills are rewarded and encouraged, it’s in the context of manipulating others for your own gain. The flipside of that is the game also rewards you for making sure others truly earn your trust and that you always protect yourself. There are references to and sometimes depictions of torture, poisoning, and gun violence to influence others — the violence isn’t graphic but is a consistent element of the plot. The game’s camera also seems to go out of its way to show one female character’s cleavage. Women are referred to as “sluts,” there are also references to rape, and one scene includes elements of seduction and implied sex after the camera fades to black. “S--t” and “hell” are said frequently. Finally, there are also references to consuming absinthe and holistic crystals for supernatural purposes.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In The Council, players take on the role of secret society member Louis de Richet in 1793 after his invitation to a private island off the shores of England by the enigmatic Lord Mortimer. Joining him are a number of high profile guests, including Napoleon Bonaparte and president of the newly formed United States of America, George Washington. The strange nature of this private reception goes beyond just the prestigious guests — Richet’s own mother has recently gone missing on the island, while each and every one of the colorful cast seems to have their own hidden agendas.

IS IT ANY GOOD?

There’s something infectious about the blend of mastering straight-ahead conversation against the backdrop of conspiracy theories and fictionalized Georgian era history. “The Council” is about its characters, requiring players to strategically pay attention to every encounter, making note of others vulnerabilities and immunities. There’s no real way to prepare for each exchange, since you won’t know what might come up and how you might react. All of this shines thanks to one simple, slick decision in how saving the game works: You can save the game whenever you want, but there’s no going back and trying to do things differently. This is a subtle move that reinforces an attitude you should have throughout — to make choices and commit to them.

As a game, it’s a blend of point-and-click adventure and conversation trees presented almost as fighting games. That is, “blunders” in conversation will affect your reputation not only with who you’re talking to, but those they are aligned with. The better you do, the more experience you earn, which allows you to invest skill points in areas of knowledge like politics, picking locks, or being more perceptive. It’s up to you as the player to solve issues with diplomacy, delve into occultism, and expand your historical and scientific knowledge, or play detective and see what others don’t perceive. The first episode shows a lot of promise for the next four chapters, so don’t wait to give this compelling game a spin.

RATING AND CONTENT

Recommended for ages 16 and older

Quality: 4 out of 5

Positive messages: 1 out of 5

Positive role models: 2 out of 5

Ease of play: 5 out of 5

Violence: 3 out of 5

Sex: 3 out of 5

Drinking, drugs, and smoking: 2 out of 5

Consumerism: 0 out of 5 (Are products/advertisements embedded? Is the title part of a broader marketing initiative/empire? Is the intent to sell things to kids?)

GAME DETAILS

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

Price: $29.99

Developer: Focus Home Interactive

Release date: March 13, 2018

Genre: Strategy

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