A President, a Cardinal, and a Soldier walk into a bar…

The Council, Episode One: The Mad Ones by Big Bad Wolf [PC, PS4, XBOX One]

[NB:  This article contains significant story spoilers for the first episode of the video game The Council by Big Bad Wolf]

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What if John Adams had a secret, occult daughter with a period inappropriate haircut?

This is one of the central plot points of the first episode Big Bad Wolf’s historical episodic video game The Council. Set in 1793 the player takes control of a twenty-something blank slate with a cool jacket, named Louis de Richet. Louis is seeking to uncover a mystery relating to Sarah, his ice queen secret agent mother. Invited to a “private island” off the English coast by Lord Mortimer, a British aristo whose aesthetic is a Regency Bond villain mixed with Eyes Wide Shut, Louis is works to uncover why Sarah vanished from one of Mortimer’s smashing shindigs. Mortimer’s shtick, you see, is hosting gatherings of the best and brightest of the late eighteenth century Euro-American world. Once Louis arrives at Mortimer’s latest fete that you discover just how vast The Council’s world is, for guess who is waiting for you by the fire?

None other than George Washington, a historical figure who our readers are likely quite familiar with.

Washington is, apparently, a key member of the Golden Order a Mason-MI-6 hybrid headed by (whom else?) your mother.  This is where The Council departs from many other video games which use history as a set piece for their story. In most games a figure like Washington would play a bit role, a cameo at best—like that time Barack Obama appeared in a Spider-Man comic. The Council, however, commits to the absurd notion that Washington could, while serving as the first US President, travel to a cool party off the coast of England. The Father of His Country plays a central role in the middle section of the game’s first chapter. The hook is a chance encounter between Washington, Louis, and another one of Mortimer’s international eighteenth century occult-Justice League—a young woman with striking white hair, a Frankenstein-esque scar, and the last name Adams.

Through a series misadventures Washington and Louis can uncover that young lady Adams is none other than Elizabeth Adams, the supposedly still-born daughter of John and Abigail Adams. Elizabeth, you awkwardly uncover, is cursed in some vaguely Lovecraftian way and has a terrible Josef Mengele- esque relationship with your mother. Surprise surprise, your mother secretly helped raise Elizabeth at the John Adam’s request. Poor Elizabeth’s fate is a through line that makes up an important part of the second half of The Council’s first episode. As the story progresses Elizabeth and Washington are joined by a variety of other historical characters such as Manuel Godoy and, of course, Napoleon.

It is Elizabeth Adams’s appearance as an early republic manic pixie dream girl, however, that made me want to write The Council up here on The Junto. It is too absurd a historical twist for early American historians to not experience it.

Mechanically speaking The Council is a very strong game. It is a “narrative adventure,” a genre popularized by Telltale Games’s massive popular adaptation of The Walking Dead.  Traveling the world as Louis de Richet you chat up various non-player characters, such as Washington and Napoleon, to try and whittle out of them secrets about your mother. Every once and awhile you solve puzzles, either through dialogue or by manipulating the game’s environment.  Big Bad Wolf’s twist on the genre is that you can invest in various “skills” for your version of Louis. These skills—such as “Politics” or “Psychology”—unlock different dialogue options, give you differing ways of solving puzzles, and allow some variation on how you accomplish the game’s tasks. Taken all together The Council is one of the strongest narrative adventures on the market.

What makes game interesting to The Junto’s readership, however, is the way it uses and abuses history. The fictionalized mansion of Lord Mortimer is filled with beautiful recreations late eighteenth century art, which gives the game’s environments a very lush feel.  Wandering around as Louis and examining the paintings is a joy in and of itself. The Council also strikes the right balance between deploying historical characters and events in the story Big Bad Wolf wants to tell and being overly loyal history as it happened. By taking an absurdist approach of the late eighteenth century—this a game where your character can get in a fist fight with a member of the French Revolutionary Tribunal—a historian-gamer should be able to roll with the inaccuracies and inappropriate period dresses and haircuts rather than cursing them.  Too many works of historical fiction strike the opposite tack, which ends up calling even more attention to errors and deviations from the historical source material. Big Bad Wolf leans into historical absurdity and The Council is better off for it.

I would heartily recommend The Council to any historian with a taste for the absurd whose looking for a fun way to spend a couple of hours. As an “episodic game,” only the first episode is currently available but four future installments are planned which will release throughout 2018.

I know I’ll be playing the future episodes, if only for an opportunity to possibly punch Napoleon.

Engage

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