We’ve reached the end of our nine-month adventure, an adventure that started back in March this year and had us constantly awaiting the next instalment with excitement and intrigue. I don’t think I’ve ever awaited the next chapter in an episodic game as much as I did with The Council, the brilliant narrative masterpiece from Big Bad Wolf and Focus Home Interactive. Finally, we get to see how the game utilises all of our choices over the last 12-15 hours as we continue our story with The Council: Episode 5:- Checkmate.
As always, this review may contain small spoilers based on certain pathways you chose in previous episodes. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a full season review with no spoilers at all, check out my The Council: Complete Season review HERE. Also, this review will presume you’ve played previous episodes as it won’t go into the backstory and mechanics in great detail.
I’ve played through Checkmate twice so far, with a third planned once I’ve finished the review, as I have all three save slots fully occupied with different choices. In one save, my ‘YOLO’ slot, I’ve been very flippant with my actions and quite a few people have died, I lost a limb, I murdered people dear to me, and I’ve decided to side with clearly the evil person who resides upon the island. My second save is my ‘let’s try and do things right’ save. This one has managed to keep all but one person alive, as the only death was a scripted one in the first chapter, and I’ve decided to side with the lesser of two evils as the one who I’ll follow.
However, this final episode is special as it contains branches within branches. Even if you’ve followed a certain path up until this point, you can try and change your path towards the end. I’m not sure if it will work or be as successful as if you’ve followed that path from the start, but it does allow people to experience at least some of the different endings, regardless of their previous choices. This is both a good and bad thing – good because it means people will be able to see new things and experience new ‘what if’ moments without replaying, and bad because people like me have been creating three distinct saves in order to specifically see new things the other people can’t.
Either way, I’ve yet to see one major end and a few branched off possible endings, so there could be more unique ones for each playstyle, I’ve just not dug that far yet. Until then, let’s see how this final encounter with our motley crew stacks up to the previous episodes…
The Butterfly Effect
I’ve been watching a lot of YouTubers jump on Until Dawn recently, a game infamous for it’s ‘butterfly effect mechanic in recent years. What is the Butterfly Effect? It’s where one action can change the course of events. For example, if you chose to retaliate at the beginning of The Council then you’re left with a scar on your face for the remainder of the game, and talking to certain people about certain things leads to new conversations and events which wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Why am I bringing this up now when I’ve not really discussed it in detail in my previous four reviews? Because Checkmate tries to accumulate all of your actions and present you with an answer or reason for the things you did throughout your journey.
Again, I’m going to avoid spoilers for Checkmate but it may reveal info about the previous episodes, you have been warned.
I thought it was pretty cool that The Council ties things up, but I wasn’t too impressed with HOW it did it. Some things annoyed me in Episode 4, the main thing was that one of my save files had Louis get his hand ripped off by incorrectly solving one of the more elaborate puzzles. This led to my character walking around, in pain, holding his arm as it drips with blood throughout the whole episode. A drastic visual impairment like that would make you think people would notice, yet only two people questioned me about it. I have similar, but not exact, issues with Checkmate.
Do your choices matter?
In Episode four, we were given a few choices and single-choice puzzles. We could write a letter whilst possessing the Priest, Pick out the one weapon which could kill the evil Demon, and we had the chance to kill quite a few people. I know for a fact that I got the Priests letter right in one save and wrong in another yet I can’t see the consequence within my playthroughs. I will say that one of them led to an unfortunate event occurring with the Priest, but I’m not sure if that’s due to the letter or due to the conversation I had with another member in Episode four. In regards to the weapon, I was told by Mortimer that my choice was wrong, even though I decided not to even try and use it in that playthrough, yet he tells you something which makes you think they are all wrong.
Then we get to the part I was most disappointed with. There are a few people you converse with throughout Checkmate who will question your actions in previous episodes – this is the ‘clean up’ section. They ask you why you did certain things, which you can reply to, or they’ll just state what you did in an “I know what you did last sum… episode” style. It’s cool because the game is showing that it remembered all of your choices and it’s now throwing in your face that you made someone kill themselves, or it was your fault that you killed the only people who actually cared about you on the island. However, that’s about the extent it goes to. It doesn’t seem to change the ending, the story, or the narrative that much, not as much as I was hoping for.
The one thing I was actually really impressed with though was the post-game “where are they now” segments. As I said, I’ve completed the game twice, sided with different people and one save was a massacre whereas the other was almost perfect. However, the “where are they” segments were all different, bar one person. So, even though the same people left the island in both playthroughs (well, some were the same, the others were dead in one of them), the actions the people took next, upon returning home, were different to the last playthrough. I thought that was really well done and it’s making me wonder what else I can uncover if I change the crucial choice I made to the third option and see what happens instead.
There are two things that confused and got to me over the course of the whole series, and nothing was done to correct this or adjust accordingly.
1. Golden Collectable Coins
Louis can find coins as he wanders the mansion and its grounds. However, collecting these doesn’t increase your stats, you don’t unlock new abilities there is nothing to spend them on, and they seem to serve no purpose. It’s as if they were put in there to be used later in the game or unlock a certain trophy, yet neither action was present within the game yet the coins remained in there to collect. I am going to reach out to the developer to see if we can find out what their intention was for these.
This is a pet hate of mine and it has been since I realised the devs didn’t enhance the trophy list after episode one. Basically, the trophy list as it stands is a detailed list of things to do in episode one followed by a few ‘target’ trophies like hitting level 15, and then one for completing each chapter. As such, episodes two – five have no episode-specific trophies, so replayability is there for your own entertainment and not for obtaining new rewards. This both annoyed and upset me in every review I did. The developers should have released a ‘DLC Trophy’ update of 4-5 trophies when an episode came out, adding in new episode-specific trophies – as I imagine there is none to avoid early spoilers. But, they never did and after the rather thorough and entertaining trophies within the first episode, we were left with a dull and boring list for all future episodes.
I’m probably part of the minority with the trophy complaint, but when the developers come back with their next narrative adventure (as I imagine they will after this amazing story), I hope they take this into consideration and introduce more meaningful trophies, even if they are ‘DLC’ trophies.
If you’ve been with me and read my previous reviews from the last four episodes, you’ll know that I’ve had an issue with the technical side of the game since episode two. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear Big Bad Wolf have seen my comments, or they haven’t had the time to implement fixes due to them sticking to a very strict two-month release schedule. I really want them to now spend the time fixing everything which has annoyed people over the last nine months. For example, poor lipsyncing, talking with no mouth movements, Louis going crosseyed in certain situations (which is hilarious), the wrong subtitles being shown as characters speak, and the camera defaulting to staring at the ceiling upon entering a new room. Episode one was fine, two introduced the issues and they only got worse. However, Checkmate doesn’t have as many issues as the previous episodes, but the camera constantly looking up and the non-moving mouths are a bit annoying.
That being said, I do really like the art style which was used throughout the series as well as the overall design of the various rooms and interiors. I love old-fashioned buildings, especially when used in a mystery-based event as I love my Poirot and old-school adventure games. Everything just looked perfect and exactly how I would have imagined within this creepy manor on its own little island. Come to think of it, it’s a very similar setting to The Invisible Hours, only that was a murder mystery and not an Occult Mystery – that’s more like the setting in Call of Cthulhu. I’ve seen people say the graphical fidelity looks like that of a PS3 era game, which is the usual go-to statement if it’s something that’s not ultra-realistic these days, but I thought it was really well textured. There is a lot of shimmers though as the game doesn’t seem to have any AA and no PS4 Pro support from what I can tell. Either way, it still runs great on all systems.
Voices wise, other than the occasional voice which doesn’t match the subtitles, the quality is still high up there with the best of them. I did, however, get quite excited as I thought we had Bill Nighy as a special voice appearance in this episode, but it turns out to be another talented voice actor instead. Although, he does sound a lot like Bill Nighy. I do have two small complaints about the voices. In one pathway, one of the characters continues to call Louis, Lewis. He evens asked Louis if he can call him Lewis and he says yes. I’m not sure if that’s intentional or if the voice actor didn’t realise how Louis is pronounced. The second issue is Louis’ voice change if you side with the Bill Nighy guy. The voice actor for Louis changes his tone and pitch and it sounds very silly and almost forced so much that it becomes off-putting.
Personally, I liked this episode much more than the last few. There were a few puzzles that had me thinking and opted for you to think logically in order to solve them. I also found that having the chance to talk to all the characters one last time, both living and dead, was a neat touch and one which allows you to finally define what type of person you are based upon the responses you give. I liked how every little thing you did in the previous episodes seemed to roll into their subsequent episodes with some of the actions making a difference to the overall gameplay. Did I feel it was a fitting end to this amazing story? Yes and no. I feel we were given a by-the-numbers ending to the game based on one pathway, another one gave me more satisfaction and a sense of ‘completion’ upon escaping the island, and I imagine the third will leave me with other feelings.
However, I feel there are a few missing cutscenes. The post-game “where are they now” segments, which change based on who’s alive, what actions you took, and who you sided with, were all great, but I was left wanting more. I wanted to see what became of Louis (something omitted in my completions for some reason) and maybe a cliffhanger or exposition on what could be coming next from this franchise? I really hope this is the start of a new series involving the Golden Order and their excursions as they try and retrieve the stolen and hidden artifacts around the world. Big Bad Wolf has created a great foundation that has drawn in a lot of people with its brilliant narrative and intriguing puzzles. We need to see more going forward, only with more polish around its core engine and a better set of trophies!
Official Season (The SquareXO score is actually ours):
The Council: Episode 5:- Checkmate has returned back to the outstanding quality of the first episode. I feel the game was nicely brought to an end via the various pathways you can go down, each resulting in a similar yet different final conclusion. All of your actions up until this point will be brought to your attention and you’ll be made aware that the game has been watching what you’ve been doing, but the situation won’t change as much as you may hope it would. Regardless, I feel a lot of info and exposition was placed within this episode, as the last episode rushed in some new mechanics to prepare you, and overall it felt like a satisfying end to a nine-month journey.
Was this episode perfect? No, it still displays the same technical flaws of previous episodes, but by now I’m used to them and they didn’t impact my enjoyment as much as they had done previously. If you’ve played the other episodes, you’re obviously going to buy this. If you’re new to the game – why are you reading this review! Check out my review on The Council: Complete Series HERE and pick up this game today!
The Council - Episode 5: Checkmate£5.79
- - A return to the quality of the first episode
- - A satisfying end to an amazing nine-month journey (depending on your pathway)
- - Fewer issues than previous episodes
- - Logic puzzles and ones which require you to think rather than guess
- - An interesting way to bring up all your previous actions and events
- - The same issues which were present in episode two onwards are still here
- - Louis' voice is rather comical if you go down a certain path
- - One of the characters calls Louis Lewis, and Louis says it's correct, when it isn't
- - It feels like there is a missing cutscene or further exposition at the end as I'd liked to know a bit more about what happened next
- - Trophies are the same boring 'complete chapter X, Y and Z'