Control is constantly unsettling. I always felt throughout my 15 hour or so play through that something or someone was always around the corner. Something was always watching.
Control, from Remedy Games, known for their previous titles Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break, continue their recent trend of mind bending stories, supernatural settings, and great gameplay.
In Control, you play as Jesse Faden. The game starts off by Jesse entering The Federal Bureau of Control. The FBC is basically the FBI, but for all things Supernatural. They are tasked with “controlling” anything that isn’t of this world, anything from other dimensions. Well, at least to the best of their abilities. The FBC is headquartered in what is known as the Oldest House, a supernatural place where seemingly anything is possible (more on that later).
You follow Jesse and learn why she is there, what her motivations are, and what exactly the FBC does. The main story beats are a delight. Discovering more and more about Jesse, the FBC, and other characters in the game motivated me to keep playing.
This is a Remedy game, so you can count on characters who don’t exactly reveal all of their motivations to you.
The real star of the game is the Oldest House. It’s a setting that is hard to explain. In some areas you’ll see standard office spaces, while in other areas you’ll see a long hallway surrounded by darkness, or a twisting room that defies any logic. It often feels like a maze, and you’ll be constantly looking at your map trying to find out where you are. I never got lost though, as the game is a metroidvania type, so nearly every room eventually connects together.
It’s a supernatural place, people are floating in the air, there are haunted objects abound. The house is also full of supernatural entities known as the hiss.
The hiss essentially take control of humans that were in the building. They can be your standard human who wields a weapon, levitate in the air and rain down from above, crawl on the ground and blow up when you’re close, and more. They are not the most unique enemies ever, but they fit the world and are genuinely nerve wracking to face.
The Hiss are not the only nerve wracking aspects of the setting. The Oldest House is a setting where you never feel comfortable. Remedy did a great job making you feel as though the house was watching you, judging you, and changing to test you. The house feels alive, and it feels as though it’s constantly evolving. It makes it so you’re always on your toes, and you have to be in order to survive.
I don’t want to spoil much more about it, because there is a lot of history inside. There are moments I experienced inside the house that were mind bending and genuinely some of my favorite moments I’ve had playing a game all year.
The Oldest House is a setting that feels like it was there for a long time before you set foot in it, and will be there long after you leave. It’s one of the most enjoyable worlds I’ve spent time in.
One of the reasons the house is so exciting to explore is the abundance of collectibles. There are literally hundreds of things to collect. From interesting notes you’ll find that give you more insight into The Oldest House, the FBC, and more. To legitimately terrifying short stories about the horrors of this world, to funny banter between colleagues.
You can play the game and not pick up a single note, but you’d be missing out on some of the best written content a game has produced in some time.
One of the coolest things about Control is how it mixes mind altering supernatural phenomena with everyday office life. It gives you a fascinating setting where in one room some of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen in a game are happening, and in the next room I’m reading all about financing and inter office squabbles. It really gives you the sense that in the Oldest House, the paranormal has become a part of everyday life.
There are also Remedy’s signature FMV video, where you’ll see real life actors inside the game. The videos give more context to the world and really do a good job of enriching the play space. Again, these are optional, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t stop and watch the videos every once and a while.
I also want to quickly give a shout out to the sound design and physics. The sound design is great. I played through the game using headphones and the game does a great job of using sounds to make the setting even more unsettling.
The sound effects on all of the powers, weapons, and enemies are also incredibly well done.
The physics in this game are also some of the best in the market. You can go into any room and interact with almost any object. When you run into objects they move realistically, when you pick up an object and throw it at something it all looks great. Remedy absolutely nailed the effects in Control.
There is a game to be played, and the combat is the best they’ve done since Max Payne. You are given one weapon in the game, called the service weapon. However, the weapon just happens to be supernatural. The weapon has the ability to take multiple different forms. The forms the weapon can take are that of a standard pistol, a long range rifle, an automatic pistol type weapon and more.
Jessie also has the ability to use several different powers. Fans of Quantum Break will be familiar with some of the powers, but Control expands on them. You start out with the basic ability to grab objects with your mind and throw them at enemies, and by the end of the game, you’re basically a superhero. Let’s just say you’ll be doing a lot of air traversal in the last third of the game.
The powers feel fantastic, and you have a real sense of progression. There’s a real tangible difference in how you approach battles in the beginning of the game compared to the end, and that’s all thanks to Jessie gaining more and more abilities and upgrades throughout.
There’s also an upgrade system. You have “mods” that you can pick up that allow you to give boosts to Jessie herself, as well as the service weapon. For example, one mod will give you a +20% boost to your health, while another will give you a +15% to a power or weapon.
Personally, this is the one part of the gameplay that just didn’t work for me. It didn’t detract from the game, but honestly did nothing to enhance it, and became something I just ignored. At a certain point, the game gives you so many mods, that it wasn’t necessarily fun looking at 30 different mods and comparing percentages to see what would best be suited for my character. I didn’t really notice any difference when I applied different mods, so I just stopped worrying about it.
This game isn’t perfect, and there were some serious issues that showed up during my time with the game. There’s a serious stuttering issue when you go come in or out of any menu screen, save points, or your map. The game will freeze for a second if you move after coming out of a menu screen, so I learned to just not touch my controller for a few seconds afterwards. There’s also significant frame rate dips in large battles, to what felt like single digits. I’m playing on an Xbox One X, so I can only imagine what the launch Xbox version of this game feels like
I mentioned earlier how the game felt like a maze, and how I would need to sometimes pull up a map to know where I was going. Well, there were times when I would pull up the map and the outlines of the map just wouldn’t load. So I’d have to wait minutes for the map to load so I could see where I was at.
I also experienced a near game breaking bug where it wouldn’t let me access a cleansing point, which is basically an area that “cleanses” the surrounding point. The cleaning point gets rid of the hiss in the area, while simultaneously acting as a checkpoint and upgrade station. The game wouldn’t let me access it, and I couldn’t progress through the game without it.
I eventually ended up YouTubing the name of the mission to see if anyone else had the issue, and it turns out it’s a very common problem. I had to load myself out of the area, run all the way back to the area where the checkpoint was and it finally let me access it. Luckily I had the game after launch and YouTube videos were up, or there’s a decent chance I would have been stuck and not been able to progress.
With all of that being said, I still think this game is great. It’s right up there with Alan Wake as the best game they’ve ever done. They are near masters at this point as story tellers, and are unparalleled in environmental story telling. The combat is the best they have done since Max Payne, and it feels awesome to move around the world and engage in combat.
Unfortunately the game is currently at a state where it runs very poorly. The framerate is very inconsistent, there are numerous bugs that effect the game very often, and I even experienced one near game breaking bug.
But even with the issues, it never deterred my motivation to keep playing. The story, world building, and combat all made me push through, and I can confidently say that Control is one of the best games I’ve played all year. I highly recommend getting lost in the world Remedy Games has built, as you don’t see worlds this well realized often.