Video games give thousands of developers a creative outlet to tell their stories, express their ideas, or even educate gamers all over the world. They truly are works of wonder, and their spectrum of creativity seems to broaden by the day. Many games do new and interesting things, and sometimes we recognize them as brilliant. Other times, they don’t quite hit the mark and they fade into obscurity. In the case of Control, the new action title from Remedy Entertainment, the creativity catches your attention and strays far off into one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever come across. Whether or not that’s a good thing, that would depend on what kind of experience you’re looking for.
Control tells the story of Jesse Faden and her search for her missing brother Dylan. Gaining a lead, she finds herself at the Federal Bureau of Control, a building dedicated to researching mysterious phenomena. Through some sudden and unfortunate circumstances, Jesse is now the Director of the FBC. Turns out that it wasn’t a good time to become the Director though, as mysterious creatures known as the Hiss have taken over the building. Using the Director’s Service Weapon, Jesse is now in charge of taking out the Hiss threat. The plot is full of strange events that are difficult to explain, but it all comes together in time.
As mentioned before, Control is a very weird game. The developers had a lot of influence from the New Weird genre of storytelling. This is when someone as an outsider discovers things beyond human understanding. A notable example of the genre would be the movie Annihilation, which brought the literary genre to life on the big screen. Control definitely succeeds in this, as Jesse reflects the player perspective of an outsider looking in. Jesse is experiencing much of these things for the first time, yet she also takes it on with no hesitation. It’s actually a little unusual how calm she seems in the face of danger, but I digress.
Control is a third-person shooter that utilizes Metroidvania elements. As players explore the bureau, they’ll uncover “Objects of Power”, regular items with supernatural properties. When Jesse comes into contact with one of these objects, she’ll be tested and come out with a new ability. Abilities have a lot of variety, from telepathically launching items to levitating in the air. As players uncover these abilities, they’ll gain access to new areas throughout the game. Some of these areas will be ones that were passed by due to not having the proper requirement. Many areas are also locked behind a locked door with a certain level of clearance.
While the Metroidvania elements do work, there are some things that could’ve improved it. With so many doors and areas to explore, it would have been nice to have them marked on the map. Speaking of the map, it’s fairly difficult to read and could’ve been a bit easier to navigate. It does seems intentional though, as Control is a maze-like game and Remedy wants it to feel that way. They really want to get in your head on a mental level, and it shows. Various moments reminded me of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, especially when Jesse would have her inner-monologues.
Throughout the game, Jesse will utilize the Director’s Service Weapon as her primary tool. As players progress, they’ll be able to upgrade the gun and transform it into various types. There’s the shotgun-like Shatter, the rapid-fire Spin, and even the powerful Pierce mode. Players can equip up to two variations of their weapon, and they can even use mods to alter their performance. There are even mods to customize Jesse’s personal loadout, improving her capabilities as well. On top of these mods, Jesse can also improve her own skills with ability points unlocked from completing missions. All this helps her take on every new Hiss creature that she comes across.
The environment itself is ever-changing, much like the Director’s Service Weapon. The player will often explore and find deformed rooms, only to find a Control Point and bring it back to a Brutalistic design. Control Points act as save points, upgrade stations, and even fast travel portals. It takes a little time to get used to the layout of the building, but once you do, you’ll navigate it with ease. Remedy does dip a bit further into the Metroidvania design by making some things accessible without the normal requirements. Some areas can be entered by completely ignoring the traditional route. Some options are less obvious, like destructible walls, which I didn’t discover till I was nearly finished with the game. The world of Control is one big puzzle, and it’s ripe for solving.
As puzzling as Control is, there are still some elements that really come off as a little out of place. Throughout the adventure, Jesse will come across plenty of characters. One such character, Ahti, is the janitor of the FBC. He has a thick accent (which makes even Jesse herself question his nationality), and he speaks in riddles. While the character itself is a great feature, his presentation isn’t what one would expect from a AAA title. It’s clearly part of the direction, so it’s hard to fault, but it will take some getting used to. Another thing that took getting used to was the way doors swing open. It’s not something I would’ve expected to mention, but the doors will open and close on their own when Jesse is near them. It’s a minor thing to highlight, but it somehow unnerves me as a player.
Speaking of nerves, the game has very interesting sound design. Many of the expendable employees of the FBC have been possessed by the Hiss, and many of them will be found floating around the building. They speak and chant lines in unison and it creates an unsettling ambiance to the game. It works well to create the atmosphere that Remedy was going for. The music in the game also helps the design, as battles will always be accompanied by a tense song. One cool detail is that moving away from the battle makes the song quieter and slower, while moving closer will speed it up and make it louder. On top of this, there are some pretty cool songs featured in the soundtrack too. Remedy brings back the Poets of the Fall for a a couple songs, including a nod to Alan Wake which makes for an awesome sequence.
The voice acting in the game is a mixed bag to say the least. Aside from Ahti, most characters voice themselves just fine, though the direction seems intentionally mundane. It feels like the team’s intent was to give a realistic representation of pencil pushing office workers, which they do accomplish. Even Jesse’s performance, voiced by Courtney Hope, feels somewhat bored, but still manages to convey emotions. Fans may recognize her from Remedy’s previous game, Quantum Break, which she was great in. It’s just something unusual about the overall tone that makes this game feel a little different.
Graphically, Control is a physics mad house. Most objects can be utilized by Jesse’s Launch ability and many things can be manipulated. Even the ground and the walls can be broken down, used, and destroyed using abilities like Launch and Shield. It’s definitely something that can only be done with the current generation of power, but it does have some drawbacks. The most notable issue is the frame rate drops. While the majority of gameplay performs fine, it will be instantly noticeable when unpausing. It’ll also be pretty obvious after certain missions when the game freezes briefly to load new information. Aside from that, the game does have some aliasing issues and often suffers from textures popping in. It still looks like a modern game, but it’s more technically impressive than visually.
The game has a lot of twists and turns, and a the story just gets crazier with time. Whether the game’s ending is worth the build up, it’s hard to say. The overall journey had me expecting something much bigger, but at least the ending made sense. In a game like this, sense is something that’s a lot scarcer. The story can be completed in about a dozen hours, probably faster if you know what you’re doing. Even then, there are multiple side-quests, missions, and tons of collectibles to find. It can take a lot more time for those wanting to complete the game 100%.
Overall, Control is an interesting title and it’s definitely unique from others out there. It can easily be described as an absolute mind****, but in a good way. It doesn’t quite reach the levels of Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem with the mental manipulation, but I enjoyed some of the clever ideas in the game. The Ashtray Maze was a particular favorite of mine, feeling like a treat for all my hard work. The game can be a bit difficult, especially for some of the optional bosses, but overall, it poses a good challenge. If you like weird and supernatural games, this one is worth picking up. If you prefer a game with less thought and more action, then it might not be your cup of tea. Even so, there’s plenty of intense action in Control.