Control is a new action-adventure game from Remedy, the studio that gave us Alan Wake and Quantum Break. Sadly, the company dropped its rhyming title scheme with Control. What Remedy didn’t drop is the consistency in what it does best — cryptic and entangling stories. Control is imbued with Remedy’s DNA and builds upon the studio’s previous games in the best ways possible.
Is there any Control at all?
Control is a cryptic game. If you played Alan Wake or any Remedy game, you know you’re in for some madness happening sooner rather than later. Alan Wake and Quantum Break gave you a real-world understanding of where you are and who you are before getting deranged or chaotic. This is not the case with Control. Instead of giving you a soft landing into the mind-boggling psychological narrative, it throws you right into it. You are taking the role of Jesse Faden, she is looking for her brother that was taken away by the Federal Bureau of Control. That’s literally it, there’s nothing more than that premise before the game starts falling down a rabbit hole of metaphors.
The first hours of Control literally feel like you’re watching a 2-hour long trailer of Death Stranding. It’s gorgeous, amazingly well-scripted, and you have a sense you’re getting somewhere but feel lost at the same time. As you progress through the FBC, you will soon discover things aren’t normal, and, that is how you’re thrust into this adventure. There is a lockdown in the building as there’s an entity called “The Hiss” wreaking havoc inside. You have to deal with that while also looking for your brother. The game slowly feeds you hints and reveals its plot in pretty unique ways.
Cinematic and thrilling
Describing Control is no easy task. Remedy has a history of delivering powerful moments that look and feel cinematic. This is amplified and refined with Control. The way Jesse finds out more about the FBC is through conversations with its staff. Most of the time, these conversations add valuable information that helps you see through all the enigmatic events going on within the Bureau. During these scenes, you can hear Jesse’s thoughts, which, most of the time match your own question-riddled mind. In many scenes, you would believe you’re playing an interactive movie written by Christopher Nolan. In others, you’ll feel this is a modern age episode of The Twilight Zone.
Control slowly delves into many short stories that piece together what the Bureau is and what your role in it is. These short stories are found all around in the form of audio logs, notes, and files, all collectibles that serve a greater purpose. The real enjoyment of Control is making sense of the world around you. The setting on its own is a story being told. The FBC is much more than meets the eye and puzzling it together keeps you coming back for more. Every time you think you have everything together and you understand what’s going on, the game throws you curve ball and your theories start back at square one.
The power of Control
The gameplay in Control is as stellar as its story-telling. Remedy aimed high here. Jesse and the abilities she unlocks during the game truly make her seem invincible. Yet, you can’t be a happy trigger in this game. Even though your telekinetic abilities and gun can help you quickly eradicate hordes of ‘Hiss Soldiers’, it doesn’t mean a miscalculation or pressing of a wrong button can’t cause your demise. Health here is crucial, it doesn’t completely regenerate with time and the only way to get it back is by collecting drops from fallen enemies (or making it to a fast-travel location).
Jesse unlocks new abilities by finding O.o.Ps (Objects of Power). She can also upgrade her gun via in-game currency and upgrade modules that are scattered around the FBC. There are also personal upgrade mods that Jesse can use herself. This can increase health or help Jesse consume less energy when using her telepathic abilities. This is the only part of Control that’s not cryptic, it’s your run-of-the-mill upgrade system. Upgrading abilities, guns, or adding modifiers to make your weapon or even yourself more powerful is an easy task with an intuitive interface. In general, the gameplay is a blast to play. Control has a really creative combat system with interesting abilities. It feels like a natural evolution for Remedy.
The level design of Control is superb. From shapeshifting rooms to incredible open areas to explore. The FBC building is level design at its best. Everything is interconnected, and even though there are plenty of different environments, all feel cohesively together and harmonized. Remedy raised the bar as Control offers one of the best level designs I’ve seen in this generation. It’s everchanging and evolving landscape bends and connects giving the impression the building is more than just a mere structure. Each corridor and room is filled with details that add up and work as individual pieces of a giant puzzle. Navigating this world is sometimes a bit complicated though. The map is not nearly as intuitive or polished as the rest of the game.
Loading times are also rough. It is not so painful if you are just exploring, but if you die in a boss battle, you will have to wait for a lengthy loading screen that nears up to ten seconds every time you die. I got stuck at a boss and every time I died I had wait for the lengthy loading screen and then backtrack to the boss since the game loads on the last checkpoint you’ve visited. Aside from this, I also observed some minor texture popping, but nothing game-breaking or detrimental to the whole visual experience.
The voices, can you hear them?
Sound mixing falls along with these same quality standards. There are tons of voices in some scenes, and all of them are crisp and build up both story and tension. The way gunshots, music, enemy movements are mixed truly make Control an auditory experience as much as a visual masterpiece. I really recommend the use of headphones or a 5.1 channel surround system as a minimum to truly enjoy the intricacy of the audio. Many moments in the game are reminiscent of the ominous use of audio in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.
Cathartic and brilliantly mind-bending
Yes, describing Control is a hard task indeed. But, even a harder task is creating such a magnificently delivered world that feels alive from the very beginning until the very end. You keep invested in the game from its first minutes and keep on wanting more even after its conclusion. The narrative feeds you enough information to keep you theorizing and thinking about what might be happening.
Control deliberately gives you puzzle pieces and enigmatic happenings so you can understand there’s a bigger picture, but it is delivered in such a way that you even doubt the existence of the picture it paints. It asks how far the rabbit hole goes, it makes you wonder if there’s even a rabbit or if the concept of a ‘hole’ is possible in reality. I find the only way to describe this game is saying that Control is cathartic and brilliantly mind-bending.