Control Review: Welcome to a weird new world
Played On: PS4 (Original)
*All Photos shown below were taken by the author*
Taking players on a mind-bending adventure into the deep recesses of a government secret, Remedy’s new game, Control, offers players fluid gameplay that helps them trek through a weird new world.
As Jesse Faden (voiced by Courtney Hope), an inquisitive and determined woman looking to uncover what happened to her brother Dylan (voiced by Sean Durrie), players will investigate the Federal Bureau of Control. The bureau, commonly referred to as the Oldest House, houses and investigates possessed supernatural items and holds secrets that are too powerful for the public to know. With the bureau taking Dylan away from Jesse when they were kids, she’s determined to uncover what happened and see what hiding in the Oldest House. However, upon arriving, Jesse realizes that the building seems completely empty, aside from one creepy janitor, and that the bureau’s director, Zachariah Trench (voiced by James McCaffrey), has committed suicide with a very strange gun. Being drawn to a strange force emitting from the gun, Jesse picks up the gun and finds that she’s now the new director of the bureau. With this new power, comes a new responsibility – destroy the evil force, known as The Hiss, that’s infecting the entire building and letting the supernatural entities run amok while still trying to find her brother.
From the design of the M.C. Escher inspired architecture to the vastness and emptiness of each area, traveling through the bureau is a fascinating and creepy experience because of the game’s excellence design. Although there are many different sectors of the Oldest House to explore, Remedy has made navigating through them much easier with Control Points. These are essentially fast travel points that players will unlock throughout their exploration and also act as checkpoints for player progress. While the control points as checkpoints seems good on paper, some of the checkpoints don’t always work out and, for example, if players die in a boss fight or big battle they might have to do a lot of running to get back to where they need to be. Personally, I just found this annoying because it felt like unnecessary work, especially since I noticed it was saving the progress I made leading up to the battle, and I felt like it broke my momentum.
The game does look beautiful, though, so the extra steps at least allow you find time to appreciate the well-crafted environments and the character designs have a perfect mix of sci-fi, noir and supernatural horror – especially with The Hiss. From the possessed soldiers trying to gun-down Jesse at every turn to the high-flying telekinetics that rain down everything they can grasp; The Hiss are no joke and offer a strong challenge to players. The Hiss aren’t the only kinds of horrors lurking within the bureau as players will also come in contact with some of the haunted artifacts and monsters living within the Oldest House.
There’re actually quite a few side missions that introduce players to the haunted items that bureau has been keeping under wraps for decades. The large-scale boss battles were surprising in how challenging and incredibly fun they were. I greatly appreciated how they aren’t the kind of boss battles that you just run and gun and lay into them like they’re bullet sponges. Instead, you actually have to figure out their attack pattern and find the right timing to take down these massive bosses that stem from these haunted items – which are basically just possessed everyday objects. From haunted telephone booths to a possessed rubber ducky, these items might seem harmless, but actually possess great evil within them. Walking through the bureau and interacting with these kinds of items is like walking through Ed and Lorraine Warren’s home in Annabelle Comes Home and each items presents an interesting challenge that lead to some pretty interesting battles – including one of the most challenging and fun doppelganger fights I’ve ever seen.
Personally, while I think Remedy does create a unique environment with the haunted everyday items that players run into, the concept isn’t fully explored to the extent that it could’ve been. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some interesting lore with the items and the bureau with Jesse learning more about the bureau as she talks to other employees, delving deeper into the bureau’s secrets, and seeing the power of each item she encounters. However, it’s hard to take it seriously and feels underwhelming at times because of how, well, ordinary these things are. Aside from the refrigerator that constantly has to be watched by someone, a room completely covered in sticky notes, and a haunted mirror world, the wilder and more mind-bending elements of the bureau are very under-wraps and trapped in collectibles that are fun to pick up, but could’ve been much more effective to see before your very eyes. In some ways, I guess wish that there’re more time the game just went for it and given players more of a mind-bending environment and lore that they’re constantly enveloped in as they help Jesse find her brother.
When you have a writer like Sam Lake, writer behind other Remedy games like Alan Wake and Quantum Break, on board, you can expect a perfect blend of secrecy, sci-fi, and even some elements of horror that come together to create a unique experience. That’s exactly what happens as players go on a mind-melting and visually fascinating journey with Jesse. From the creepy ways that Director Trench and the bureau’s mysterious board communicate with Jesse to the terrifying and intriguing truths she discovers that connect to her childhood, there’s tons of great mind-bending story beats that pulls the rug out from under you. Even the amount of text and audio collectibles, which I know I just criticized, is great and opens up more opportunities for players to do a little digging to see what’s behind the bureau’s curtain. There’s a sense of curiosity that comes over players as secrets are revealed and it’s a constant motivator for players, as well as Jesse, to push forward.
As Jesse, Hope gives her the kind of curiosity and likeable charm that players will find themselves attaching to. When you initially meet Jesse, it’s wasn’t sure what to make of Jesse as she comes off very emotionless and dark because of the very noir-styled opening monologue she gives. With time, though, you really start to connect with her and share in her curiosity for what’s really happening with her brother and bureau. There’s also a great arc for her that comes with a great false ending and a build-up of emotion that shows Jesse beginning to gain some control of her own destiny. It’s also nice to have some inner dialogue with Jesse, that reminds me of one of my favorite movies of the year, Ad Astra, as it allows players to give an insight into what Jesse’s thinking when she’s talking to other members of the bureau. Outside of Jesse and other already mentioned character, the rest of the supporting cast could’ve been more unique. Each one feels like a stereotype stripped from the sci-fi genre and doesn’t add a whole lot to the game other than just giving out information and missions – except for the bureau’s creepy janitor Ahti (voiced by Martti Suosalo), who creates one of the coolest moments I’ve seen this year when he gives Jesse his music to get through the Ashtray Maze.
Control also comes equipped with some simple and fluid gameplay with some great mechanics and upgrades that lets them take down The Hiss however they want. On the surface, Control is a pretty standard third-person shooter, but gameplay goes a little deeper when players start to get more abilities and tap into the power of the Service Gun. The Gun, which Jesse picks up after Trench uses it to kill himself, holds a lot of power and comes in many forms. From the shotgun blasts that come from its shatter form to the quick-firing, high capacity round clips of the spin form, the Service Gun is an incredibly versatile weapon that players can give a variety of upgrades. There’re actually quite a few different upgrades that players can find from killing enemies, hunting down special crates, and from gathering material to craft upgrades that benefits both different forms of the Service Gun and Jesse.
As players play throughout the game, they will be given abilities, like being able to levitate and even turn enemies against one another, that changes the way players can approach battle. The abilities work very well with the large and multi-level battle environments that are destructible, which makes having telekinesis a lot of fun, and upgrade them to make them more effective in battle – which is good because of the different kinds of missions players will have. As said before, there’re plenty of side-missions that feature perfectly challenging bosses, but there’re also challenges and other activities that players will have to complete in order to obtain rewards for upgrades. Whether it’s completing a specified countermeasure for the mysterious board or hustling over to a specific area to complete a task without dying and before times runs out, there’s plenty for players to do to earn chances at great upgrades.
Control contains everything you’d want in a great game: a story that allows players to immerse themselves into a strange, supernatural new world through the eyes of a charismatic and relatable protagonist matched with simple and addictive gameplay. With the possibilities of some connections to Alan Wake, we could be looking at a possible Remedy universe in gaming – and I’m all for that. With the wild and intriguing nature of Control, all I can say is, Remedy and Sam Lake are at it again – and its great.