Remedy has always had a fascination with the supernatural, even back when they rose to fame thanks to Max Payne, but with Control they have finally thrown all caution to the wind. Although it is still a pretty standard third-person shooter from a gameplay perspective, there is nothing about the story and setting that could be called “standard.” Players step into the shoes of Jesse Faden, who has been searching for her younger brother ever since the Federal Bureau of Control snatched him away 17 years ago. The reason for his abduction was a slide projector with paranormal powers, which Jesse and her brother found as children. After messing around with its abilities to open portals to other dimensions, all the adults in the town vanished and the Bureau showed up to contain the situation. Jesse not only managed to escape their clutches but also somehow bonded with a paranutural entity from one of the dimensions that were opened. It is this entity that finally leads Jesse to the Federal Bureau of Control building in New York, where she can hopefully liberate her brother from the shady government agency.
Control opens with Jesse entering the bureau headquarters, dubbed the “Oldest House” and right away it’s clear that something is wrong. Through a very strange series of events, Jesse not only ends up as the new director of the bureau but also has to deal with a supernatural enemy who has taken over. This enemy, called The Hiss, has left most of the staff in a catatonic state and floating near the ceiling while mumbling a very eerie chant. Only a lucky few were wearing special equipment that safeguards them from The Hiss, while the not so lucky ones were corrupted completely. It is these corrupted people who form the bulk of your opposition as you traverse the immense building in search of ways to defeat The Hiss and hopefully learn more about your brother’s whereabouts along the way.
The whole back story and setting for the game is fantastic, which left us with high hopes for the main story. Unfortunately, Jesse’s quest was far from the most interesting thing in the game. Instead, were found ourselves drawn to the various classified documents that are scattered about. These are filled with fascinating reports on the bureau, the Oldest House, as well as the host of paranormal objects that are stored there. Normally these types of collectibles are interesting, but not really worth going out of your way to find, but in Control we devoured every one of them. It’s a pity that the main story and most of the side quests never really come close to the things described in the reports.
From a gameplay perspective, the whole game takes place in the Oldest House which, is as befitting for a secret government agency, is much larger on the inside than the outside.
The place was already very strange to begin with as it is filled with all kinds of paranormal objects, but since the corruption by The Hiss it is way worse. Far from being filled with just boring offices, the building is also home to research labs, training areas, a medical wing, a containment area, and even a massive mining quarry. Although some of these areas are initially off-limits until you gain the necessary security clearance, it’s not long before you have the whole building open for your exploration. It’s not quite a Metroidvania, but Jesse does gain new abilities that can give her access to previously inaccessible areas.
Speaking of abilities, there are quite a few for Jesse to gain and the way to do so is by tracking down the objects of power containing them. Like the slide projector, these are seemingly ordinary objects that are imbued with all kinds of paranormal powers. One of the first you’ll find is a humble floppy disc that gives you the power to telekinetically hurl around virtually anything nearby. Later on, you’ll gain the ability to create a shield out of debris, take control of weak enemies, and our personal favorite, levitate for a short time. To gain control of these abilities you need to find the object imbued with them and then complete a short gauntlet that is set in the Astral Plane. All of these abilities can be upgraded with the skill points that Jesse earns as she completes missions around the building.
Throwing chunks of scenery at enemies while floating around is a lot a fun, but because everything is tied to an energy bar you can’t do it indefinitely. This is where your weapon comes in handy. Unlike other third-person shooters, Jesse only has access to a single weapon, called the Service Weapon. Only the director of the bureau can wield it and since it’s “alive” it can be changed into different forms as well as upgraded. These forms correspond to typical weapon types, such as shotgun, machine gun, and sniper rifle, but you can only switch between two at a time. The weapons can also be enhanced with mods that can be found by killing enemies, finding loot boxes or crafted yourself using materials. Sadly, most mods are of the “increase accuracy by a few percents” or “increase reload speed by a few percents” variety, which is hardly exciting. The gun can reload itself if it runs out of “bullets” but this takes a while, so combat mostly involves switching between your abilities and your gun depending on what is recharging or reloading.
This brings us neatly to the combat, which also, unfortunately, did not end up being as satisfying as we were hoping. Don’t get us wrong, flying around like some kind of superhero while crushing enemies with whatever loose object we can grab is a lot of fun. It’s just that you initially only have access to the gun and enemies can easily swarm you, especially if they teleport into a room behind you. Once you gain your abilities and can catch missiles and grenades mid-air to chuck back at their owners’ things do pick up considerably. Unfortunately, you are still stuck with a very limited amount of rather generic foes to fight. The game doesn’t allow you to snap to cover, but you’ll definitely have to take cover as Jesse can be killed rather quickly if you are not careful. This makes the combat feel very twitchy as you try to keep some cover between you and your enemies while running around. You also need to keep an eye out for floating enemies that can dodge the things you throw at them as well as enemies that can heal their injured buddies. The game also has a couple of boss fights, but none of these really stood out as special, which is a missed opportunity. While her energy and bullets regenerate on their own the same can’t be said about Jesse’s health. Instead, you have to collect essence from slain foes. This usually means leaving cover and trying to scoop up the health while dodging bullets, grenades, missiles and whatever else is being thrown at you. If you don’t get it right, you will die, which means restarting from the last “control point” you visited. These can sometimes be a long way away from the action, which is a bit tedious.
What we did love about the combat is how destructible the environments are. After each battle, it would usually look like the room was hit by a bomb due to the amount of damage and destroyed objects laying around. Hats off to the artists at Remedy for making sure each room is filled to the brim with things that can fly in all directions during combat. Even if there aren’t any tables, chairs or copiers laying around to throw at enemies you can still rip chunks out of the floor or walls to use as projectiles. Unfortunately, while combat is extremely chaotic, it can also become a bit repetitive a few hours into the game, especially if you are lost and don’t feel like yet another encounter.
When you are not killing things there are a couple of puzzles to solve, but most of these are very underwhelming. In fact, the majority of them seem to involve matching “hedron” patterns on computers. The only puzzles that really left us scratching our heads were the ones at the Oceanview Motel, which is a location Jesse is teleported to every now and then. For the rest, you can explore every nook and cranny of the Oldest House, which we did to find all of the classified files. There are also a couple of side quests, but shooting a certain amount of fungus off walls or clearing up clogged pipes isn’t exactly thrilling. Getting around the massive building is made easier by the Control Points which not only functions as save spots but also allows you to fast travel between them. However, the map could have been a lot better as figuring out where to go next is often needlessly complicated.
It’s hard not be impressed with the visuals of Control, especially if you have the hardware to really push the game to its limits. The brutalist architecture of the Oldest House is pretty imposing, but the way in which The Hiss can distort rooms is really cool. One of the most impressive visual sequences in the game is a fight through an ever-shifting maze, which looks and feels like something straight from the movie Inception. It is easily our favorite part of the game and it’s a pity that there is nothing else really like it elsewhere in Control. We’ve already mentioned how impressive the amount of debris in rooms looks after combat, but during combat, the number of lights and flashing can be a bit harsh on the eyes. The Hiss has a nasty tendency to color everything red, which coupled with some of the bright lights in the game is somewhat annoying. You won’t encounter a lot of other people in the game, but the ones you do meet features impressive character models, just like Jesse. While their models look good and the animations are decent there is still a bit of an uncanny valley effect, especially when compared to their hyper-realistic surroundings. Remedy has kept the user interface nice and clean for Control, so you only have your health bar at the bottom left of the screen and your currently tracked objective on the top left. This makes for a more immersive experience as other bars like energy and bullets only appear when used. The inventory and upgrade system, on the other hand, could have been a bit more intuitive.
Remedy did a good job with the audio as well as the voice-overs, in particular, are great. This should come as no surprise though as quite a few familiar names crop up. For example, James McCaffrey, the voice of Max Payne plays the ex-director in Control, while the head of research, Dr. Darling, is voiced by Alan Wake himself, Matthew Porretta. Unlike the other characters, Porretta actually appears in person, via the numerous FMV presentations that play on televisions throughout the building and all we can say is he did a great job with his character. The weird Finnish janitor whom you encounter every now and then also steals every scene he is in with his bizarre uttering. Jesse herself sounds decent, if a little emotionless, but we are treated to her inner thoughts every once in a while. The sound effects are decent, although the constant chanting by the people floating around everywhere grows old quickly. The music could also have been a bit better, but it was great to hear some new material by Poets of the Fall.
Overall, Control is a game with a very eerie concept that isn’t really eerie at all when you are playing. Reading about some of the objects of power in the building gave us chills, but none of the actual encounters came close. Combat can also be frustrating until you unlock better powers and even then encounters can begin to feel repetitive due to the limited amount of enemy types. Finally, completing the game takes a decent amount of time and effort, but then it ends just as abruptly as it began, which can be jarring. So, while Control is definitely a good game with a couple of great parts, it’s far from perfect and will probably not appeal to everyone. If you are a fan of previous Remedy titles, especially the weirder ones like Alan Wake, then you’ll enjoy a lot of what Control has to offer. Just don’t be blinded by the hype and expect a title that is going to blow you away every step of the way.
- Windows 7, 64-bit
- Intel Core i5-4690 / AMD FX 4350
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 / AMD Radeon R9 280X
- 8 GB RAM
- Widescreen support 21:9 / Remappable controls / Uncapped frame-rate / G-Sync / Freesync support
- Windows 10, 64-bit
- Intel Core i5-7600K / AMD Ryzen 5 1600X
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660/1060 / AMD Radeon RX 580 AMD | For Ray Tracing: GeForce RTX 2060
- 16 GB RAM
- DX11 / DX12
- Widescreen support 21:9 / Remappable controls / Uncapped frame-rate / G-Sync / Freesync support