There are some video game developers that never cease to excite me with each game they release. Ever since being blown away by the bullet-time antics of Max Payne back in 2001, Remedy Games have been a fine example of this. The top quality of their subsequent releases Alan Wake and Quantum Break proved that they were no one-trick pony either, so naturally I had been eagerly anticipating their latest release Control ever since its reveal at E3 2018.
After playing it, I can confirm that it is one of Remedy Games’ best titles yet. Control is a truly remarkable action-experience that blends in all of the wonderful weirdness that the developer is known for, and it truly stands tall as one of the best video game releases so far in 2019.
Control puts you in the role of Jesse Faden; a young woman who heads into The Oldest House, the headquarters of an organisation known as the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), with the intention of investigating the mystery behind the seventeen-year disappearance of her brother. Things take an unexpected turn though when she suddenly finds herself forced into the role of the Director of the FBC, and even more so when she uncovers that it is under siege by a mysterious force dubbed as ‘The Hiss’. It’s up to you to fight back, all whilst unravelling the many mysteries of both Jesse’s life and the FBC as a whole.
It all comes together to make for a bizarre yet compelling tale, with the plot answering plenty of questions as you progress but also giving you an abundance of new ones to ask. It wraps up nicely though, so you shouldn’t expect to be left unsatisfied with the journey. Something I really appreciated was the amount of documents littered across The Oldest House, with each divulging additional details about the FBC and the workers based there. Some of these are minimal, sure, but the small touches they added to the intrigue of the organisation constantly left me wondering what had been going on before Jesse’s arrival.
Jesse’s story is riveting too. Her past is slowly revealed bit by bit as you work through the game, with more and more layers of her character unveiling as she learns more about the FBC. It’s satisfying to see and makes it easier to grow closer to her; she easily stands out as one of the most intriguing characters across the whole of the game, and that’s REALLY saying something considering you’ll come across some real eccentric folk. Thanks to the well-written script and the fact that no interaction in the game feels meaningless, it’ll be hard to not find yourself totally engrossed in Control’s narrative.
You know what helps makes the narrative particularly effective, though? The haunting atmosphere of Control. Remedy Games have never been afraid to infuse the weird and wonderful into their titles, but the way it’s done here will bring a real sense of unease upon the player, with nothing ever quite seeming right in the game. It might sound peculiar, but between the real-life footage that plays and blends into the environment, the murmurings you hear as you tread through The Oldest House’s hallways, and the eerie ambient soundtrack, you’ll constantly find yourself on edge. It’s an incredibly atmospheric experience, which when combined with the gripping narrative truly helps Control stand out as an unforgettable title.
From a gameplay perspective, Control mostly feels like an action-orientated experience. Jesse is armed with the Service Weapon, which is a particularly flexible firearm – whilst it might start off as a handgun, it can eventually morph into a shotgun, machine gun, assault rifle and even a rocket launcher. I mean, I’ve played plenty of absurd first-person shooters and they rarely offer firearms of that sort of calibre, so kudos to Control for doing something special there. It always feels satisfying to use though and both aiming and shooting is tight. Interestingly, you won’t be manually reloading your weapon, but it instead gets more ammunition by not being used. It adds a tactical nuance to combat where you can’t always just go on a shooting spree without a worry in the world, but have to instead pick your shots carefully (and, more importantly, when NOT to shoot). It’s good stuff, plus with the ability to upgrade each weapon and equip modifications to boosts their stats, there’s a fair bit of flexibility for the player to adjust them to suit their playstyle.
It’s not just the Service Weapon that makes Jesse so powerful though, but also the abilities of her mind. That’s right: you’ve got telekinetic abilities and they’re VERY effective at taking down The Hiss. This means you can do the likes of launching inanimate objects at enemies, levitate to reach inaccessible areas, take control of enemies to have them attack each other, pull objects towards you to form a shield and protect yourself, or even launch projectiles enemies have thrown towards you back their way… so basically, you’re pretty powerful. All of these abilities are incredibly satisfying to pull off in-game too, and there’s a real fluidity to their use; all it takes is a tap of a button to pull the nearest object towards you when using your telekinesis launch for example, which allows you to streamline the ability into your gunplay with ease. Everything just feels so good to use and your combat abilities can seamlessly flow together without a break of pace.
The Hiss soldiers you face off against are similarly equipped though, with both a myriad of weapons and powers at their disposal that ensure each showdown remains intense, regardless of just how powerful Jesse might be. You’ll have to be strategic in your approach, all whilst carefully juggling attacking and taking cover if you want to survive. Some enemies will require specific strategies to defeat too, with some of the boss encounters forcing you to think outside of the box if you’re going to have any chance of survival – Jesse might be armed with her flexible Service Weapon and plenty of slick abilities, but your foes will never fail to surprise you with just how aggressive they can be. It makes for some bloody brilliant action sequences in-game though and I found myself eagerly anticipating each and every showdown with The Hiss.
The Oldest House has plenty of areas for the player to explore, though some you won’t be able to access until you unlock specific abilities or have the right security clearance. Control is like a metroidvania-style title in that respect; you can expect a bit of backtracking in order to reach those previously inaccessible areas to progress through the game, whilst those who are willing to keep exploring every nook and cranny will find plenty of secrets along the way. Whilst the story missions are at the forefront, the game offers flexibility in how you can approach it so players who want to divulge in exploration or one of the many side quests on offer can do so – most of these side quests consist of taking out additional enemies in previously visited areas, though given that Control’s combat is so brilliant, it’s hard to resist showing The Hiss who’s boss. There’s just plenty to do in the game and with a decent fast-travel system in place, exploration never feels like a burden.
However, I should mention that the checkpoint system can be a bit iffy in places. Now it never felt unfair and for the most part you’ll get a checkpoint before a vicious encounter, but there were a few sequences that were surprisingly tough or that featured a few cheap deaths, with the checkpoint before it being a fair distance away. Whilst I’m always gracious in accepting defeat (especially in a game as balanced as Control), having to replay sections or go through cutscenes again felt a little unnecessary and even frustrating at times. It’s a minor flaw, but a flaw nonetheless.
Presentation-wise, Control is impeccable throughout, with the character models and environmental design rich in detail and personality – it’s certainly a title that fully utilises the capabilities of modern consoles. However, this results in the occasional slowdown in-game, with the frame rate dropping during some of the more particularly frantic action sequences. There’s nothing game-breaking and it doesn’t ruin the momentum of the experience, but the hitches can be noticeable. It’s disappointing too, because I played on the Xbox One X and still suffered from it; I wouldn’t like to think how it performs on a base Xbox One…
Remedy are undoubtedly masters of their craft, and Control is another fantastic title to add to their repertoire of fine releases that focus on bold action and deep dives into the unknown. It kept me captivated from start to end with its mysterious yet rich narrative, its solid combat mechanics that blend together satisfying gunplay with fun telekinetic abilities, and its peculiar allure and sense that just about ANYTHING could be around the corner of The Oldest House’s mysterious hallways.
Control’s weird yet wonderful approach may not be for everyone and some of the performance issues could be disappointing. Overall though, they are minor hitches in what is otherwise an amazing experience; Control is simply a must-own title for action fans or those who appreciate games that aren’t afraid to be a little different.
Developer: Remedy Games
Publisher: 505 Games
Platform(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC