Control is the latest release from Remedy Entertainment, the developers behind Alan Wake and the more recent Quantum Break as well as the first 2 Max Payne games. With an impressive repertoire behind them already, how will this new IP hold up?
Control is shrouded in mystery from the get-go and weaves an intricate web as you progress. The game starts with protagonist Jesse Faden as she arrives at the Federal Bureau of Control, a secret government agency in the heart of New York. Jesse has a range of supernatural abilities thanks to an entity in her head which she, and only she seems able to communicate with. It is quickly made clear that the FBC specialise in the containment and study of objects that do not adhere to earth’s reality and somehow Jesse is involved. Upon her arrival, it is clear that something has gone drastically wrong and a strange other-worldly enemy known as the Hiss, has decimated most of the bureau. To give away any more of the plot would ruin the experience, just know that it has plenty of twists and turns as well as well acted characters a decent pace. The story is also fleshed out by a HUGE amount of lore in the form of collectible documents, tapes and videos which are very clever if you take the time to listen to them.
Control is played in the third person with an over the shoulder view when aiming or looking for clues. Jesse only has 1 weapon available to her, the Service Weapon, but as the game progresses you are able to unlock a range of forms that the weapon can turn into. What starts off as a pistol, eventually has the ability to be a machine pistol, shotgun, grenade launcher and sniper rifle. The weapon itself has no ammo per se, but instead uses energy which needs to recharge if runs out. The energy doesn’t last particularly long so forces you to use a good mix of gunplay and the other weapon at Jesse’s disposal – her supernatural abilities. These abilities, much like the weapon, rely on energy (although a different type) which means the game is a frantic mix of run and gun mixed with throwing people around and generally destroying everything in sight. Jesse’s first (and most useful) ability is telekinesis which allows her to throw objects at enemies and later, enemies themselves! As the game continues, Jesse is able to warp the minds of enemies to make them allies, evade a super speed, create a shield from debris and even fly (sort of) using levitation. The mix of weapons and abilities work perfectly together and create a culture of keeping moving while seamlessly switching between weapons/powers and generally destroying everything and everyone in sight. The perfect blend of skills led to some of the most fun I’ve had playing video games this year, there’s something so satisfying about flying into a room holding a forklift before launching it at a group of enemies and taking over all of their friends while they run from the explosion! That being said, the game can seem a little overwhelming at first as enemies come thick and fast and later enemies require specific tactics to be beaten, but this just makes clearing a roomful of people all the more satisfying!
The game can be a little tricky at times as Jesse’s health does not automatically recover and the only way in which it can replenish is to basically butcher it out of enemies. This sounds simple enough but if you are in a large room and have killed enemies at range but need the health, making a run for it can often be a death sentence, which means some strategy is needed in harder battles. There are also other pickups as well as health for the taking in the form of add-ons which will boost either Jesse’s skills or those of the weapon form they are attached to and vary in usefulness depending on rarity.
The layout of control is quite interesting and is a break from the more linear titles in Remedy’s former catalogue. The whole of Control takes place in the one building, which at first may seem a little disappointing but the way in which the Hiss has distorted the ordinary works fantastically and the multi-level, multi sized rooms and corridors never seemed to get boring. Much of this is due to a certain amount of backpedalling but often with surprising results and many “how on earth did I miss that” moments. Much of the building is unlocked from the start and many of the powers can be unlocked by finding them while exploring other areas which is a welcome change. That being said, key areas do have keycard locks which can’t be bypassed, and some areas are only accessible after gaining a specific power so there’s no worry of reaching the end game by accident. As well as the FBC, Jesse takes several trips to the astral plane, an endless void which usually culminates in wither a new skill or a puzzle to gain some treasures, making a welcome break from the grey halls of the bureau.
Control is played in a mission-based format, with 10 missions making up the core story as well as around 20 side missions, given by finding hidden areas, finding certain documentation or talking to a cast of quirky characters met along the way. I have to admit, some of the side missions and particularly the excellent range of side bosses, were a lot more fun than that core story. This isn’t fundamentally a problem for a completionist such as myself, but I beg anyone reading this, please complete them as if you finish the story and move on, you are sorely missing out. Despite having 30 missions to complete and an entire bureau to explore, Control does fall a little on the short side, with around 12-15 hours to finish but hits around the 20-hour mark if you continue after the credits and mop up all the side missions. This may not seem like a bad length but with a retail of £50 ($61) and little replay value after the side missions are complete, I was left wanting a little more.
As for the look of Control, the game is gorgeous. The drab, grey hallways of the FBC are peppered with huge amounts of detail in the form of office equipment and the like and almost all of it can be smashed into thousands of pieces the textures are gorgeous up close and the character models feel realistic throughout which was a nice touch. The enemies have a good level of variation so do not feel like fodder and are surprisingly smart at times, hiding when they know what’s best for them. The lighting is where Control really shines, with ambient shadows, lazy sunbeams and hazy reflections, the game really looks polished (when it works – more on that shortly) and lighting is used brilliantly to give different locations a different feel. As for sound, its implemented well and the music is used sparsely but to great effect; especially one sequence in a hotel like section involving heavy metal music. I was also greatly impressed with the destruction of the environments and how various item explode; Tables splinter and shatter, glass fragments and breaks unevenly and papers fly everywhere, it really felt like a lot of work had gone in to making the breakables feel like real objects rather than just floaty polygons.
Now comes the hard part, the bad bits and I say this as on the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed this game. Control is by no means perfect and I had a lot of technical issues that are unfortunately going to result in a good game, rather than a great game. As I mentioned earlier, the textures are beautiful, but I found myself without them…. a lot. This would normally be a minor niggle, but the game encourages you to use the signs posted around the bureau to make your way from one area to the next and having to stand in front of a sign for 4,5,6+ seconds waiting for the textures to catch up just so you can read it, seems almost unforgivable. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it weren’t for the horrific map that goes with it. The map is accessed by pressing up on the D-Pad but rather than a separate pause-type screen, it lays over your current screen, allowing you to control Jesse underneath it. Sound like a cool idea? Well it isn’t, as the map is SO SLOW it often took more than 15 seconds to show up, by then I’m in the completely wrong location. The map is also hideously dated, each ‘zone’ has its own map but the only differentiation between upper and lower levels is shading, meaning on many occasions, I spent my time running aimlessly and finding the right location by accident rather than with help with the map. A further technical issue I had was slowdown, and not now and again, I had it on almost every large battle that I had as well as every single time I paused the game or took a screenshot. Now the slowdown, although quite severe, was never game breaking in my opinion and I was usually having so much fun throwing things at people that I was able to look past it, but it did however stop what could have been a great experience into just a good one. I think it’s fair to note that I was playing on some very hot days on a lil’ ol’ PS4 slim with about 4kb free, but a quick google search tells me I’m not the only one to have these issues.
Overall Control is a fantastic game and led to some of the most fun I’ve had with a game in a while, but the technical issues and short length leave a bitter taste on what should have been the sweetest experience.
Control is great fun to play, has an interesting story and looks gorgeous but is unfortunately marred by a host of technical issues.