I’ve secretly always been in love with Remedy Entertainment and wishing they would succeed beyond their wildest dreams. From the early days of 2001 and 2003 with Max Payne and Max Payne 2, to the 2010’s with Alan Wake and Quantum Break, their games have always just struck a chord with me. Maybe it’s the way they incorporate the supernatural and suspend the disbelief within me. Maybe it truly just boils down to the gameplay mechanics which I’ve always found to be enjoyable. Whatever the case may be, I’ve always had a soft spot for Remedy and Sam Lake. Every time a studio acquisition would enter the rumor stages for Microsoft or Sony, I always wondered if anyone would take a chance on this group of people that I find to be truly creative and unique. For some reason, even though I adore everything they’ve released, the experiences have never been without headaches and hesitations. Something was always there, staring a hole through your soul, with each new release that made it blatantly obvious why the games weren’t received as well critically as I would have liked. When Control was announced and introduced to the masses, I had high hopes. Hopes that this would be the one to take Remedy Entertainment into the stars and show gamers worldwide just what they can really do. And you know what? I think it just might be.
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 Pro
Release Date: August 27, 2019
Game Provided By 505 Games for the Purpose of This Review
Control is set in a twisted alternate dimension of the United States. The Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) is a secretive government organization that only allows itself to be discovered when it wants you to discover them. Their main goal is to capture, contain, and research these items known as paranatural objects, which you’ll get to mess around with extensively during the story beats of the narrative. The worst thing that could happen actually happens, and this place that no one is supposed to know about has been invaded by an otherworldly threat. It’s now up to you to figure out what’s going on inside the FBC, while also keeping an eye and ear out for clues on the disappearance of your brother so many years ago.
A typical third-person action-adventure game, Control has moderate amounts of gunplay, moderate amounts of puzzle solving, and heavy amounts of the supernatural and unexplained. You’re put into the shoes of Jesse Faden, a young and mysterious girl that was gifted with supernatural powers at an even younger age from an event that happened during her childhood. She arrives at the FBC building in an attempt to locate answers about her past but also find her brother Dylan. Upon entering the FBC, Jesse finds the previous Director, Zachariah Trench, has been murdered by the Hiss. The Hiss are the enemies you’ll be going against throughout the story. She picks up the weapon lying next to his body, and instantly is chosen to be the new Director of the Federal Bureau of Control. A job she didn’t necessarily ask for, but one she embraces over time as it allows her to continue seeking the answers she desperately needs.
Along the way, Jesse will interact with a varied and wonderful cast of characters that add a lot of dynamic and depth to the story. From Helen Marshall, the Head of Bureau Operations and someone that doesn’t take shit from anyone or anything, to Emily Pope, the research assistant to Dr. Darling that is a genius and probably smarter than her mentor. There’s also Ahti, the janitor that doesn’t quite fit in and you can clearly tell there’s something off about him the way he speaks in such a heavy Finnish accent, and Simon Arish, the Maintenance Security Chief that just wants to protect the people trapped in the FBC from this otherworldly presence. Every single person Jesse meets along the way is another chance to explore this world and go even deeper into the lore with a cast of characters that are just begging to be investigated.
One thing that Remedy Entertainment has always prided itself in is their ability to build a world surround the gameplay mechanics. But the sad thing is, prior games like Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break were, for the lack of a better term, linear experiences that required little-to-no exploration to advance the game. Players often would just rush the main story and be finished with the game in a matter of hours before moving on to the next new release. With Control, the developers have certainly fixed that issue. In a weird way, Control is a Metroidvania-esque game that will send players backtracking all over the FBC building and locations when they learn new abilities and powers, and obtain higher clearance levels. You’ll discover this as I did fairly quickly after starting the game when you come upon a door that is marked as Security Level 1. It was then that I knew I was in for a treat and a fun gameplay experience. Control Points are unlocked at a normal pace for a Metroidvania game, and serve as both the save rooms and fast travel points we’ve come to expect in this genre.
Players will move through the game’s 10 Chapters following the main story in order to find more about Jesse’s past and uncover hints on what happened to Dylan all those years ago. When meeting a new character for the first time, oftentimes you’ll discover side missions that are completely optional but worth doing because they can lead to the discovery of new abilities and materials needed to further enhance your character. Some of the side missions were more pointless than others, but a nice variation in the tasks they ask you to do was nice to see. That being said, I certainly wouldn’t have been heartbroken to have accidentally skipped a couple of the ones I found and went through.
Before we get to the abilities, I want to focus for a minute on the shooting mechanics. The weapon you find lying next to the deceased body of the previous Director is known as the Service Weapon. This is an Object of Power (powerful, altered items that have been exposed to otherworldly forces and are incredibly rare to find) that is meant to be used only by the Director. It’s also why Jesse is chosen as the new Director, because for some reason, her paranatural abilities mean she can wield this powerful weapon. It also has the capability to switch between different forms at the press of a button. Starting out in Grip mode, this is your standard pistol. Shatter is another mode which is more or less a shotgun, Spin best resembles the styling of a machine gun, Pierce is your long range weapon similar to a sniper rifle, and Charge is best described as an area of effect weapon, like a rocket launcher. Each one, besides Grip, must be obtained by crafting it with materials and items found throughout the world and by defeating the Hiss. Mods can also be selected and attached to your weapons to further enhance them, as well as yourself in the personal mod slots.
Each weapon type has its place in the grand scheme of the gameplay, and I found myself switching between every single one multiple times, sometimes in a single rush of enemies. It isn’t all about shooting, crouching, and taking cover from enemy fire, however. Abilities also play a large role in combat and the way you’ll navigate throughout the FBC, the Oldest House, and the Astral Plane. Acquired by entering the Astral Plane and partaking in a challenge, abilities have all sorts of fun and exciting things to discover about them. Melee’ing enemies with a telekinetic blow allows you to take care of things and yourself from close range. Launch allows Jesse to pick up almost anything that isn’t physically attached to the world and hurl it at enemies for massive damage. Evade is a nice way to basically dodge anything and move quickly through the corridors. Shield will do just that, generate a shield around Jesse that will protect her from incoming objects and enemy fire. Seize allows players to take over an enemies mind, forcing them to fight the good fight for a brief amount of time. Finally, levitate allows Jesse to take combat into the air to gain an advantage on enemies or reach previously inaccessible areas.
Stringing together a beautiful combination of abilities and Service Weapon modes will make basically anyone feel like a master of the unknown and supernatural. The way everything flowed together and made combat feel like choreographed sequences was a sight to behold and became quite addicting. Very chaotic at times, but never dull and always entertaining and fun to be apart of. The added layer of destructible environments also made me waste way more time than I reasonably should have when I discovered it early on in the game. I’d literally just run around telekinetically blasting the walls and objects, watching papers fly about, bits and pieces of the wall sent flying everywhere, and technological items exploding in fits of sparks and fireworks. It makes the world feel even more alive than it should, and was a nice touch by the team at Remedy to incorporate. In fact, from start to finish, Control took me roughly 15 hours to complete, and this is not a 100% run. I did several side missions as I discovered them, but there were enough that I skipped because I either didn’t find them interesting or didn’t need or want the reward. I also, as mentioned, spent more time than I should have destroying the environment in certain rooms, but we aren’t talking hours doing that.. maybe 5-10 minutes here and there. Rushing through, you could probably juggernaut your way through in 8 hours or so. Shooting for 100% will get you closer, if not slightly longer, than 20 hours. Which in all honesty is a great length for this type of game in my personal opinion.
Skill trees also were an added bonus since there are so many abilities to learn and find through the story. You gain ability points by simply leveling up upon defeating enemies and progressing the story, and these ability points can be spent to further enhance the abilities you get and potentially find new ways to utilize the abilities, like being able to forcefully launch a rocket or grenade back at your enemies before they explode on you. With enough exploration and execution of the Hiss, you will be able to unlock all the abilities, so the initial choices will really just be about what type of character you want to start out with. Higher health, more damage, more energy to spend on abilities and sprinting, etc. There’s a style of gameplay for most anyone found within Control.
Let’s move in to one of the issues I kept coming across when playing. Every so often, be it when exiting a cutscene or transitioning to a new area, which by the design of things looks as if it’s supposed to be seamless, the game will drastically drop in framerate for unknown reasons. It will then persist for a small amount of time during the actual gameplay segments. It didn’t appear to occur much, if at all, during heavier combat and gameplay moments, only when the game appeared to be loading in a new scene or different areas. I was playing on a PlayStation 4 Pro, so not even a baseline PS4. It was jarring enough to be noticeable and make me wonder what was going on every single time, but I was thankful it never seemed to occur during the combat segments, which would have really been unfortunate. If Remedy can patch that out in the future, things will be pretty smooth in the technical department on PlayStation 4.
Soundtrack wise, Control has a nice balance between atmospheric tracks to add to the suspense of the plot and rock-infused songs which are a common thing in Remedy games. Hearing Poets of the Fall once again brought a huge smile to my face when I discovered a room in a lab that was purely meant for listening to the track. The voice acting and acting itself had zero issues, with Courtney Hope making a fantastic Jesse Faden. Shoutout to James McCaffrey, Brig Bennett, Antonia Bernath, and Martti Suosalo for the amazing work they did bringing each one of their respective characters to life.
I like Control. No. I really like Control. The fact that the game doesn’t explicitly hold your hand and guide you on where to go and instead relies on your innate nature to want to explore was a perfect design choice. Backtracking to find secret rooms, hidden items, and unexplored areas was rewarding 90% of the time and oftentimes even added additional layers and craziness onto the already action-packed story that was being presented. For the most part, it all felt right and satisfying. If Remedy can clean up some of the issues with the frames dropping from time to time, I really think this is going to be the one for them that is received universally well by critics and fans alike.
Seriously. If you’ve been interested in Control at all since the announcement was made up until now, do yourself a favor and check this one out. If the framerate issues I occasionally experienced scares you off, just know it didn’t affect my experience enough to bring the enjoyment factor I felt while playing down a ton. I cannot wait to see what Remedy has in store for the world of Control in the future. If it’s anything like the base game, we could be looking at the birth of a new franchise for the team when all is said and done.