Release Date: August 27th, 2019
Developer: Remedy Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
One of the many beautiful things about science fiction is the innate mystery that comes along with it, theorizing and conceptualizing questions, thoughts, and visions of the future and exploring beyond the plane of what we know to be the norm in reality. What would our brains be like when 100% unlocked? Can we make contact with those outside of not only Earth but this plane of existence? How about finding new material and substances that could help us further advance and create new levels of technology and medicine that couldn't be realized before? Control takes the best parts of everything you've ever loved from titans in sci-fi like J.J. Abrams and Ridley Scott and blends them into this living, breathing world Remedy entertainment has meticulously crafted and expanded upon from their continued growth on Quantum Break. Stepping into the shoes of Jesse Faden, you'll be able to control objects and wield powers that aid you in the Federal Bureau of Control, exploring deeper and deeper in a Metroidvania-esque progression that rewards your efforts in battle and beyond as you come to terms with the real reason why you're there and what experiments the FBC have been conducting in the plane-shifting building they call The Oldest House that are causing worlds to merge and danger to increase. Control eases players into Jesse Faden's story at the start, but as things begin to unravel it makes sure that you must be prepared to defend yourself at all costs, and manage your abilities in a fluid and flexible way as The Hiss that crosses over should not be taken lightly. Every combat sequence means something, and in Control it's up to the player and Jesse Faden - who's just as curious as you are - to uncover just exactly what in the worlds is going on, and why.
Jesse Faden, played by Courtney Hope, is a phenomenal character that at first may come off as monotone, but as you go deeper into Control's narrative becomes this fully-realized dynamic character that isn't just someone with powers. Even though she becomes the new Director of the Federal Bureau of Control, she doesn't like formalities and wants everyone to understand that, abilities or not, she's on the same playing field as everyone else. She treats everyone with respect and is simply a person that wants to learn more about herself and the environment she's in, and her dialogue exchanges between not only other NPCs but herself in her mind are fantastic, giving us a way to peer into her mind rather than accepting the usual characteristics in storytelling of the main protagonist simply accepting their fate and having this immense stoic and seasoned attitude even if it's just two hours into a new job. Whether walking into a new location, engaging in intense firefights, speaking with others, finding collectibles, or doing tedious tasks, Jesse can be humorous making snarky remarks about a situation she finds herself in, and there were a lot of times I found her echoing my thoughts. I'd laugh and smile, and in an odd yet unique way the narrative makes sure to include the player in this series of events Jesse finds herself in; between multiple planes of existence, you can see what's unheard and hear what's not seen. If there's anything that should be commended here, however, it's the astounding Northlight engine that's in-house at Remedy. Control's world is ineffable thanks to its narrative, but it's not without the aid of the way the graphics and certain FMV sequences complement each other rather than conflict, bringing a unique perspective to the characters and making animations, physics, reflections, and more feel authentic, so much so it's almost surreal. The way scenes are filmed and portrayed - from the colorization, ambiance, geometric patterns of its architecture and surrealistic yet contemporary aesthetic - all angles in a way that's almost art in itself. You could watch a certain transition, fade, or whatever without any sound whatsoever - no context at all - and still be enthralled by the visuals. In a way, it reminded me of Bryan Fuller's work with the Hannibal TV series, eloquently using abstract imagery to further intensify thoughts, actions, and emotions. The creative direction is astounding from top to bottom, even utilizing techniques during loading screens, menus, and more that make it a visual delight for art and design snobs such as myself.
It didn't hit me until a few hours in that Control really does truly encourage exploration and that the entire Bureau is so cleverly connected. Sure, you could make it a linear experience if you want, but there are an absurd amount of collectibles that deepen the lore of Control more than most RPGs (friendly reminder that Control is not an RPG, so Remedy really went above and beyond creating this world), and they can be found just about everywhere - even bathrooms! The way the entire facility is intricately woven is also mind-blowing. Revisiting places I haven't seen in three plus hours and seeing the way it leads into it from areas that you thought were new entirely is one of the more clever parts about the design of Control. There are doors that may not be immediately accessible and need Clearance IDs to make it through, all varying in levels (i.e. Clearance Level 01, 02, 03, etc.), but seeing a place you've actually been to from a new perspective because a pathway was hidden, out of view, or didn't look like a point of interest initially is one of those "gotcha" moments that you can't help but smile at. Areas that don't look important as they're seemingly just part of the scenery or unreachable spots that, even after much perseverance of making it up there, seem blocked off end up becoming a vital part of the progression throughout The Oldest House. Remedy takes the Metroidvania formula and does it in such a clever way that - despite being an absolutely massive in architecture and hosting multiple sectors and facilities of which you can get to through Control Points and Sector Elevators - it's hard to get lost in. In a weird way also, you *want* to get lost into it because of all of the intriguing mementos you'll find from multimedia (audio and video tapes - even music), classified documentation, research papers and more. Some Clearance-specific areas don't even have much in them, and sometimes nothing at all, but due to the way certain papers are shuffled, deceased staff lay in certain positions, tables are relocated, crazy algorithms are written on whiteboard, and more, the environmental storytelling tells you all you need to know and makes the trip worth it.
Jesse has a wide array of abilities at her disposal, but when you're up close and personal with an enemy, you won't always want to use your Service Weapon, so you resort to melee. These melee attacks aren't necessarily fists and roundhouse kicks, but are short bursts of energy expelled through your hand that interact with anything it comes into contact with. Just about every object you see has a physical property to it, so whenever you're using this in combat or simply because you want to clean an office, watching the way coffee pots, papers, desks, posters, lamps, printers, chairs, phones, and more fly up into the air, fall apart, and react how you'd think they would is a sight to behold. The burst of energy is so strong that objects relative to your position react as well, so say you have a computer monitor slightly behind you as you melee, it'll still shake because of the thunderous boom of your abilities. The attention to detail on textures and lighting make The Oldest House feel real, and these too react to whatever happens around you. Nothing feels like a prop or decoration - and with your ability to wield objects and hurl them at your foes, everything around you is a weapon. It gives the player more incentive to take in the surroundings and help with environmental storytelling as well. As someone who likes to stop and smell the roses to appreciate level design in video games, having a better view of every area I was in by exploring felt amazing because it was also an advantage.
Control Points that you activate and find scattered throughout The Oldest House cleanse the immediate area surrounding them, allowing you to fast travel all over the FBC, which seems to feel larger and larger the more you explore. At Control Points, not only can you make use of fast traveling, but this is where you'll ultimately spend your skill points as you complete missions and activities. These can be used mainly to expand upon abilities you've acquired through Objects of Power, the name of the physical manifestation of the abilities you acquire and ultimately embody, and upgrading basic traits like increased health - arguably one of the more important things in the game - as well as energy so you can spend more time launching objects and evading any incoming projectiles without having to wait for a recharge period. Traveling all over The Oldest House will inevitably have you coming into contact with The Hiss which, in addition to exploration, will give you materials and resources you'll need to upgrade and unlock new types of Service Weapons. Your Service Weapon is just as essential to your defense as your powers are, and being able to use a gun that shifts to your liking at any given moment to best take care of a scenario you find yourself in is key to coming out alive in these fights. You can shift your Service Weapon to a variety of styles that essentially function as a pistol, rifle, shotgun and SMG, but only two can be equipped at one time. As you expand upon your abilities and Jesse Faden can better take control of her strengths, you'll be able to equip more mods for both your weapon and yourself to give you an advantage as you go through Control. Upgrades like more health, faster reloads, and higher damage output are just some of the things you can attach to give you a tactical boost, and you can equip whichever works best for your style, also allowing for stacking of these mods for maximum efficiency.
As stated earlier, Control lets you know right away that if you want answers, you're going to have to fight your way to get them, and the game can get relentless at times with swarms of enemies coming from various directions - with multiple types of enemies to boot - that want you dead. They're corrupt, and you have to do your best to evade, jump, smash, throw, and shoot your way out, because they're just as trained as you are, having supernatural abilities that can take you out in a matter of seconds. There isn't a difficulty option in Control, so the only tweaking you'll be able to do in overcoming a difficult fight is to your weapons and reflexes. While I found many fights to be grueling, they were just as exciting to finish, and in an odd way you wanted more as it's incredibly satisfying to launch just about any object in sight and watching them ricochet off walls and other enemies, though I will say I now hate rockets more than anything in gaming. For whatever reason, enemies with rockets are placed in such odd positions that I never notice them half the time in the frenetic and tumultuous nature of the fights, and if you don't die the first shot, it'll be sure to kill you on the next. Sometimes evasions can be a little odd, and one of the most weird things is that for the beginning portion of the game you can't dodge at all, so you're best bet is to just run around and throw whatever you find with the little energy you have. It's certainly a learning process to make the most sense of how to go about fighting, especially when no matter how far you get into the game you want to make as little contact as possible since you'll really only be able to take a few hits before you're done for good, even well after increasing your health and maximizing it further through mods.
One of the worst things about dying is the excruciatingly long load times as it takes you to the last Control Point you came into contact with, and these load times carry over even with fast traveling, elevators, or anything that requires a load of some sort. When in-game, in particular when completing missions, the screen freezes entirely. It's such a big hiccup that immersion is ruined and you begin to wonder if your system is about to crash, and I'm on a PS4 Pro. In some instances, pausing the game will cause it to stutter once you've resumed for a period of time, and there can be a bit of lag between inventory management that feels heavy. I dreaded having to hit pause and really only dealt with loadouts while at Control Points since they're basically a one-stop-shop for your fast traveling, mods/upgrades, side-missions, and outfits, and I was already worried enough about dying in the next room over, I didn't want to wait even longer just to change my Service Weapon types if the two I already had equipped didn't suffice. Rather frequently, the map that you can bring up while moving had trouble loading, and either would take upwards of twenty seconds to show up, or just didn't show up at all until I would switch sectors. Text for the names of locations would show, but the actual layout of the map itself would not, so all you're left with are words sporadically placed on the screen. Despite being pre-release, review copies of Control did include the Day 1 patch intended for release, so I'm anticipating another patch to help mitigate the heaviness of the menus and possibly decrease load times as well.
All in all, Control is immersive, certainly having, well, control over the player with its gripping narrative and mystery sci-fi elements that are almost poetically woven with the infrastructure of the Federal Bureau of Control. Traversing The Oldest House naturally and with certain clearance approval is rewarding to any player who feels the need to explore as to not make it such a linear experience, and with the inclusion of side-missions, tasks, and sudden events that occur in various sectors, Control gives plenty to uncover and accomplish. Jesse Faden's remarks are natural, with as much worry to the danger of everything that's happening despite her powers as her witty humor making snarky remarks to the seemingly never-ending onslaught of The Hiss from all corners. Having such a wonderful character to play alongside other NPCs that have just as much attention to detail put into them makes the world of Control feel alive and real. Mystery and sci-fi junkies like me can't get enough of the way Control has this vibe and atmosphere of Fringe meets Heroes, having a very J.J. Abrams meets Ridley Scott direction to it, and the way scenes are fleshed out and cinematography is handled, Control is without a doubt one of the most cinematic and enjoyable experiences I've had in years. The most important part about all of this, however, despite Control's heavy narrative, is that Control feels great to play and is captivating, never forgetting that at the end of the day it's a game. It wants you to return to the Bureau and keep playing well after you've finished Control and have had your mind blown to the Astral Plane and back. I can't commend Remedy enough for their stellar writing that gave everyone a chance to shine, including the player itself.
Control's narrative is gripping and progresses with such great pacing
Jesse Faden's character is authentic, feeling like a real person who's just as curious as the player uncovering the mysteries of The Hiss and The Oldest House
Exploration is rewarded, and it's Metroidvania-esque map is intricately woven and beautifully thought out
For those that appreciate collectibles, there are a plethora of them and expand the lore of Control deeper
The mix of phenomenal graphics and FMV sequences blend together in such a way that's complementary rather than conflicting
Long loading times between areas and each death
Certain UI and HUD elements don't function correctly, such as the map taking a long time to load, and sometimes not at all
Hiccups between missions where the entire game freezes or videos playing on screens that lag immensely
Performance can take a massive dip during some fights that make it hard to control
For Control being as gorgeous as it is, not having a photo mode at the time of this writing is only doing a disservice to itself
Our utmost gratitude to 505 Games and Remedy Games for providing us a copy of Control for the purpose of this review.