Control: Ultimate Edition

The idea behind Control is one that I could not help but hopelessly fall in love with.

I’ve spent too much time on the SCP wiki, have watched Twin Peaks more times than I’d like to admit, and get giddy thinking about how ahead of its time the X-Files was. Add a dash of Euclidean geometry a la House of Leaves and you have a title that’s seemingly meant for someone of my specific taste.

When it was first announced, I was convinced that Remedy would do the concept justice. And when you consider that the studio’s third-person gunplay is some of the best ever made, I had no doubt it would be a critical hit.

As we all know, that’s exactly what happened. Control received critical acclaim and numerous Game of the Year awards upon its release – all well deserved.

In my view, Control succeeded because of how it takes its unique blend of influences to form its own memorable world and characters.

For those who haven’t played the game before, Control takes place in a mysterious building called The Oldest House; the home of a government agency that investigates, contains, and studies paranormal entities. It’s at once hopelessly bureaucratic and still prone to human error and all the existence-bending consequences that come with it in this context. Remedy delivers that setting through supremely sharp, dark humor, with a tone that shifts from serious to wacky with a grace few games can accomplish.

Control executes on its vision in a way few games manage

Looking past the story, Control is a best-in-class third-person shooter. In my opinion, no game of the genre has ever replicated the same kind of frantic combative tango that the main character Jesse performs with her enemies, the Hiss. Combining abilities like levitation, telekinesis, possession, a swift dodge, and the many simple but varied weapons found throughout the Oldest House results in a challenging and rewarding combat system.

Yet… and it breaks my heart to say this… Control ultimately leaves you wanting more. That’s true for the base game as well as both of its expansions – both now included in the newly released Control: Ultimate Edition.

This review won’t delve too deeply into the base game, as that’s been covered in our review here.

Instead, I’m going to focus on what new the Ultimate Edition brings to the table – and namely the most recent expansion, AWE. Light spoilers will follow, so let me just say up front that if you have any interest in this expansion, you will enjoy it. May be best to go and play it before reading on.

AWE is available after a certain point in the main story, right around the endgame. Prompted by visions of Alan Wake and his inner turmoil – presumably suffered after the events of his story – you’re tasked with exploring a newly discovered department of the Oldest House: Investigations.

Alan Wake is back, but it’s not easy to wrap your head around how or why

Now, before I go on, let me provide a bit of essential context. When Remedy laid out its content roadmap for Control, fans immediately pinged the planned AWE expansion as a nod to Alan Wake. It seemed to suggest a return to Bright Falls and the darkness-based creatures that inhabited it, explaining through the Control lore what actually went down there.

This expansion delivers on some of those fronts. It definitely references Bright Falls and Alan Wake’s encounters there. And it suggests some pretty fascinating links between the events of Control and Alan Wake’s role in the grand scheme that I won’t spoil here. Nevertheless, AWE still winds up feeling like a massive missed opportunity to explore a radically different change of scenery from the base game – in favor of setting up an Alan Wake sequel.

This expansion has you exploring twisted, brutalist government offices and cavernous installations meant to house paranormal entities. In other words, exactly what you’d expect to find in Control. In fact, I’d wager most of what happens in this expansion actually has little to do with Bright Falls or Alan Wake’s story.

You’re getting more Control in this expansion. And while that’s not a bad thing, DLCs of this vein most often allow games to introduce ideas that feel really distinct from the main game. This expansion does not. Or, it will show them off once and never return to them.

This sequence, with a mirage a repeating furniture, only shows up once…

Yes, you’re using light to eliminate pools of black goo meant to represent “darkness” – a nod to the original Alan Wake. But apart from a few cutscenes and visits to the Oceanview Motel, where apparitions of Wake tapping away on a keyboard appear to deliver expository dialogue, that’s about where the comparisons end.

There are no enemies that you use the light to attack, save for one. There are no vast swaths of lush northwestern United States wilderness to entrance you. And, most importantly, there are none of those classic mystery novel hooks to drive the player toward its conclusion.

The plot instead focuses on Hartman, a key character in the original Alan Wake. But even though you’re given insight into how Hartman came to the Oldest House, something about his presentation underscores his importance to Alan Wake, and instead makes him feel almost as if he were in the Oldest House all along.

The method of combating him is certainly different from the typical skirmish in Control. Hartman is invincible to the Service Weapon for much of the expansion, requiring you to hide in the light and find ways to illuminate the battlefield to scare him off until the final confrontation.

It makes for some interesting scenarios, where you’re careful not to stay in the darkness too long and suffer Hartman’s attacks. One notable encounter has you following a spotlight around a room containing the Lunar Lander, carefully navigating to avoid the formidable Hartman until you can flush him out.

While AWE undeniably contains that Alan Wake DNA, this DLC still manages to feel like little more than a few ideas that Remedy would’ve liked to include in the base game, but either couldn’t finish in time or couldn’t find a good spot for. A mysterious fourth astronaut returning on the Apollo 14 mission, who speaks in highly entertaining gibberish? Great! A paranormal train seized by the FBC, haunted to recollect its final moments on the track before a fatal crash? Also great!

The whole idea of a wing of the Oldest House dedicated to ongoing investigations works perfectly for Control. But most of it doesn’t feel like Alan Wake, and I suspect that’s what a lot of fans were looking for.

It’s strange to see this disconnect when the other major DLC offered in the package, The Foundation, actually offers a bit of variety compared to the base game. The environments and challenges there are better left to the initial experience, so I’ll leave it at that. But it’s worth noting that the art direction of that expansion feels markedly different from much of what you find in the base game, and that alone is enough to grab the player’s attention in a more effective manner.

That doesn’t mean AWE isn’t good – it’s great, in fact. But it’s so similar to the base game that it comes off just slightly disappointing. I have a hard time recommending you pony up for the Ultimate Edition just to play it, if that’s the situation you’re in.

AWE isn’t the only new addition to the Ultimate Edition. Alongside the new expansion are a small number of updates to the base game that fit naturally with what was there before. One notable and wholly welcome inclusion expands the telekinesis ability to pick up and throw multiple objects at once – something I was waiting to happen for the entirety of my first run of the base game. It’s mechanically simple, works as advertised, and is extremely satisfying to toss three bits of concrete and furniture at an enemy where before you could only launch one at a time.

There’s also the new Assist Mode, which lets the player more granularly adjust elements of the difficulty to make certain aspects of the experience easier.

Exclusive to AWE is the addition of the Schüm machine, an arcade cabinet that transports to the player to a brutally difficult series of challenges: a horde mode, a time trial, boss rush, and allows the replaying of certain bosses and key moments in the main story.

If you haven’t yet played Control and are holding off for the next-gen iteration (or a beefy PC upgrade) there’s no reason not to. This package is the best way to get everything Remedy can offer about the Control Universe.

mikemerson

Updated: Sep 01, 2020


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