Remedy Entertainment is a studio best known for games that push the boundaries of the action genre. After producing hit titles like Max Payne and Alan Wake that combine innovative combat mechanics with a superb blending of story styles, the legendary studio returns with another mind-bending high-flying action game that is filled with many twists and turns in terms of both its combat and its world.
In Control players step into the shoes of Jesse Faden who’s looking to enter the enigmatic headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control, a secretive US government arm that handles issues related of supernatural and other worldly nature. Think of it like Fox Mulder’s very own bureau. As children, Jesse and her brother were involved in an incident caused by a Slide Projector, deemed an Object of Power by the FBC, that acted as a doorway to another world. After the children manage to close the doorway thanks to their own supernatural powers, Jesse’s brother, Dylan, disappears. Several years later, as an adult, Jesse is guided by a being she calls Polaris, that attaches itself to her during the incident, towards the FBC as a possible lead on Dylan’s whereabouts. Upon entering the Oldest House, the FBC’s name for its headquarters, Jesse finds that something has gone awry as mysterious voices echo across the building’s halls, bodies are suspended in midair, and bureau agents have become hostile after being overtaken by a mysterious force nicknamed the Hiss. Making her way to the bureau’s Director’s office, Jesse finds him dead with his weapon, another Object of Power, laying beside him. Jesse picks up the Service Weapon and after a series of trials is named the Director by the bureau’s Board, yet another enigmatic group that seems to communicate with Jesse through telepathy. Whilst maintaining her quest to find her brother, Jesse must also cleanse the Oldest House of the other worldly force that has taken control over it and uncover the mysteries that the FBC has been hiding.
Control’s story is definitely a dark and surreal one, blending elements of supernatural horror with X-files-eque world building. While the core of the story center’s around Jesse’s search for Dylan, there are a lot of underlying plots and mysteries that are unraveled as players traverse through the eerie halls of the Oldest House. Main story beats are told through character interactions and cutscenes with superb voice acting and some interesting minute details in terms of editing. The camera will cut to a shot of Jesse’s eyes whenever she’s thinking to herself or talking to Polaris. Details about the FBC, its work and the people that run it, such as the elusive Dr. Darling - the lead researcher of the bureau, is uncovered through finding collectible files, voice recordings and video projections. The latter in particular are shot in full motion video featuring the good doctor and play out like the kind of creepy Dharma videos found in the Lost series. There are even some unsettling episodes from a kid’s puppet show found on TVs scattered around the bureau. Each little detail, whether it comes from a conversation or a collectible operates like a tiny piece to a bigger unnerving puzzle that tells the story of the FBC’s history, its research and its purpose.
Gameplay-wise, Control plays very much like an action adventure set in a semi-open world. To twist it, Remedy has injected elements of metroidvania DNA into the formula encouraging players to explore more for collectibles, upgrades and other goodies. Acquiring abilities to make Jesse more formidable in both combat and traversal requires finding Objects of Power, items that have been affected by the supernatural forces the FBC investigates. Some are located by following the story while others have their own side missions. Once found, each ability is trained and tested through short trials that demonstrate its uses. It’s an elegant way of incorporating a sense of discovery into character progression while at the same time tutoring the player on each individual ability’s purpose. Skills can also be upgraded through the use of a talent tree by spending ability points acquired after completing quests and defeating key enemies. Some of these abilities, such as Launch and Levitation, can be used to solve some of the game’s not-so-challenging puzzles and to traverse new areas via backtracking. More rooms and areas are also opened up via access cards given to Jesse as she progresses through the story. Side missions and challenges also encourage some backtracking and exploring, some of which can be completed at your own pace while others are put on a timer the moment they appear. These time-constrained missions can feel forced and diversionary as they can appear right in the middle of a heated situation that can lead to the player forgetting about it only to find out they have failed a mission once the timer runs out. Thankfully, they are obligatory to complete the game but completionists may find this frustrating.
Combat in Control is one of the highlights of the game, especially once Jesse acquires all of her different abilities and unlocks different forms of the Service Weapon. Both of these aspects allow for a wide variety of customizations that enable a broad range of playstyles. Players who enjoy picking off enemies from afar may want to invest in the Launch ability to telekinetically fling objects from the environment and put resources into upgrading the Pierce form of the Service Weapon, the de facto sniping weapon. For the brawlers who prefer to get up close and personal, putting points into Jesse’s melee attack, Shield ability and Shatter weapon form turn her into a tanky beast that can dispatch groups of enemies once she closes the gap. Jesse’s play-style can also be further enhanced through Personal and Weapon mods to further leverage her build’s chosen skills. Mods and materials can be found and collected by defeating enemies, completing missions and finding crates throughout the Oldest House. Some of these crates are locked behind doors that require a particular access key or hidden behind a path that requires a bit more exploring to reach. Mods come in different levels of rarity and can be dismantled into materials to help manage the limited inventory space that is available. Gunplay and firing off abilities feels snappy and fluid. Jesse can dodge, levitate and shield her way out of danger at the press of a button. The Service Weapons various forms all feel incredibly powerful with each shot delivering the pain in a way that feels impactful and addictive. While enemies will appear around every corner, it’s a shame that there aren’t many areas where they respawn regularly so that players can just play around with the combat.
Control is a stunningly atmospheric game with crisp and detailed visuals for both its characters and its environments. Character models move fluidly, especially during combat. The Hiss that float in the air in particular are animated in a way that makes them feel eerily menacing. Emotions during facial close ups don’t always feel like the best in the business but they work well enough to represent the tension of each given moment. Jesse’s eyes in particular during her introspections have a creepy lifelessness about them that somehow manages to deliver the drama even though there’s no apparent change in facial expression. Performance-wise is where Control seems to falter, particularly on the base Playstation 4 which was used for this review. The game is prone to temporary freeze ups and frame drops during moments of heated battle when a lot of enemies are present and particle effects are flying all over the place. The game also tends to freeze up for a bit after loading screens and after a mission is completed. Remedy has informed us that a day 1 patch will be addressing some performance issues so we will be updating this review once that has come into effect.
Action adventures tend to put more focus on their combat and upgrade systems whilst making their story a secondary element. Control follows Remedy’s pedigree of placing emphasis on both crafting a compelling story and making a combat system that is addictive and a blast. The atmosphere of the Oldest House is dark and eerie which invites the player to explore its various nooks and crannies to uncover its secrets. It’s a shame that the performance of the game at times undermines the intense combat so we’re hoping that whatever patches come in the future will help improve things. Despite these issues, Control delivers an intense and heavy atmospheric exploration experience that will have you playing even after the main story is complete.