When Control was first revealed, people immediately compared it to Quantum Break with some even believing it was a sequel.
Don’t worry, the games couldn’t be more different, but if you absolutely have to compare Control to anything from Remedy’s back catalogue I guess it’s more like a Max Payne, with time-altering, shooting, brooding monologues, and trippy twists and turns. All organically woven into this complex tale.
But even though you have a front row seat to Jesse Faden’s internal conflict, it becomes increasingly obvious she’s keeping a bigger secret, even from the player, and that something makes this a very different proposition altogether. Something special.
Remedy have always been masters of the storytelling. They never fail to keep people talking long after the credits roll and you’ll often find their titles comfortably nestled in many people’s most beloved games. They’ve deftly tailored each experience to the hardware they’re working on. Control is no exception.
If you look at Quantum Break, for instance, this was an action-packed thrill ride with mind-bending outcomes that really showcased the power of current-gen hardware. Now Control has evolved the game even further and is perhaps preparing us for what the future of gaming narrative looks like on the eve of new hardware.
For starters, the way the game is presented with striking visual overlays that pop up over the action on the screen, furthering the narrative beyond simple words. The unique power and presence of the Oldest House – a shifting building better described as a place of power that isn’t clearly visible to people who aren’t looking for it – manipulates the very fabric of time, so you’ll see and hear things that may initially seem out of place but are exactly where they’re supposed to be.
Facial expressions of characters tell us more than ever, with subtle lip twitches, eye movement, head cocking and forehead scrunching. The camera closes in on those expressions and sometimes focuses on things off-centre, to create a more movie-like experience that draws you into the story even further.
And, of course, there are cryptic, creepy characters, seemingly at every turn, and it’ll be up to you to figure out their true intentions, whether they’re friend or foe, like Ahti the Janitor and Marshall. It’s all made even trickier because people inside the house have been corrupted by Control’s enemy, The Hiss.
As explained early on, people have been infused with HRAs, an injection that helps protect them from the Hiss’s corruption, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesse’s goals align with everyone she meets.
Despite all that, this is still very clearly a Remedy game with the team playing familiar tricks in how they convey their vision to the audience. You’ll often walk past TVs showing off presentations and VLOGs of staff members giving tongue-in-cheek demonstrations and explanations of the fascinating Oldest House and some of the science that empowers the building.
Then there’s the classic action Remedy are known for, with gunplay feeling incredibly tight and the use of Jesse’s abilities wholly satisfying. She can protect herself using a shield made up of debris scattered around, manipulate Hiss to fight for her, and even throw heavy objects and other enemies at those attacking her.
All these abilities can be upgraded, of course, by defeating Hiss throughout the Oldest House and claiming back ‘Control Points’ – areas which can be cleansed to give you some breathing room. You start, initially, with a fairly basic talent tree that lets you increase health, energy, and melee – but later opens up more with milestones that give you additional weapon and mod slots so you can stylise and customise Jesse for each situation.
Control Points also let you Fast Travel throughout the Oldest House, so you can jump around to places you’ve previously visited. Slightly more interestingly, though, are Astral Constructs. These let you construct weapons using collectibles gathered through the game, but also mods which you can infuse and equip.
Finally, Board Countermeasures are like in-game trackers which give you rewards, like killing ex amount of Hiss without dying or gaining a certain amount of headshots. These can be traded in for mods and resources, and double up with random events which happen throughout the game, advising you to deal with a particular threat in exchange for reward. They’re time limited, though, so you’ll need to react quickly.
And what would a Remedy game be without reams of assets and collectibles for you to learn more about your environment and those who inhabit it. With the complexities and nuances of the game, you’d be best served taking the time to read as much as you can to see what you’re up against. It helps, trust me!
Control is just incredibly satisfying to play, the environment is fully destructible, meaning you can pull bookcases down, throw whiteboards around, and even destroy bannisters on staircases. This means you can just as easily protect yourself from a potential death bullet using something you randomly picked up for cover, or send someone hurtling to their doom with an impromptu ally they never saw coming.
It’s also the simple touches, like boosting Jessie forward and have her take a chunk out of pillars and walls, and throwing everything from fire extinguishers to mail trolleys that really give you this feeling of immense power as you take on all comers.
The environment is also dynamic which constantly puts you on edge. Sometimes the floor might implode beneath you and take you to a hidden location, walls might seal up in front of you, and something you once saw in a room, may be gone when you revisit it.
Control is also full of nice subtle details. For instance, I loved gaining my new powers and the way they’re explained to you. It all adds to the contextual narrative, ensuring a bit more of this complex, layered world makes a bit more sense. Remedy have implemented everything so intelligently, clearly drawn over their years of experience building quality games.
I do have to point out, though, that my game struggled quite a bit. In fairness, this is just the review build and as far as I’m aware, many of the issues I encountered will be ironed out by the time most people get to play, but let’s just say my launch PS4 didn’t cope well with the pressure.
The frame rate was juddery – to the point of a complete stop during some action sequences – the game itself hated me having the overlay map open when trying to explore and slowed right down. The delays in map processing also became a bit frustrating, and the game really hated being paused then unpaused, with the first few frames over a ten second period slowed right down.
I do also have to point out that the game’s UI does seem a bit plain and limiting. It’s not very easy to order items, or to find exactly what you’re looking for at the tap of a button. And the game definitely doesn’t hold your hand when it comes to difficulty or navigation, be prepared to do a lot of backtracking.
As for the text, Woof! It’s so small and an absolute eye sore. To the point where Remedy have risked people ignoring them altogether. All these little details do become more noticeable when compared to the visual extravaganza going on all around you.
As mentioned, though, many of these issues shouldn’t affect anyone buying the game at launch, and definitely shouldn’t put you off one of the best games I’ve played this year. Control might just be Remedy’s best work yet. It’s a confident game with plenty of things to keep you interested and invested.
You’ll want to peel back and explore every corner of Control’s world. You’ll be desperate to learn what secrets Jesse is keeping, how her relationships evolve with the subcast and acquire each new ability which opens up the game in an even more exciting way.
If Control is giving us a glimpse into storytelling for the next generation, we have every reason to be excited. As far as games are concerned, we’re entering the best timeline!
Control releases on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on August 30th.
Review code kindly provided by Remedy and 505 Games
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