The writers over at Remedy Entertainment have never lacked for the ability to create a rich, deep mythology. Their latest, Control, is no exception to this rule. Following on the heels of games like Alan Wake and Quantum Break, Remedy are proving themselves as creators of some of the best original franchises of the last decade.
Control carries on this rich tradition with some of the best world-building in the modern sphere. Though the idea of using left behind memos and messages to convey elements of a story is over 20 years old, it’s the method and intricacy with which Remedy uses this strategy that makes it so effective. For example, cheesy videos are interspersed throughout The Oldest House which show the storied Casper Darling explaining scientific marvels and discoveries with the kind of corny zest one would associate with Gale from Breaking Bad. It’s these tiny elements of personality, embedded into much of the game’s lore, that makes it so worthwhile to explore Control‘s central location.
Since the entire game ostensibly takes place in a single location, the amount of effort that the team at Remedy put into making the player’s lore hunt a satisfying one cannot be overstated. As The Oldest House bends and folds in on itself over the course of the campaign, players are constantly finding new rooms to unlock and explore, adding more and more little pieces to the puzzle as they go along.
Of course, one of the greatest mysteries of all is the Bureau of Control itself. Since, like in Bioshock, the player is basically dropped into this mysterious location with little preamble or explanation, the nature of the building itself becomes a great source of curiosity. The laws of nature seem to come and go at random, while sinister chanting choruses and eerie buzzing sounds permeate and drip through the atmosphere. Often the game is at its most unsettling when the player is not in combat, and the mysterious nature of The Oldest House simply makes itself known through some strange manner of unexplained phenomena.
Like Alan Wake, Control also takes time to inject some genuinely good humor in with all of the high strangeness of the Bureau. One of the tabs that players will collect files under is basically a crank file, filled to the brim with one paranoid letter after another, written by some highly unstable individuals. One complains of a singing fish that is tormenting him incessantly for example. What makes accounts like these doubly funny is the strange fact that some of them might actually be true. One of the objects of power actually turns out to be a rubber ducky, so a singing fish really could be tormenting some guy out in the rural midwest, and that’s a pretty amusing thought.
Also like Alan Wake, certain areas, like the Ashtray Maze or the Oceanview Motel, seem to be lifted almost wholesale from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Since Lynch’s television masterpiece of experimentation and intrigue is one of the best examples of mixing quirky pathos with existential terror, it’s a perfect fit for a game like this, and the reminders of it serve the audience well as a result.
Even the gun has personality in this game. The service weapon of the Director of the Bureau of Control is an ever morphing, always-changing gun that can go from standard pistol to a shotgun or uzi in a matter of seconds. The way the gun transforms, and especially the weight and heft with which it fires in its many different forms, gives the player so much freedom for how they want to handle combat that the endless waves of enemies rarely feel tedious.
Whether it be whacked out conspiracy theories, the collective unconscious, the place where science ends and mystery begins, or the line that separates reality from fantasy, Control‘s world is so engaging because you always want to know more about it. The fact that the game is so reserved and capricious in the information it allows the player to find throughout their experience is, in the end, one of the game’s greatest strengths.