Outside of a few major studios, very rarely do I play a title and consider it to feel like a fully-realized vision. Often times, major video game releases instead seem like something was lost in the translation from the storyboard to the game engine due to corporate size, lack of funding, or a profits-first mentality. Control is not one of these titles. Instead, the work feels like the creation of a studio with artistic control and a desire to make something unique, taking bold risks to make their vision an uncompromising reality.
In a recent article from e3 2019, I called Control “the highlight of my experience” at the convention, and I’m incredibly happy to say that the Remedy’s newest release met –and actually exceeded– all of my expectations. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Control is my favorite 3rd party release of 2019 so far, although this has admittedly been a pretty mellow review year. Even so, Remedy’s Control is memorable, entertaining, and unique, proving that the developer can run with the AAA industry big dogs of the action/adventure genre and establishing them as modern masters of storytelling, level design, and gameplay.
Remedy Entertainment’s track record –Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break– shows that they know how to tell a gripping story, but Control sets a new standard in the paranormal genre. As protagonist Jesse Faden, players are thrown headfirst into the dark underbelly of the Oldest House, the headquarters of a secret government organization tasked with studying paranormal and supernatural occurrences, otherwise known as the Department of Control. Adopting the mantle of “new director,” players must traverse the house in search of Jesse’s brother, Dylan, who was kidnapped by the group as a young boy after the two stumbled upon an altered artifact that led to another dimension.
Coincidentally, the Department of Control is also under attack from an otherworldly force known only as “the Hiss,” a presence that possesses and transforms the Oldest House’s agents in monstrous creatures. To find Jesse’s brother and learn the secrets of her past, players must travel through the maze of the supernatural Oldest House and fight off the Hiss using a host of unlockable paranormal abilities and a transforming gun known as the Service Weapon. These powers take the form of a telekinetic launch ability, a levitating move, a shield power, and a possession skill, all of which allow for varied ways to fight through the Department of Control.
Now, it is a classic trope in video game journalism to say that games “make players feel like they are (insert any classic character here),” but Control absolutely nails the feeling of being a total paranormal badass. While I’ll avoid saying that I actually felt like a supernatural prodigy when hurtling objects across the room with telekinetic energy, it was still hands down the best use of physics and force I’ve ever felt in any video game engine. Paired with the crushing sound of pulverized rock and the whirling camera movement, the launch ability gave a visceral and almost tactile sensation to tossing forklifts, boulders, and barrels at the Hiss and a satisfying feeling as they ragdolled across the room.
Control absolutely nails the feeling of being a total paranormal badass
While the other powers aren’t as memorable and don’t come in to play as often, Jesse’s Service Weapon is an incredibly intuitive and snappy piece of hardware, as the switching between firing modes allows for interesting approaches to combat. Through the same weapon, players gain access to a number of different types of firing styles, juggling between a handgun, shotgun, rocket launcher, charge shot, and revolver on the fly. Because only two weapon types can be equipped at once, Control has endless combat possibilities and could have a number of playthroughs with different weapon combos.
Similarly to the gameplay, the level design of Control’s Oldest House is also an incredibly inventive take on the Metroidvania style, making for one of the most “open-world feeling” game experiences that I’ve had in an enclosed level to date. Although the headquarters of the Department of Control initially feels like a bland collection of offices and board rooms, its sprawling, maze-like layout and subtly creepy additions make for the perfect paranormal setting and create a space that feels unexplored in video games. Because Remedy uses a multitiered level design, Control really packs a lot of game into a relatively small space by today’s standards, as the overlaid corridors and interconnected elevator system make for lots of doubling back and reexploring, often to surprising results. It’s this world, combined with its foreboding architecture, levitating corpses, and unnerving background chanting, and that makes the title truly shine.
While the story itself is relatively short, around 10-15 hours, Remedy chocks Control full of side quests and lore reviewing possibilities, offering lots of additional and worthwhile game time for completionists and backstory enthusiasts. Often times, these additional missions involve tracking down a possessed item that has gotten loose in the house, leading to a wild goose chase that often ends in a trippy, out of this world journey into another dimension. These missions are unique, intriguing, and feel very much so like unused X-Files scripts, building more intrigue until the next possibility for misadventure presents itself.
That being said, Control is not without a few minor missteps that take away from the full experience. The map, a pretty essential part of the exploration experience, is woefully outdated and tries to illustrate the overlapping levels by simply shading them a different color and showing the world as a single image. It is terribly ineffective –I remember thinking that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on N64 had a better-designed level map on the Water Temple– and this issue forced me to wander aimlessly for a good while to find a specific hallway in question.
Also, the sheer magnitude of Jesse’s launch power and the massive explosions that result occasionally causes Control to slow to an absolute stuttering mess at rare times. While it certainly detracts from the overall experience, it didn’t affect gameplay in any overly meaningful way and surprisingly never led to any full-on crashes. There is always the possibility that this could get patched in the future.
An Astonishing Spectacle of Action
In spite of these hitches, Control still pulls through as one of the most unique and stellar titles of this year, as its incredibly supernatural story and awesome paranormal gameplay make for some of the most fun I’ve had with my Playstation in 2019. In review, Control feels like a fully realized project made by a studio with a unified and uncompromised vision, and it is this commitment to story and gameplay that establish Remedy as a contender with the likes of Ubisoft and maybe even Naughty Dog. If you are looking for a wild and trippy paranormal journey through the dimensions, pick up Control. While short and sweet, it will give you more than you bargained for and then some.