After a secretive agency in New York is invaded by an otherworldly threat, you become the new Director struggling to regain Control in this supernatural 3rd person action-adventure from Remedy Entertainment and 505 Games
Publisher: 505 Games
Reviewed on: PS4 (PS4 Pro)
Also available for: Xbox One, Windows
Cast: Courtney Hope, Matthew Porretta, James McCaffrey, Jennifer Armour, Martti Suosalo
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Concept by: Mikael Kasurinen and Sam Lake
Directed by: Mikael Kasurinen
Story by: Sam Lake
Music by: Mikael Kasurinen
Like all good episodes of The X-Files or The Twilight Zone, there is a fantastic mystery at the centre of Control, a game that seems inspired by both the weekly adventures of Scully and Mulder and the tone of The Twilight Zone. Remedy Entertainment are definitely fans of serials, just look at their last work, Quantum Break, and horror as well (see Alan Wake), and now they combine many of these past inspirations into the deep, intriguing and mysterious world of Control.
Jesse Fayden has been appointed the new Director of the Federal Bureau of Control, but as she arrives at the rather normal exterior of the FBC building situated in the middle of New York City, something seems off. She makes her way through the lower desolate levels, only bumping into one maintenance worker the entire time and when she arrives at the Director's office, a strange weapon awaits her. It’s a pistol, but its body contorts and changes shape as if it’s alive. Jesse doesn’t have much time to piece together what’s in front of her though as she’s quickly confronted by security workers that are ominously being controlled by an outside force and the mysterious gun is put to work.
There is more to Jesse, of course, and the performance from Courtney Hope is nuanced and emotional. I just don't want to spoil too much, as Control will be much more fun the more you learn as you play.
After you make your way through the first few sections of the inside of the FBC Jesse will save a few employees and get details on what exactly is going on. Something, a thing Jesse decides to call ‘The Hiss’, has made its way inside nearly every person inside and the building has been put on lockdown. Jesse shouldn’t have been able to get in, but she did, somehow. Now the job falls on Jesse, as new Director, to take control of the FBC and find out what The Hiss is, how it's affecting people and what other secrets lay deep within the FBC.
Combat in Control starts relatively simple for a third-person action game. Your gun titled the ‘Service Weapon’ shoots energy and recharges when not in use. You have infinite ammo, but run it dry and it’ll take several seconds to cool off. There is no cover mechanic in Control, and at first, this may seem odd, but this isn’t a third-person-shooter, it’s a superhero game and Jesse is the star.
Jesse starts the game with basic telekinetic powers that can rip cement blocks out of walls to fling at enemies or lift tables, chairs and other objects to throw. Eventually, she’ll unlock other abilities including a fast-dash and the ability to levitate which makes Control feel most like Sucker Punch’s inFamous games.
Jesse is powerful and you can shape the way you want to play, or adapt to the variety of enemies you’ll encounter. Different forms of the Service Weapon can be unlocked by forming them with materials found, earned and dropped from enemies. A close-range shotgun variation will obliterate lesser enemies in a wide scope in-front of Jesse, while a sniper variation allows you to pick off enemies from afar, or deal tons of damage with a charged-up shot.
You can modify the Service Weapon’s formations with equipable perks that’ll decrease reload times, increase damage and more. You’ll find these Weapon Mods dropped by enemies or hidden throughout the game in containers. You’re also able to craft them, and can also upgrade your crafting level to be able to make higher tier mods. Jesse is also customizable in a similar fashion. She can equip up to three Personal Mods by the end of the game and these can increase your HP, energy, or decrease the time it takes to use certain abilities. The customization is about being adaptive to the situation your facing and it’s often a good fall-back plan if you’re struggling in a section to see what mods you have that could help out.
Exploring the FBC isn’t scary, but it’s often unsettling. Walking into a giant open room with bodies all floating in the middle of the room is eerie. And Control's sound design seems to exist solely to keep you on your toes. There is a constant whispering of souls in the distance throughout nearly every section in the game, which, as I played entirely with headphones on, was at times disturbing. The original score from Martin Stig Anderson and Petri Alanko adds to the mood as well with a combination of pieces that range from an anxiety increasing drum patters that signify bad-news to string pieces more atypical of the horror genre.
Not since Bloodborne have I been so amazed at the intricate world-design that features in Control. Its interconnected levels and locations are very smart and I'd often enter into a new section only to realise its a higher level than I'd been a couple of hours earlier. The design makes the building, as confusing as it can be, feel very tangible and helps ground what is a very sci-fi space.
Eventually, you’ll learn that your weapon, the Service Weapon, is an 'item of power', one of many, which the FBC collects, holds and experiments on. You’ll come across others eventually, mostly behind thick glass, but each and everyone makes you wonder what they do and what the story behind each is. The FBC has a rich history and I was happy to indulge in every bit of lore I could find with audiotapes, and documents hidden around as collectables.
The FBC building itself is considered a place of power and is called The Oldest House, which has deep connections to alternate realities. The deeper you get inside The Older House, the weirder and less likely the laws of physics, or reality will have any effect. One second you could be in a rather normal looking office building, the next, a trip down the rabbit hole.
The art design is fantastical with some areas you enter inside the FBC building being utterly otherworldly. You'll think you're in the pits of hell, the depths of space, the utter ninth circle at times. Control is nothing short of absolute madness, but it's beautiful, and I want the artbook.
While Control’s story is rather simple, it’s the world-building and characters you meet along the way that offers rich tapestries to be explored and offer the most intrigue. It's an odd-game from Remedy though, as the story is mostly optional. What you get out of Control is going to rely on how much you invest into listening to audio logs, and watching optional video content that plays around the building from the Head of Research at the FBC, Dr Casper Darling, who is played in live-action by Matthew Porretta.
By the time the credits roll, there is still more to be done and learned inside the FBC and Remedy has more content planned for post-release. Before that comes though, there’s a substantial end-game between side-missions and random FBC Alerts to respond to. Some of the side-quests I left until I completed the game because they were kicking my ass. Several optional bosses were harder than anything seen in story missions. That said, Control is often difficult and requires you to make the most of every ability at your disposal. It does help to spend time doing some side-missions when you can to break up the main quest-line, especially when a really good mod could be life or death.
I had significant FPS drops a handful of times over my 12-16 hour playthrough. Combat in Control can get very hectic and with so much destructible items and debris, it seems my PS4 Pro struggled to keep up at times with drops to what felt like to the 12fps range. I also encountered mild freezes a couple of times and the load times, particularly when you're dying several times in a row trying to beat a boss, become very tedious. None of this is experience ruining, but it was annoying any time it happened.
If silhouetted, mysterious, cigarette smoking characters shrouded in mystic and spouting rather philosophical nonsense is your kinda afternoon, Control is probably going to be one of your favourite games of 2019. I dove into its world headfirst and came out soaking in an urge to watch The X-Files. Control is my kinda sci-fi trip and easily one of the year’s best games.
(Control code provided for review)