Control represents the best of Remedy’s past while pushing their blend of great action and storytelling to new heights.
Developer – Remedy Entertainment
Publisher – 505 Games
Release Date – August 27, 2019
Platforms – PC -Reviewed, Xbox One, Playstation 4
Finnish developer Remedy has a reputation. A style, a distinct voice when it comes to the games and worlds they create. Excellent third person action and gun-play is their trademark. Bizarre, unique and captivating worlds, story and lore are never far behind. A marriage of two different ideologies which have produced some of my favorite experiences in gaming.
Lead writer Sam Lake has become one of gaming’s most prolific voices. H.P Lovecraft, The Twilight Zone, The New Weird. Remedy titles despite the grounded action always have ties into something beyond. Something odd, something that lies in wait beyond our limits of comprehension.
Control is their latest foray into the strange, and their trademark marriage of story and outstanding action come together in grand fashion.
Control stars Jesse Faden, who after a brief introduction winds up as the new director for the Federal Bureau of Control. A mysterious government agency hiding in plain sight. A little bit of Men in Black, but for my taste’s its a lot more X-Files with the bureaucracy of an uptight government job.
Jesse is guided in her adventures by a mysterious hitchhiker. It seems as if she is breaking the fourth wall, frequently speaking to a proverbial “you” during her journey. She will even internally discuss other characters and her opinions on them with you. Sometimes she will do this in the middle of them speaking.
Now internal monologues are nothing new. In fact it’s become somewhat of a Remedy trademark in regards to their main characters. This is the first time however where her monologues are conversations with this mysterious partner. Is it you, as in the player? This is one of Control’s many mysteries, and also help create a unique identity for Jesse as a protagonist.
The supporting characters also do a great job of setting the table for one of the best casts a Remedy title has ever had. Emily Pope, Dr. Darling, Director Trench. The janitor Ahti. So many characters, all with their own mysteries and motivations, and as you adventure deeper into the game every answer you find is always greeted with another question. Every layer peeled back reveals something new.
The game’s basic premise is actually a very simple one. Jesse enters the Oldest House to look for her younger brother who was taken by the FBC years ago. The Oldest House is what the Bureau calls home. Their headquarters on the outside seems like any standard, nondescript government building. However the Oldest House is known as an Object of Powers. Despite it’s normal appearance, the walls of the building itself can house alternate dimensions and bend itself beyond physical limits.
It just so happens that she isn’t the only newcomer who joined the fray. A force only known as the Hiss has also invaded, and amidst this chaos she will push through to find the answers she seeks.
Jesse, the workers trapped in the Oldest House, and the relationships between the paranormal and the FBC make for Remedy’s best world to date. Nothing is as it seems, and everything comes at you in angles that are unexpected. Control is a clear love letter to the weird pulp sci-fi tales from the fifties.
A major reason the story hit’s so hard is due in part to how it’s presented. Remedy titles have always been pretty linear experiences. Start to finish, you will start on one end and take in all of the game’s story on your one way path to the end. This formula has always been their balance, and in certain cases such as Quantum Break the way they handled story threw that balance off. Their best games have always struck a fine middle ground between moment to moment action mixed with exposition and story elements.
Control represents the biggest change in design philosophy for the studio. Control’s basic genre is unabashedly a Metroidvania. A genre with so much representation in the last decade that simply saying it’s genre isn’t specific enough for a point of comparison. So for this sake, think Shadow Complex, not Symphony of the Night,
It’s also a genre that for the most part is done on a 2D plane. A style of game in this genre done in a fully realized 3D world comes with it’s own set of challenges. Navigation especially, a key component of the genre can be tough to pull off. The actual location itself, has to feel cohesive. This is perhaps one of the best parts of Control. The Oldest House is one of the most compelling, unique and bizarre worlds I’ve ever experienced. Every single new section feels like it belongs, and despite the seemingly boring setting of an office building, this location is anything but.
Remedy also also litters the world with smart design decisions to help ease players into this world. A generous amount of fast travel points together with a well designed map go a long way. Control also features great signs and environmental clues that will help you get accustomed to the surroundings naturally.
Control’s world and story are brought to life with excellent gameplay. Control is a third person shooter. The hook here is the shooting itself. Jesse has one weapon, and this weapon is very unique. This one gun can change forms into the standard archetypes you would come to expect. Shatter, is a devastating shotgun. Pierce is a long range sniper rifle. Grip is the standard pistol configuration and so on.
Now with Remedy, everybody knows their action is never that straight forward. Jesse can gain unique powers that make her feel like a super hero. Powers such as telekinesis, shields, even mind control. These abilities and her exceptional movement capabilities push the combat to another level entirely. Remedy handles the expanded power set with finesse and grace.
The core gunplay is as good as it’s always been. It’s one of their trademarks. Loud, powerful and satisfying guns combined with great hit detection and enemy reactions. Powers can complicate that, especially if they feel clumsy to pull off. This is where Control really separates itself from everybody else in the third person shooter space.
They design action with core gameplay elements in mind to create harmony. The choice to have one gun that transforms for example, isn’t just a cool sci-fi hook. It works off recharging ammo, and the standard reload button other shooters implement is used in Control to swap between two forms. This small but important change opens up the controls and help seamlessly incorporate an expanded power-set without making it clunky.
In late game fights, you will be dodging rockets, while ripping off a piece of concrete and throwing it at a group of enemies as you shield yourself from their crossfire. Then you can leap and pop off a handful of head shots while mind controlling a sniper to help turn the tide.
Each of these actions feels satisfying in their own right, but combined really make something unique. It’s also helped with a pretty good assortment of enemy types, and avoids the problems most games with powers have late game. Most games with powers always decide to make combat challenging in a lazy manner. The laziest is by introducing enemies that just prevent your powers from working outright.
It’s challenging sure, but usually never fun. Control sidesteps that problem entirely by never introducing elements that take your power away. Instead they mix-up the enemy encounters that challenge players to use the entire tool-set. It leads to a very rewarding sense of accomplishment and just feels good to do, even after hours of combat.
The core structure changing so much from the linear experiences of Remedy’s previous work brings a lot of other changes with it. Control features some slight RPG mechanics, without straying into a loot and grind experience. Skill points come from completing various sidequests, and you will never have to sit and grind area’s out for XP. In fact, if you just stick to the main story, you will always be able to compete with the stronger enemies and complete the core path.
However, the non-linear nature also can complicate the story in some unexpected ways. In a linear experience, all the context for story is laid out for you. Every player will see and experience all aspects of the plot.
Control by it’s very nature subverts that. Some aspects of the core plot can seem more confusing and obtuse than it actually is if you don’t explore the world and discover it’s secrets. Things that didn’t quite make sense would have a clear cut explanation that I’d discover in a sidequest later on.
It’s not a problem, but it’s just a bit jarring to have the answers to some of the games larger mysteries hidden away in a part of the map the main story will never even take you too. On one hand it can lead to an overall story that can feel a bit disjointed. On the other hand the rewards for exploring and player discovery are very satisfying. Outside of some upgrades, almost every single side tangent you decide to embark upon will reward you with a much deeper insight into the unique and strange world these characters inhabit.
Visually, Control is a stunning accomplishment. Another Remedy trademark is their willingness to incorporate new graphic technology to push the gameplay forward. The intense particle effects and environmental destruction isn’t just fancy tech thrown around to sell graphics cards, it’s vital to the action. Most of the powers Jesse and the enemies use take advantage of the environment itself.
Launch for example. If you don’t have anything around to grab, pieces of concrete,marble and granite will be ripped dynamically from the world itself. The game never fakes anything you or the enemies use. Not only does it lead to a very visually intense affair, it also lends itself to dynamic combat and gameplay as situational awareness is used for more than just which piece of cover you’re trying to hide behind.
Unlike their previous games, Control also features a pretty fantastic post story content to partake in. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Control is the most replayable game Remedy has ever created.
As I was thinking back on my time with Control, it was hard to come up with any real issues. Some of my gripes are core components of the Metroidvania genre itself, and not so much with Control. For example, respawning enemies when you need to backtrack for story purposes can be a bit cumbersome.
Luckily the combat is so much fun that it never feels like busy work. Dying at the end of a long multi stage encounter will respawn you at your last Control point, which usually mandates a quick jog back to where you were to start the encounter over again. It wasn’t an issue for me. However if you die in certain fights repeatedly I can see the lack of combat checkpoints becoming a problem for some.
Control is a fantastic experience. One part Shadow Complex, one part Remedy’s special sauce and all of it weird. It feels like the creation of a Remedy Gaming Universe, as Control has elements of Remedy’s lineage in every aspect of it’s DNA while embracing new design to create something unique.