Control (2019)

Very few games can pull off an interesting story, with plot twists and misdirection and surprises, yet Control does this with relative ease. There is nothing simple about this game, except the combat. Yet the combat does feel fun and is enjoyable, but not the main focus for a 3rd person shooter.

The moment you start playing Control you are dropped into a world where nothing makes sense, and trying to understand it leads to lots of unanswered questions. Like a good episode of Lost, Control will have you scratching your head while there is a smile plastered on your face at the same time.

Jessie Fayden is searching for her lost brother who was taken by a shadowy government organization. She follows the trail to the Federal Bureau of Control building and is soon enveloped into a whole new set of problems. The building has been taken over by another dimensional form dubbed “The Hiss”. The Hiss kills the head director of the Bureau and takes control of the various employees, and it is up to Jessie to cleanse the building as the newly appointed Director.

It’s a simple story with a subplot that swirls around with multiverses and everyday objects imbued with other worldly powers. A lot of the actions don’t really make a whole lot of sense at the start. Characters act in a way that most would never actually act in real life. But we are talking about a story about supernatural activity, which lends itself to the unnatural. So when Jessie just automatically assumes the role of the boss without any hesitation, it comes off as extremely rushed just to get the game going.

Yet, the best part about Control is absolutely the world that Remedy has created. A building, called “The Oldest House” that lives and breathes. One that changes and morphs as it is corrupted or cleansed. This is where you spend all of your time and has so many different areas that it is absolutely overwhelming.

The collectables are the main way the world is fleshed out in the game, with memos from upper management explaining new protocol, to notes sent to other co-workers about how annoying the new guy’s new music is.. It can be overwhelming from the very beginning. For me, when it comes to collectables in games is to only get them if they are fun. And I did enjoy grabbing and reading these, but when I had to stop and pause the game for 30-45 seconds every time I came across one (which is often) quickly outgrew its welcome. Audio logs show up every so often giving more background on the goings on, but walk a few feet away and you can’t hear it anymore, same with the projected FMV that gives large swaths of the story at key points… This results in standing around for several minutes at a time effectively killing all momentum and flow of the game.

The ever shifting structure and layout is confusing and I became frustrated many times with how lost I became just by walking down a hall. The map the game gives you has overlapping levels and doesn’t tell you how to read it. The majority of the time, I walked around until I found enemies, which is an indication you are going the right way.  Luckily this is going to be addressed in a game update, so hopefully the map can become more helpful than the hindrance that it is right now.

When you are on the right path, Control seems extremely linear for the most part. Even with it’s map that allows you to go wherever you want, it does block parts of it off until you have the right tools to conquer that particular area. Be that a new ability or clearance key card or weapon. Opening up shortcuts once you have cleared out the hiss helps open up the map much more, and allows you to finally wrap your head around the level design.

The combat is an amalgamation of both your service weapon (that can switch from pistol, to sub machine gun, shotgun and a few others) and extremely useful powers. Telekinesis, levitation, dashing and a shield are pretty standard when it comes to video game super powers, but Control uses them effectively, making those powers the main way you deal with enemies. It’s a joy to hurl an explosive barrel at a heavily armored baddie, run around a corner, pop a few lackies with some shotgun blasts, use their bodies to hurl at the heavy and wear them down a bit more, and finally finish them off by ripping chunks off the wall and using the chucks to finally defeat the massive onced armored bad guy.

It’s an incredible balance of several powers and weapons that you really have to choose the right strategy for each fight. And unlike most games, the gun is usually the last option you go with, because everything else is so much more fun and interesting. Swapping out to the gun is mostly a last ditch effort, or only done in the brief moments that your powers are in a cool down state.

As fun as the combat is, it really isn’t very hard at all. I died 3 times in the entire game, and two were from falling to my death when no one was around. The other one was at the end boss when everything was so hectic that I didn’t notice someone popped up from around a corner and was right behind me. It just wasn’t very challenging. There is an upgrade path that all but guarantees victory because of the insane amount of additional health given to you during pickups and damage you deal to enemies. All I did, just like any video game that allows me to, was to dump all my XP to unlock more health, then extra damage to my telekinesis. Once that was done, I was basically unstoppable, which was around a fourth of the way through the game. It was a cake walk at that point.

The emptiness of the Oldest House is felt the right way, every wall is flat and cold feeling. Every step feels like you are walking further and further away from reality and deeper into the unknown. The door in front of you might lead to a normal office room, filled with desks and monitors or a room wallpapered in with post-its that makes you feel like someone truly disturbed has stumbled onto something extraordinary. Hallways can twist and warp to something out of Psychonauts, or a turn and cascade into a tileset unlocking your path to the next area. It’s all bizarre and unnerving, yet really cool.

Control doesn’t have many big “Set Piece” moments, ones that you’d expect from this type of narrative game. There are a few, one that you come back to over and over again is a motel lobby, something out of a Twilight Zone episode, every time you come back to it, you have to solve a different yet very simple puzzle, but the atmosphere and the overall vibe of the late afternoon soaked empty lobby creates a familiar feeling, yet something seems off.

There is one absolute stand out portion of Control. A moment that will be held up as a shining example for years to come, like a “Would you kindly” or “The moon moment” from Portal 2… It is ultra fun and really makes Remedy’s games stand above the other developers as something special. If only there was a bit more of it in Control. Because for the majority of the game, it’s just creepy with the entire building quiet and void of much life or atmosphere. Instead you get a dozen or so hours of hiss and unintelligible voices chanting at you. Around the halfway point of the game, I just played music from Spotify as I was just extremely bored and annoyed with hearing whispering voices for hours on end and sitting in near silence for large amounts of time.

Without spoiling the game, I do think Control does a great job of creating a very fun and interesting world, one that somehow connects with their previous games in some fun little easter egg moments, and while there is an open endedness to the story, that isn’t overly satisfying. The building could have used much more in the way of twisted corridors or shapeshifting rooms. Hiding the majority of the world in little collectable memos and notes, forcing you to take yourself out of the game and read in a menu or stand awkwardly for several minutes listening to an audiolog just killed a lot of the momentum of the game. The game seems like it wasn’t really finished when I beat the “boss” and the credits rolled. Having so many “clean up” objectives really isn’t my bag when it comes to games. Dropping me back into the world and telling me to finish everything now after I’ve experienced the big climax is unfulfilling and I’ll probably never finish the rest… because why would I? I already beat the game and saw everything there is to see. Some minor quests aren’t going to do anything except make me feel like I’m wasting my time.

With the small amount of issues Control certainly does have, I did enjoy it quite a lot for the short amount of time I had with it. Interesting and short will always beat out filler bloat for me when it comes to gaming stories. And even though I wish there was more, and it looks like there will be some DLC, it is a well rounded enough game to recommend to most.