Combining supernatural fiction and third-person action, Remedy’s Control creates a haunting new world filled with the unimaginable.
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC (EGS)
Release Date: August 27, 2019
Building off supernatural works that present intrigue and fear through the unknown, Control is a game that lands somewhere between science fiction and horror. When combined with the Metroidvania principles of methodical expansion and guided player freedom, it creates a world that beckons the player to satiate their curiosity.
Dominated by Brutalist architecture and technology straight from a 1960s sci-fi thriller, Control takes place in the Oldest House; an otherwise ordinary office building in the middle of New York that also happens to be a nexus of paranormal and interdimensional oddities safeguarded by the Federal Bureau of Control.
There’s a delightful coldness and melancholy to Control, accentuated by protagonist Jesse Faden’s inner monologue that consistently perforates the game. She’s come to the Oldest House in search of her brother who has been missing since childhood but quickly finds herself unexpectedly thrust into the role of director after the bureau is overrun by a mysterious parasitic force known as the Hiss.
Despite the magnitude of this potential world-ending threat, the story remains relatively intimate in scope, focusing on Jesse and the remaining bureau agents fighting for survival. But even with an effective and relatable performance from Courtney Hope as Jesse, the purposely opaque and isolating nature of Control makes it difficult to get emotionally invested in its characters.
As the game comes to a close, it also doesn’t do enough to retroactively enlighten what came before it, ending on a rather abrupt note that for better or worse makes you feel like the answers are right in front of you but are just impossible to see.
But the most prominent driving force of Control is the world itself, brought to life through a captivating environment and an abundance of documents. This works particularly well in this instance versus many other games because the fundamental subject matter is exponentially more enticing. Each case report or section of the Oldest House acts as a brief window into a backstory that could fill an entire novel.
Reading about light switches taking people to other dimensions, stumbling into a room filled waist-high with clocks, or coming across a horrifying children’s cartoon dealing with the aftermath of agents lost to the void makes scrounging and contemplating each and every corner an addicting prospect.
It also helps that many of the documents refer to things that the player might eventually come across and interact with, creating a reciprocal sense of anticipation. However, this also highlights potentially the biggest shortcoming of Control, as it allows the imagination to exceed the scope of the game.
Each case report or section of the Oldest House acts as a brief window into a backstory that could fill an entire novel.
Hearing about parts of the building suddenly shifting or entire rooms disappearing paints a picture of something that feels organic and unpredictable. But in practice, this generally amounts to previously blocked paths opening up in relatively standard fashion, just in a more visually striking way than usual.
This isn’t to say the game doesn’t get delightfully bizarre at times, often using scale, perspective, and juxtaposition to its advantage. But whether mechanically, structurally, or presentationally, the boundaries of Control are always just a little too apparent, leading to a space that is genuinely fascinating to explore, but oddly mundane in terms of game design.
Combat in Control is comprised of equal parts third-person shooting and using supernatural powers. For the former, Jesse is equipped with the service weapon, a gun that at first acts as a pistol but can transform into various other weapon types once constructed with materials collected throughout the game.
Where Control is different from most other shooters is that all forms of her weapon draw from a single ammo pool that recharges automatically when empty or not firing. Instead of switching weapons when low on ammo, you’re encouraged to use her powers instead.
Along with the ability to slot in up to three mods into each form of the service weapon, combat seems designed around finding the form that fits your preferred playstyle best and sticking with it. For instance, with the right mods in place, such as increased shield damage, there was never a situation where the pistol wasn’t capable.
But the standout element of combat is by far the powers, and more specifically, the ability to launch any and everything at enemies. With outstanding sound design and an excellent sense of weight, ripping a desk from its resting place, pulling it towards you, and crushing enemies with it never fails to be as rewarding as it was the first time.
Thankfully, the launch ability has been designed so that you don’t need to aim at an object to pick it up, as holding the right shoulder button with automatically grab something nearby. Even though you can pick up something specific if you want, it’s not an ability that requires precision.
If there doesn’t seem to be anything around to grab, Jesse will pull concrete from a nearby wall or the floor. This removes pretty much any needed skill or awareness for the particular power, but with the frequency at which it’s used, that’s a good thing.
Adding nicely to the chaos is the destructibility of the environments. There’s an abundance of clutter, and whether from the player or the AI enemies, it all collides and shatters in surprisingly realistic detail, turning dull office space into a beautiful collage of broken glass, metal, and wood.
However, the physics system can be borderline goofy out of combat, as barely bumping into something can send it flying and rolling in a hilariously unrealistic way. But a more severe consequence of this is occasional performance issues.
…It’s disappointing that so many of the threats within Control are virtually indistinguishable from any modern third-person shooter
When there are a lot of enemies on screen, objects are being thrown about, and everything is exploding into particle effects, the game can see a severe drop in the frame rate. Luckily this only happened a few times early on in and was seemingly non-existent later, but it is worth being aware that it can happen.
Echoing problems elsewhere, the biggest let down with combat is that outside of your powers it feels plain ordinary. There isn’t a lot of enemy variety, and the vast majority of the time you’re merely fighting pistol, rifle, and rocket launcher-wielding soldiers corrupted by the Hiss. Even some of the more exciting bosses don’t have many surprising or unique mechanics.
It’s not enough to drag the frenetic gameplay loop into tedium or dull any of the spectacle that even the most straightforward encounters often are, but it’s disappointing that so many of the threats within Control are virtually indistinguishable from any modern third-person shooter, especially considering it isn’t constrained by the same rules most games are.
Control features a small but dense, open-ended map made of several different sectors that slowly expand as you clear fast travel checkpoints, complete main story missions, and gain new abilities like levitation. But there’s also plenty of optional activities such as side missions given by important NPCs, timed events, combat challenges, hidden areas, material caches, and even a few inconspicuous puzzles.
These mostly provide additional points to upgrade Jesse’s abilities, materials for enhancing the service weapon, and rarely new outfits. Although they’re certainly necessary if you want to max out your character, making your way through the main story is probably not overly difficult without them.
With objectives that involve things like sealing away a sinister, teleporting rubber duck or stopping a renegade refrigerator that needs someone looking at it 24 hours a day, they also offer some of the wilder insights into the Oldest House. Regardless of the rewards, it’s hard to imagine getting the most out of Control without at least spending some time allowing yourself to get lost.
Whether intentional or not, thanks to an in-game map that is nearly indecipherable at times, you will get lost. It’s not uncommon to find yourself racking your brain trying to remember which specific hallway or elevator it was that lead to that one security door you now have the key for.
But through the participation of various activities, Control does a decent job of sending the player through each area several times, allowing a sufficient enough level of familiarity to be built up throughout the game. In-world signs placed on walls also go a surprisingly long way in helping with navigation.
There weren’t any game-breaking bugs encountered, but there were a few small technical problems that came up consistently. Occasionally the map UI overlay would refuse to load, and the screen would briefly turn black when unpausing the game.
Subtitles were also regularly unreadable without a background option turned on in the menu which would often reset after closing the game. Most significantly, coming out of cutscenes seemed to freeze the game or drop the frame rate to single digits for a few seconds.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.