Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC (through Epic Games Store)
Publisher: 505 Games
Version Tested: PS4
Official Site: https://controlgame.com/
Release Date: August 27, 2019
After my first few hours with Control, the phrase ‘WTF’ kept popping in my head. As a matter of fact, that was the first note I wrote down preparing for this review. I quickly realized I was playing a game, unlike anything I’ve ever played before. Control, the newest game from Remedy Entertainment, has one of the strongest, atmospheric, horrific openings I’ve experienced in quite some time, and doesn’t let up. While performance issues run throughout, and the story might not stick the landing, strong gameplay and tantalizing prospects make Control an easy recommendation and potentially a 2019 sleeper hit.
In Control you play as Jesse Faden, the newest Director for the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC). The secretive FBC is under attack from an otherworldly threat, known as the Hiss, when Jesse stumbles upon their HQ, the Oldest House, looking for her brother, Dylan. The Faden siblings witnessed a paranormal event in their hometown some years ago, with the FBC taking Dylan captive. Strange mysteries are afoot, including the death of the previous director and the arrival of the horrifying Hiss. It’s up to you to stop the Hiss from breaking out of the Oldest House and find your brother.
Control has a creepiness about it. Set in an office building with paranormal elements, the Oldest House is haunting, and a location with more than meets the eye. Yes, office buildings have their own sense of horror about them, what with their coldness and open nature. But featuring one after an invasion featuring a strange enemy that can materialize and take over people’s bodies? Yeah, it’s terrifying. It doesn’t help that (dead?) bodies hover in the air having incoherent conversations. Constantly having to listen to the Hiss and their haunting chatter left shivers down my spine. Seriously, you can’t get away from it. Even after completing the game, I’m still afraid of what’s going to happen when I turn the corner. Atmospheric is a term that’s used for many games, but I’d say Control leads the pack.
Control’s central mystery instantly captured my attention with the help of tantalizing questions and hints about the larger story peppered within the first few hours of play. You’re introduced to a handful of side characters, whom you’ll begin questioning their motives and involvement with the main story, throughout the early moments. These characters deliver interesting story bits, but outside of Jesse taking tasks from them, I didn’t find much reason for them to be in the building.
Instead, Remedy hid dozens of documents throughout the Oldest House. These collectibles aren’t always difficult to find; many are placed right in your pathway. What you read in the documents help flesh out the world of Control. Many of these dossiers help explain what the Objects of Power running amok are and how they came to be. Yes, I spent a lot of time in the menus reading, but I was excited to find and read a new piece of information about the world, and even find a few Easter eggs. I love how fleshed out this world is, and I’d love to see what else can come out of this universe.
It’s just a shame how long it takes for the main story to pick up. Yes, I was consistently enticed to continue forward, but Control isn’t afraid to ask new questions before answering any of them. I was confused, which I guess is the point, even up until the end as I found the game doesn’t answer enough questions before rolling the credits. I don’t want to dip into spoiler territory, but Control does feature some insane moments reminiscent of popular horror films and games. Remedy understands what they made and aren’t afraid to mess with your head and break conventional interactions. Let’s just say Control goes full Hideo Kojima at moments and would bring a smile to the Metal Gear creator’s face.
I was surprised to learn how open Control is, to the point you could easily classify the game as a Metroidvania. During the first three missions, the game funnels you down the hallways and office cubicles of the Oldest House, only to be opened up for you to explore. As you progress through Control, you’ll unlock new abilities (a few powers are optional to find), such as mind control and levitation, and ways to unlock doors blocking your path. Beginning as a sprawling labyrinth that’s difficult and confusing to navigate, towards the end of the game, I was revisiting old areas to find hidden secrets and collectibles with my new abilities. After completing the main story, I still had a handful of side-quests and undiscovered rooms to scour that drove me to continue playing.
Navigation in the Oldest House is helped by markers around the building, signaling where specific departments are, as well as a map that shows the current sector you’re in. Again, early on, I was confused due to the similar feeling hallways of the building’s early design. I was initially disappointed with the Oldest House; it’s mainly an office building after all. Remedy takes liberties with it by making the building bigger than you could imagine — justified through story reasons, of course — that really open the game up and beg to be explored. Later areas are distinguished by not just the surroundings, but also what type of Hiss you encounter. You’ll have to adapt your combat skills to take down new Hiss types.
Combat is where Control shines, which is good since you’ll be doing a lot of it. At first, I struggled to nail down the precision aiming, but as I progressed, I started getting head-shots with ease. The Service Weapon, your primary weapon in combat and only gun, can morph into different forms, such as a pistol or machine gun. You can equip two models at one time and switch at the touch of a button. You’ll want to prepare for different the different types of Hiss lurking around. Weapon and personal mods are found throughout the Oldest House to help boost your combat abilities. In the later portions of Control you’ll want to locate, or purchase, these mods. The Hiss come fast and, at times, large numbers. You’ll need all the help you can get.
In addition to gunplay, Control features other abilities such as telekinesis, which Remedy nailed. At any time, you can press L1 to grab just about any item not bolted to the ground and fling it back at enemies. Since the service weapon and telekinesis are cooldown based, it comes down to a balancing act of what to use and when. To be successful in combat, you have to use your gun and switch to telekinesis at the appropriate times. It’s almost like conducting a symphony of destruction and when done properly, became addicting. At first, I wanted to avoid encounters, partly because I felt underpowered, but once I understood that balance, I felt invincible and tracked down the Hiss to show my dominance. I became the conductor of the symphony, and the resulting chaos was beautiful.
Unfortunately, that destruction causes the frame rate to stutter. Control runs great most of the time, including most combat scenarios, but at times came to chug. Especially when a half a dozen enemies are in the area, office supplies are flying all over the screen, and explosions are blowing away your cover. It wasn’t just combat where I noticed framerate issues; cutscenes seemed to skip — including crucial moments — both during and coming out of them. I also had problems when coming out of the menu. None of these issues are earth-shattering and won’t heed your progression; these issues are just a minor annoyance. Though I should note a late mission bugged out on me, and I had to save and restart the game to fix it.
Verdict: Even with these issues, I became fixated with Control to the point where I was constantly thinking about the game after I put it down. I was hooked by the mystery, addicted to the combat, and wanted to explore every nook and cranny of the Oldest House. Control happens to be one of the strangest games I’ve played in a long time, which should be good news for fans of Remedy. The studio understands gameplay and how to write out an enticing story. Performance issues, however, plague combat and the story doesn’t answer all the questions posed, clearly setting up a sequel — or a continuation — of the story. Even with these issues, Control is a game that you shouldn’t miss.
- Creep atmosphere
- Leans into the strange deep in the game
- Fun combat and abilities
- Doesn't feel like many questions get answered
- Performance chugs at times
Brandon is a Journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno. He loves all games, but don’t get him started on Kingdom Hearts. He wishes every console had a handle like the GameCube.