Review: Control

26 Aug 2019

Remedy Entertainment’s take on “New Weird” has arrived with Control, a supernatural, Metroidvania-inspired title.

Control launches tomorrow on August 27th and is available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. We reviewed the PlayStation 4 version and played it on base PlayStation 4 hardware.

Welcome to the Federal Bureau of Control

As protagonist Jesse Faden, you find yourself guided by a mysterious presence as you first enter the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control in New York. As is normally the case in games like this however, you quickly find out that something isn’t quite right inside the Bureau. As you venture inward, you come across the office of the Director, Zachariah Trench (voiced by James McCaffrey, known as the voice of Max Payne) who has apparently shot himself in the head. As you pick up his gun, the “Service Weapon,” it serves as an Excalibur-like event making Jesse the new Director of the Federal Bureau of Control. As the new Director, Jesse is forced to take on the task of reclaiming the Bureau’s Headquarters, “The Oldest House,” from this group of invaders dubbed “the Hiss.”

Workers at the Bureau will give Jesse tasks to complete as she works to secure the building and unravel the mystery of why the Hiss have appeared. The quests focused around the main story were intriguing, and I found them to be mostly unpredictable. As I continued through Control’s narrative, I continued to find myself unsure of how the story would continue, which impulsively made me want to keep going. I needed to see how things would unfold, I wanted to understand more of this world. I found myself drawn to everything in this bizarre setting and wanted to explore every side quest that was available. One of these side quests involves a fridge that must constantly be under observation…or it will do something. Poor Phillip has been staring at it for over a day because of the Hiss invasion. What will happen, what’s up with the fridge? The outcome was likely something so unpredictable and obscure that I had to know.

Take Control

As with Remedy’s other titles, Control gives you control of Jesse in a third person, over-the-shoulder viewpoint. True to a Metroidvania experience, the game has you venture through different areas of the Bureau, like the Executive and Research wings, as you work to understand what’s really going on. Progression through the game will give you higher level access, which means that those level 3 doors you encounter early on in the game will be accessible…but not when you first encounter them. Scattered throughout these different levels, you’ll find control points that will act as locations to fast travel too, upgrade your stats and abilities, and upgrade your weapon.

The main weapon in the game, the Service Weapon, is also, technically, the only weapon. As you battle your way through Hiss enemies and find containers with materials, you’ll be able to upgrade and unlock alternative forms of the Service Weapon. The Service Weapon’s default mode is “Grip”, a normal handgun. However you can also acquire “Shatter,” a shotgun, or “Charge,” a grenade launcher, as well as a couple of others.

In addition to the materials used to upgrade the Service Weapon, Jesse will also find weapon and personal mods, and can use the materials to generate mods herself. Weapon mods range from adding headshot damage, to form-specific mods such as adding additional projectiles to Shatter. Personal mods can give Jesse more health, increase the rate at which her energy recharges, or reduce the energy used when performing a dodge, and many other options.

As I explored, I found numerous mods from containers scattered around The Oldest House. Unfortunately I had an issue when trying to pick up some of these mods. Jesse is able to hold onto 24 weapon mods and 24 personal mods at any given time. However, I would often find myself unable to pick up additional mods, with the game saying I couldn’t hold more when, in fact, I had several spaces available to hold these mods. Deconstructing a mod I didn’t want in exchange for the game’s currency would then allow me to pick up the mod I just found. Additionally, when a mod would pop out of a container, I would see the text saying I didn’t have room before Jesse would, contrary to the message, add the item to her inventory. It was an incredibly annoying issue that plagued me throughout my entire playthrough of Control.

In addition to the Service Weapon, Jesse can acquire special abilities during her time in The Oldest House. For example, I learned to harness the power of an old 8-inch Floppy Disk with Soviet-era nuclear launch codes, which gave Jesse the ability to telekinetically lift items and throw them at enemies. There are many other “Objects of Power” within the building that I was able to track down that granted Jesse additional paranormal abilities, each as odd as the next. The game is set up in such a way that the recharging time of the Service Weapon’s unlimited ammo should be alternated with these abilities in order to maximize Jesse’s effectiveness in combat and it’s something that I found to be very fun.

As I explored each section of The Oldest House, I found documents, video reels (which sometimes had loading issues), and audio recordings that helped explain the strange events that the Bureau helps to hide from the rest of the world. Each one further increased the investment that I had in Control’s world setting. Of course, it wouldn’t be Remedy without some eyebrow-raising humor found in these collectibles, mostly because of their absurdity and/or their redacted portions.

Crank up the Tension

Thanks to Remedy’s Northlight engine, just about everything in Control is subject to destruction. The furniture, the paintings on the walls, heck, even the walls themselves can be stripped of their wood paneling. It’s great when you encounter a group of Hiss enemies and completely and utterly destroy the environment over the course of the encounter. However, this also proved to be one of Control’s weaknesses. During many enemy encounters, I would be up against a fair number of enemies, and as the battle progressed, things would naturally be destroyed in the environment. On more than on occasion, the frame rate would drop drastically because of everything going on. It seems that Control, at least on original PlayStation 4 hardware, tries to bite off just a little more than it can handle.

One of Control’s major strengths is the audio design. As Jesse explores the Bureau, some of the rooms are filled with what the game calls “Hiss Agents.” These are employees of the Bureau that have been corrupted by the Hiss. They don’t attack Jesse, but instead create an incredibly unsettling atmosphere. Their bodies simply float in the air, all of them saying a strange incantation. When I first started Control, I was just using my TV’s built in speakers, however I decided to throw on some headphones after a couple hours into the game and I have to say that my experience changed drastically. The sounds of the environment, including that of the Hiss Agents, were now more clear and it was much more easy for me to make out some of the words they were saying. It still didn’t make any sense of course, but it elevated the already unsettling atmosphere. This is definitely a game that will benefit from having a good sound system or pair of headphones.

The music in Control also aids in creating an incredibly tense atmosphere while exploring The Oldest House. One track in particular that can play during enemy encounters almost sounds like footsteps, making me always question if there’s an enemy behind me that I wasn’t aware of.

For those familiar with other Remedy titles such as Alan Wake, they revealed last week that Poets of the Fall will have their song “My Dark Disquiet” in the game “along with something very special…” I won’t go into any other details than that, except to say that Remedy does an amazing job with including songs that build an incredible level of hype during gameplay.

You are the Director

It took me a few (full) days to go through almost all of what Control has to offer. While I can’t deny that the game has some issues, I did largely enjoy my time with Control and found myself heavily invested in this strange world.

The story is weird, the setting is tense and unsettling and familiar feeling all at once, and the sounds that accompany it serve to further amplify those feelings.

The game definitely left me with wanting more. I wanted more areas to explore, I wanted to learn about more of these odd Objects of Power, I just wanted more. Luckily, it sounds that more is on the way, with Director Mikael Kasurinen telling us at last year’s E3 that they’re planning to support Control long into the future. We haven’t heard what those plans are yet, but after my initial playthough, I’m very anxious to see what Remedy has in store for the future of Control.

~ Final Score: 8/10 ~

Review copy provided by 505 Games for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.