Fair warning, this is gonna be weirder than usual
It’s fair to say that Quantum Break, Remedy’s last title, split opinion quite a bit. An interesting concept conceived to fit alongside Microsoft’s “Games and TV” vision, it had a distinct art style and “feel” to it that I personally really enjoyed. It’s somewhat fitting, then, that Control takes some of those elements and transports them into a game that is as unique and exciting as it is.
In Control, you play as Jesse Faden, a woman determined to find out what happened to her brother after a paranormal event 17 years ago in her home town. The game begins with you entering a skyscraper in New York City called The Oldest House, where the shadowy Federal Bureau of Control is based. Within minutes, Jesse meets a weird and wonderful janitor called Ahti, and is installed as the new Director of the Bureau. Oh, and the Bureau is in the middle of an infestation of a weird entity, quickly christened as “The Hiss”. Bear with it folks, it only gets weirder from there.
The rest of the narrative is something I’m not going to spoil in here, but it’s a decent story that barrels along at a decent enough pace over the game’s 8-10 hour play time. The Oldest House as a location is a wonderful construct that tells its own stories throughout its many floors of TARDIS-like expansion. Areas open up as you progress through the game, but unlike many of Remedy’s previous titles, this one is a much more open world to explore. Think “Rise of the Tomb Raider” more than “Skyrim”, though. Each floor acts as its own little hub, and you can claim multiple “Control Points” throughout the building to enable fast travel between floors, as well as checkpointing and spots to upgrade your weapon and powers. Add in a suitably eclectic cast of characters and you’ve got a story that is as compelling as it is bizarre as Jesse struggles to comprehend the situation, and come to terms with her new found position as Director.
Oh yeah, you get powers. And an awesome weapon. Let’s start with the “Service Weapon”. A gun that can only be wielded by the Director, the Service Weapon feels alive. There are multiple forms that it can take, including Grip (the standard ‘pistol’ form), Shatter (a shotgun style weapon), Pierce (kind of a sniper rifle) and Charge, which fires up to 3 explosive rounds at a time. These are all upgradeable with up to 3 mods per weapon that you can pick up throughout The Oldest House. Of course, with the paranormal nature of the Bureau, it wouldn’t be right if you couldn’t delve into the weird side yourself. This is where Control really shines, with a collection of powers that genuinely enhance the combat and traversal mechanics. The first power you get is a sort of limited range “Force Push” melee attack, which is soon joined by the ability to levitate, dash, lift and throw objects at enemies, and create a shield from debris that you can pull up from the ground, alongside my personal favourite power “Sieze”, which allows you to take over a weakened enemy and have them fight on your side. When you combine these abilities with the Service Weapon, you can put together some incredible combos! There’s something special about being able to lift up a forklift truck, fling it at a group of enemies and watch as their shields evaporate, then levitating through the air with a swirling shield of debris, taking over the souls of Hiss enemies to have them turn on their allies and finally switching between weapon modes and firing multiple shots at the remaining few. Control’s combat feels unlike anything I’ve played in a really long time, and it feels incredibly refined.
The powers are obtained through interacting with “objects of power”, or OoPs. These are everyday items that have been possessed by the Hiss, and when Jesse “cleanses” them, she absorbs the relevant power. OoPs and other “Altered Items” are cut from the same cloth, but only OoPs will provide you with a power. There’s a dark sense of humour running through the game when it comes to these items, with one item in particular needing to be stared at constantly by a human or “bad things” will happen, potentially leading to the end of civilisation as we know it. It’s a fridge.
Moving on to how it looks, and there’s no other way to describe it. It looks stunning. I was playing the game on PC with an RTX 2060, which meant I could enable some of the ray tracing functionality that the game offers up. If anyone from Nvidia is reading this review, you need to use this game as a future showcase for RTX. A phenomenal display of the capability of what ray traced reflections and lighting can deliver, albeit at a reduced frame rate on the baby brother of the RTX family. Without ray tracing enabled, Control runs at a steady 60 frames per second with everything maxed out, whereas with the fancy stuff enabled it fluctuates between 30 and 60, depending on the area. As someone sensitive to frame rate changes, however, I didn’t really notice much except for in really demanding areas where it still kept ticking over at 30fps nicely. I’ve been reliably informed that it runs comfortably at 30fps on all consoles as well, and sticks to that target like glue for the most part. The only technical issue I had during my time with the game is that occasionally, textures would stubbornly refuse to load when my GPU was under a particularly heavy load, but switching out from one setting to another instantly loaded them in, even if it was switching back to the “ultra” setting.
The technical competence is matched with the art style. The Oldest House simply looks wonderful, with Hiss-infected areas glowing bright red, and bodies hanging like mannequins in mid-air, providing an incredibly creepy atmosphere. The enormous text that crashes onto the screen as you enter a new area is a refreshing graphical touch. There are a couple of really nice set-pieces as well, with one particular highlight having you navigate through a constantly evolving maze of corridors as some brutally angry Finnish metal pumps through your speakers. It was a sequence that left a grin plastered to my face throughout, and immediately sold Andy and Jonny when they came round to see some gameplay for a YouTube video. One other thing to mention here is the destructibility in the environments. The instant you get into a fight with some enemies, things are going to get broken. Pillars crumble, walls fall apart and office furniture gets strewn around the place as if someone’s just found out they’re getting fired without redundancy pay. When you’ve been in a battle in Control, the environment knows it.
The game isn’t perfect though. A couple of niggly issues that I encountered (aside from the texture issue mentioned above) were the checkpointing, and the lack of obvious objective markers in the environment. The lack of objective markers is very clearly a stylistic choice, but it’s one that was a little bit annoying at times. It’s obviously designed to push you down the route of exploration, but when you feel like you’ve gone over every possible inch of an area only to find a hidden doorway after 20 minutes, then it can be a little irritating. The checkpoints are always the last control point that you encountered. This is often fine, but if you’re in a mission that requires quite a bit of traversal and you die just before the end of it, you’re often forced to retrace your steps throughout the entire mission again. Sometimes this isn’t too bad as enemies won’t respawn, but there was one section quite late on in the game that was almost fist-chewingly frustrating due to the whole complement of Hiss being reanimated with every restart. Coupled with a difficulty spike toward the game, it could be more annoying for some, but it didn’t distract much from the overall excellence of the game for me.