Remedy Entertainment has one of the most impressive catalogs of titles for any single studio in our industry, but Control is probably the best game they’ve made to date. For a developer that can boast of having developed the likes of Max Payne and Alan Wake, that’s no small accomplishment, but Control feels like a culmination of everything the studio has ever worked on. It proudly displays the same storytelling acumen that Remedy games have always been known for, but also takes impressive strides forward with its gameplay, to deliver a very complete and extremely compelling package.
Control is set in the Oldest House, the headquarters of a secret United States government organization called the Federal Bureau of Control (or the FBC), which deals with matters that go beyond our perceived reality and deep into what we might call supernatural territory. Right as the game begins, players are thrown into the deep end, with Jesse Faden, our leading lady, taking up the mantle of the FBC’s director under strange circumstances. But Jesse – herself no less mysterious and full of surprises than the Oldest House or the FBC themselves – is here for reasons of her own, which are slowly unravelled throughout the game.
"Control proudly displays the same storytelling acumen that Remedy games have always been known for, but also takes impressive strides forward with its gameplay, to deliver a very complete and extremely compelling package."
There is next to no setup for any of it, and it feels like Control’s story kicks off with a running start- and it works beautifully. That in and of itself is an impressive accomplishment- throwing players right into the middle of a story with little to no prior explanations to provide context is a move that can easily fall flat, especially when that story is as dense and full of things that need explaining as Control’s is. But this right here is a game that proudly displays how weird and surreal it is every step of the way, right from the first second to the very last, and in choosing to take its weirdness for granted rather than attempting to over-explain – or even explain – it, it manages to be that much more believable and compelling.
That’s not to say you’re completely in the dark the whole time. Control reveals new things and fits more pieces into its larger puzzle at a consistent and gradual pace, so that it never feels like there’s no sense or logic to any of what’s going on. Not all questions are answered by the time the game comes to an end, but this is one of those rare cases where that ambiguity actually works. The pacing here is spot-on, and the story never feels like it’s losing momentum, and it hits just the right beats on multiple levels. The Oldest House, the FBC, and all the paranormal things that they go hand-in-hand with are as fascinating as you’d expect them to be, and uncovering their mysteries and getting to grips with the rules of this crazy world is something that will keep you pushing forward constantly.
But it’s not just the big picture stuff that works well- Jesse is an enigmatic protagonist, cold and detached but still oddly human, and learning more about her past, and finding out more about what it is that makes her tick, is just as compelling as all the other stuff. The cast of characters around Jesse is also a solid one, filled with all sorts of personalities- some more grounded than you’d expect, and others that’ll draw you in with their mystifying personalities. Blessedly, excellent performances, in terms of both, facial capture and voice acting, bring all of them to life in convincing fashion as well.
As you play more, bit by bit, things consistently keep coming into focus- and though plenty of that happens through natural, linear story progression, there’s a good chunk of it that depends on the player. Because this is a game where the more you explore and the more you express your desire to learn more about its world through said exploration, the more rewarding the narrative experience ends up being.
"This is a game where the more you explore and the more you express your desire to learn more about its world through said exploration, the more rewarding the narrative experience ends up being. "
Control is a masterclass in world-building. Scattered throughout the Oldest House are texts, audio logs, video files, and the like, and they enrich the game’s world to an unbelievable degree. Though the method in particular is by no means a revolutionary one, its effectiveness and impact cannot be praised enough. They contribute significantly toward lifting the fog without ever falling into that dangerous territory of excessive explanations. It’s impressive to see just how thoroughly it all sells the bizarre, off-rails world of Control. The fact that rubber duckies that may or may not give you telekinetic powers seem like the most normal thing in the world is a testament to how convincingly and seamlessly Control builds its world.
Just as important in that regard is the unsettling, eerie atmosphere that it concocts so effortlessly. This isn’t a “horror” game in the conventional sense of the word – there are no jump scares here – but it is a game that will constantly make your skin prickle with its bizarre and otherworldly sights and sounds, whether thats through its impeccable audio design, or the many spooky things you’ll see during your visit to the Oldest House.
But story and atmosphere are things that we always expect Remedy games to excel at- where Control surprises the most is in its gameplay. This isn’t to say that Remedy games in the past haven’t been mechanically solid or fun to play- that would be foolish to suggest. But while past Remedy titles were linear affairs with a mostly straight line of forward progression, Control is wider, and much more about player agency. The Oldest House is a fascinating setting, but it’s not just fascinating because of its narrative context- it’s also an excellent place for a game to be set in.
Control adopts a metroidvania design philosophy where level design is concerned, with each sector of the Oldest House being a large maze of corridors and halls that loop in and around each other, bearing the metroidvania hallmarks of interconnectivity and progress-gating through the abilities that you have at your disposal. Traversing each area is an absolute joy, and navigating Control’s solidly designed levels has that same sense of momentum as its story does. You’re never in any area for too long, and the game constantly throws new things at you, from mechanics and enemies, to new locations with striking visual design and more.
"Traversing each area is an absolute joy, and navigating Control’s solidly designed levels has that same sense of momentum as its story does. You’re never in any area for too long, and the game constantly throws new things at you, from mechanics and enemies, to new locations with striking visual design and more. "
Though the level design here is solid, when it comes to incentives for exploration, Control feels a bit light. The aforementioned text, audio, and video files are always a great motivator to go off the beaten path in order to learn more about the world, while wanting to see what new things the Oldest House has in store for you is also something that will keep you pushing forward. But as far as incentives in terms of gameplay advantages are concerned, there isn’t an awful lot to draw you in. You do get items and mods that can help with upgrades and combat, which is, of course, useful- but it never feels terribly useful, and you’ll hardly ever feel – barring a few notable instances – like you’ll be missing out on something incredibly useful if you choose to ignore optional exploration. The fact that you’ll probably want to keep exploring regardless just to learn more about the game’s world and its lore is testament to how top-notch Control is in those areas.
Where Control’s gameplay really shines, though, is the combat. The Service Weapon is the only weapon Jesse is equipped with, but it’s no ordinary gun. Like the Oldest House itself, the Service Weapon can change its shape and take many forms (which you unlock yourself), and this all-in-one weapon is your pistol, your shotgun, your machine gun, your sniper rifle, and more, all rolled into one weird package. There are no traditional ammo clips to contend with- each weapon form allows you to shoot a certain amount of bullets with one “clip”, after which you have to wait a couple of seconds to allow it to automatically reload, and each of these presents its own unique advantages and disadvantages in combat.
Pierce is your long range weapon, and though it only has two rounds per clip and needs to charge up for a second before firing a shot, it’s incredibly powerful and can often kill your enemies with a single hit. On the other hand, Grip is your regular, jack-of-all-trades pistol-type form, with decent range and a lot of rounds in a single clip, though they don’t do a terrible amount of damage. Shatter, the shotgun equivalent, has potential for deadly damage, but also comes with a massive spread that makes it easy to miss your target.
Then there’s Charge, a rocket launcher-esque form that allows you to fire either single projectiles, or charge it up and fire all three together, with each of them dealing devastating blows to enemies upon impact. Each of them feels incredible to use, and feels significantly different from the others. Deciding which ones you like best, or which ones might suit your needs depending on the type of enemies you’re fighting against, is something that keeps you constantly engaged.
"Where Control’s gameplay really shines, though, is the combat."
But the Service Weapon is only one of two pillars that hold up the combat- the other are the abilities Jesse acquires as she progressed through the Oldest House, and this is where Control really sets itself apart. From simple moves – like dashes that allow you to dodge, or a Force Push on steroids-style melee attack – to the more fantastic ones – like being able to levitate above the ground, or lifting any object in the environment with your telekinetic abilities and sending it hurtling at your enemies – the repertoire of supernatural abilities that you slowly accrue is, without a doubt, the star of the show in Control.
Like the Service Weapon itself, these abilities also use up a meter that recharges when you give it a rest for a couple of seconds, which means using your abilities and your Service Weapon in conjunction is key in any combat scenario. There’s also a great amount of enemy variety, and they each have their own strengths and weakness- some charge at you with short-range weapons, some keep their distance and fire at you with long-range rifles or explosive projectiles, while others still can levitate and might be immune to your telekinetic attacks. Managing your ammo and your abilities’ recharge times and finding the right way to deal with the different types of enemies you’re facing at any given time is something that requires you to always you to always be alert and on the move, making combat in Control becomes an energetic, frenzied, and intense affair.
What’s a little disappointing is that the frame-rate can’t always keep up with the needs of the combat. On a base PS4, Control buckles often, and buckles hard. In many combat scenarios, especially some of the more hectic ones (of which there are many), you’ll find the game stuttering very noticeably for sustained periods of time, to the extent where it can actively hamper the experience. Given how much is happening on the screen during some of these firefights, some frame-rate drops were, frankly, expected- but Control’s stuttering can hit surprisingly low lows at times. There are other visual issues to speak of as well, such as textures in the environment taking too long to load in- though at least these don’t affect the gameplay experience in any way.
Barring those issues, however, Control’s visuals are consistently and thoroughly impressive. And while the game deserves plaudits for the technical sheen of said visuals – especially the lighting – what really takes the cake here is the incredible art design, which constantly does justice to Control’s ambitious and outlandish ambitions, and then some. Every room and corridor in the Oldest House looks great, and some of them present incredibly striking sights that will take your breath away. There is also a lot of variety here in terms of the kinds of locations you’ll be visiting, and the game’s incredible artistic vision brings each of these areas to life in spectacular fashion.
"Every room and corridor in the Oldest House looks great, and some of them present incredibly striking sights that will take your breath away. There is also a lot of variety here in terms of the kinds of locations you’ll be visiting, and the game’s incredible artistic vision brings each of these areas to life in spectacular fashion. "
Remedy Entertainment is a studio with a storied history, so to say that they’re at their absolute best here is no slight praise, and it’s not praise that’s easily given- but Control is just that good. Whether it’s a story you’re looking for, or engaging gameplay with mechanical depth, Control has more than enough up its sleeve to keep you rigorously engaged from start to finish. It’s incredibly bold and ambitious in its vision, and lesser games would have fumbled in their attempts to make good on that kind of vision, but Control passes nearly every test you could throw at it with flying colours. It’s a marvellously memorable experience, and yet another notch on Remedy’s star-studded belt.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Surreal story and setting; Excellent, well-paced storytelling; Solid cast of characters; Incredibly convincing world-building and atmosphere; Stunning art design; Combat is intense and frenetic; Using abilities and the Service Weapon in conjunction is a ton of fun; Impressive enemy variety keeps things unpredictable; Solid level design.
Significant and frequent frame-rate drops.