• Will Cowan

Control: Review


Enter The Weird

If you’re a newcomer to Remedy Entertainment’s unique brand of gunplay, mind-bending mechanics, and immersive storytelling, you’ll likely have a couple of head-scratching moments during your 15 to 20 hour playthrough of Control.


But if you’re fan of their trippy 3rd-person titles, which include the likes of Alan Wake, Quantum Break, and a couple of Max Payne titles, you’ll probably have an idea of what to expect once you take *ahem* control of the game yourself. Control doesn’t deliver anything particularly new from Remedy, and a slew of technical problems keeps it from achieving true greatness. Still, it’s a wonderfully weird time that will keep you engaged long enough to peel back the many layers of it’s mysterious world.


Welcome to the FBC, Director. Let’s get you up to speed.


Workin’ 9 to 5


Control tells the story of Jesse Faden and her search for her brother—a search that has led her to the Federal Bureau of Control, a.k.a. the FBC, a.k.a. The Oldest House (yeah, there are a lot of names for things here). With the help of an otherworldly being in her head she calls Polaris, Jesse finds herself fighting an invasion of interdimensional beings that infect and manipulate the world around them. But what she’s fighting and who she’s fighting for soon blur as she learns that nothing is exactly as it seems.


Despite the cliché set up and a main story that feels like nothing more than a 10 hour-long fetch-quest, Control’s worldbuilding shines as one of the best in recent memory. Throughout The Oldest House, you’ll find voice recordings, memos, meeting minutes, reports, and video tapes that expand almost every fabric of it’s world. And though many players might not want to dive into paperwork themselves, it feels like you might be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t.


It only takes a few moments to realize where Control takes its inspiration. The bizarre “day-to-day” world of The Oldest House drips with the stylings of David Lynch a la Twin Peaks, while the overall mystery-box style of storytelling feels ripped from the pages of a rejected J.J. Abrams television script. But these are both good things—the more you try to make sense of Control’s topsy-turvy world, the more it will pull at your imagination.

What you don’t need to go digging for is Control’s stellar presentation and design. The Oldest House’ brutalist setting injects just the right amount of strange setpieces that beautifully contrast it’s otherwise ho hum office-like intentions.


Seemingly endless desks and cubicles layer the maze-like maps, while floating bodies and the oppressive architecture will keep you from feeling too comfortable. But don’t worry, these soon become chaotic battlegrounds that are a delight to tear apart.


While the world itself feels meticulously pieced together, the same cannot be said for Control’s bland and forgetful cast. Despite the fantastical events surrounding them, Control’s characters never feel like they’re doing more than going through the motions. You have the commanding captain, the crack-pot scientist, and a number of different characters whose entire jobs are to deliver exposition and give you your next task.


The performances aren’t particularly wooden, and the already bizarre setting makes it easier to forgive some of the more alien-like dialogue. However, the most disappointing case here is our hero Jesse. She has no particular story-arc, and her intentions and loyalties stay virtually the same even after the end credits roll. If the intent here is to give Jesse a blank personality to help project the player in her place, there is still not much going on in her character development to really make me care about who she is at all.


The same goes for Jesse's brother, Dylan. He is so completely void of any type of personality that they could’ve put a blank piece of paper on screen and the performance would’ve been relatively similar. At least with a piece of paper you could play around with some idea involving Control’s unique world.

But this is a game, right? Boring characters and a middling main story is one thing, but how Control plays is something else entirely.


Rip &... Telekinesis?


If Control’s story and setting are the tasty, albeit thin icing on top, then the power at your disposal is the ooey-gooey chocolate cake right underneath it. And let me tell you right now, you’re going to want to have a slice.


Throughout the course of Control, you’ll find new abilities that will allow you to evade, levitate, shield, and launch just about everything in sight. While many of the powers are fun and add a nice layer of strategy and verticality to encounters, you’re going to become very close friends with your launch power.


At the touch of a button, Jesse will pick up and toss random items at great velocity on highlighted enemies. The best way I can describe it is like a science-fiction version of Kratos' ax from God of War, and the satisfaction of pelting unsuspecting grunts with a photocopier never gets old. I often found myself completing some of the more mundane optional missions just so I could have more opportunities to live out a superhero version of Office Space.


But while the throwing office supplies never seems to lose its touch, the overall combat and mission design could’ve used a little bit more time on the drawing board.

"Alexa, play 'Still' by Geto Boys."

Encounters take a very similar approach to Doom and Doom Eternal’s push-forward combat system where enemies drop health, items, and experience when they’re killed, but you’ll only have to think just a little bit to prioritize targets in the arena. There are several enemy types, but you can take care of many of them using similar strategies (the most effective being “throw a printer at its head”).


Speaking of combat, Jesse sports a pistol throughout the entire game that can be modified to mimic a shotgun, machine gun, and other shooter stand-bys. However, the pistol feels like an afterthought and you’ll very rarely find yourself switching from its default semi-automatic setting to do anything but experiment. It feels good to shoot, but you’ll only be shooting until your power meter fills up enough to start tossing random objects again.


Your abilities and pistol can be upgraded overtime using in-game currency and points you collect throughout the game. You can spend these points at various control points around The Oldest House (which also serve as fast-travel destinations), but you’ll want to prioritize your abilities first and foremost. The more upgrades you can apply to your powers, the more fun you’ll have messing around with it’s bonkers mechanics.


A Glitch in the Matrix


Just before the midpoint of the game, The Oldest House opens up and you have the freedom to explore it’s halls non-linearly. Many trace connections to Metroidvania games for Control’s level design, but if I’m being quite honest, this does more to lessen the game’s mystery and make the world feel smaller. On top of that, the game never exactly prohibits you from completing missions without certain abilities, and even if they did, it only takes a little time before the campaign hands you the ability you need anyways.


Randomized missions spawn periodically, but there never seems to be enough time to complete them, and the rewards you get are hardly worth the effort. These missions are a modest effort to extend playthroughs, but the execution falls flat on its face. Besides, Control ditches the non-linear format by the last third of the campaign, so there is virtually no point to worry about the timed missions.


Even though you might ignore a chunk of the side-quests, you’ll never miss a chance to start kicking ass. Combat is deliriously kinetic, with Jesse gliding, throwing, and destroying everything in her sight like a cross between Neo and a Jedi. Because of this, particles and bodies constantly fly around the screen, so much so that it causes the biggest complaints I have with Control: the bugs and framerate.


On a base Xbox One console, I experienced screen tears, texture pop-in, glitches, and bugs so often that it was too much to keep track of them. Every time I pressed the pause or menu button, I’d sometimes have to wait 5 or 6 seconds before the screen would load, and even when it did, it wouldn’t load the current map I was on to help navigate the world.


My Xbox crashed 6 times during my 20-hour run, but thankfully a generous checkpoint system kept these setbacks from being too annoying for me. Still, a AAA title running on a current-gen system should not have this amount of trouble.


I’m not sure what the experience may look like on a PC or a PS4, but these issues could deter even the most forgiving and casual players from finishing the game.


Verdict


There’s a lot to love in Control: the stellar gameplay, the off-the-wall worldbuilding, and the setting in and of itself. However, a weak story anchored by weak characters coupled with downright abysmal performance issues for base console players will make this game hard for anyone looking for a surface-level experience to stay on board.


If you can look past these issues, though, you’ll find something truly worth your time and a really great starting point for an intriguing franchise.


7/10


16 views0 comments
Image by Pawel Czerwinski

 CHAPS 
PODCAST NETWORK