A Remedy for Sanity
Within friendship circles, on podcasts, video game websites, and YouTube videos, people are always talking about, and desperately seeking sequels of games that they enjoy. And this is fine, each to their own, and I will openly admit that this is the case for me in many situations. There are stories that we want to see to the end, there are universes we want to explore for countless more hours and lore that we want to delve further and further into. But personally, this isn’t always how I feel about games, and seeing a brilliant singular title be turned into a franchise is sometimes not what I want out of either a developer or a story. Remedy has excelled at creating brand new IP, and although obviously, Max Payne saw a sequel and Alan Wake had the standalone expansion American Nightmare, the Finnish developer has allowed itself the freedom to create multiple, wonderful new worlds for players to immerse themselves in, without focusing on the trope of repeating numbered releases, and the unnecessary franchising of a game.
I only recently played the hugely underrated and incredibly enjoyable Quantum Break and was truly impressed by its storytelling, graphical fidelity, exploration, and combat, and even got a kick out of the TV show episodes scattered throughout its chapters – although I’m aware many had their reservations with this design choice. And upon playing the studio’s latest release, Control, although I had an amazing time in Quantum Break, I was glad that Remedy decided to create another new IP for players to truly embrace and enjoy, instead of sequel-ising their previous game.
Control hits so many great notes, from its brilliant Metroidvania-style exploratory level design, and fun and frenetic combat powers, to its absolutely mind-shattering story and deeply woven world-building and lore. Remedy excels at developing interesting and complex worlds, and Control’s setting in this mysterious and unexplainable building called The Oldest House, holding incomprehensible secrets, coupled with gorgeous graphical effects and lighting, splendid music and sound design, sensational destructibility and troves of accompanying lore, all work beautifully in synchronism to help create a truly enjoyable title. Control is a part thriller, part sci-fi, part family drama and entirely enjoyable, and I’m going to give my in-depth thoughts on something I believe is one of the most exciting prospects in the gaming industry, a brand new intellectual property. So, as always, let’s begin my review of Remedy Entertainment’s latest creation, Control…
Mi Casa es Su Casa
So what is Control?
Control is a third-person action game set in a gorgeous, brutalist skyscraper called The Oldest House, which is the home of the mysterious and fictitious Federal Bureau of Control, and as the protagonist Jesse Faden, you are on a mission to find your missing brother, Dylan, who you believe was kidnapped by the shady Bureau 17 years before the events of the game. The Federal Bureau of Control is a governmental organization that finds and catalogs mysterious everyday items and unexplainable world events that occur across the globe, to hide the truth of these items and occurrences from the public eye. Now, I won’t go into spoiler territory at all in this review, as the narrative is the main hook of the entire game, but let’s say it goes some interesting places and leaves you asking countless questions as you continue through the story, even once the credits roll.
The setting of the game, the aforementioned Oldest House, is somewhat like the Tardis from Doctor Who, where the outside of the structure does not represent what hides in the much larger interior, and The Oldest House is as unexplainable as the items stored within. When Jesse arrives in the Oldest House at the beginning of the game, events transpire that lead to her becoming the new Director of the Bureau, and the invasion of a foreign entity called The Hiss has caused not only a mass lockdown within the building, but has torn the FBC apart into a shell of its previous self.
In your journey to find your brother and seek the answers to questions regarding the Bureau of Control, and the many mysterious goings-on of the organization, you are tasked in traversing a complex, multi-leveled, and simply brilliantly designed map, which winds and weaves through an array of – for lack of a better word – biomes, to find survivors of the Hiss attack, and attempt to fight to stop the foreign invasion. The building is intricately designed with more than a hint of Metroidvania influence, which the developers themselves have stated, where certain areas and locations are only available after reaching certain parts of the story and gaining the required clearance, with increasingly difficult enemy types to face as you progress through the game’s 10-12 hour main story.
The story is driven by some very high-quality main missions which are lengthy and often separated into multiple parts with cutscenes, conversations, puzzle-solving and combat, and the main storyline is supplemented by what are mostly interesting side missions; some of which lead to finding more combat powers (so definitely worth your time) and some that expand the lore and even give you optional bosses to fight. Although there are some that fall flat and are more along the lines of typical fetch quests, these are obviously optional. All the side content is entirely up to you to invest the time to play, but to be honest, some incredibly cool moments came from these assignments and the places they take the deeper story outside of your search for Dylan. There are also Bureau alerts that are optional, time-sensitive missions that Jesse will be alerted to, giving the player 20 minutes to reach a specific area and kill a difficult enemy, or destroy Hiss corruption or something similar, which then reward you with a powerful weapon or personal mods. These are fun, and give another combat opportunity, and the combat never gets boring in Control, more on that later. As another aside, and a way to get more mods and crafting components, you can also undertake Board Countermeasures, which are simple tasks such as killing 10 of a certain enemy or killing 25 enemies in a specific area or with a specific weapon. These endlessly spawn after completion and adds another fun, yet a simple, way to get better mods to compliment your play-style.
Many aspects of the main story are incredibly surreal, and Remedy has done an amazing job in creating this brand new world with captivating lore, and a brilliant pace of storytelling that will thoroughly melt the mind of the player the further you progress through the narrative.
All in all, the game’s story and missions are very good. With interesting side characters and NPCs, an intriguing main narrative, many head-scratching moments that will leave you absolutely confused about what the hell is happening around you, and an overarching plot that at times can be somewhat vague and confusing. But Control will have most players invested pretty quickly – wanting to know the secrets of the Bureau, and an explanation for the Hiss, Dylan’s disappearance, and the Objects of Power that have been collected by the FBC.
My only fault to the story would probably be the ending, where I am not entirely convinced that it holds up alongside the rest of the narrative. The final few missions sufficiently ramp up to a big conclusion, and there are some very interesting and truly surreal moments to experience, but I felt the incredible journey wasn’t complemented sufficiently by the game’s conclusion. And this isn’t to say it was a bad ending, per se, I just personally think there could’ve been a more epic conclusion to the game after such a brilliant narrative was done and dusted.
The Powers That Be
Aside from its mind-bending story, Control is complemented by some truly enjoyable combat. As the Director of the Bureau of Control, Jesse Faden has the ability to subdue Objects of Power in order to gain abilities that will assist you in combat as you traverse the 4 discrete maps throughout the game, and fight against the invading Hiss. In the opening of the game, you gain access to the Service Weapon, a handgun that appears alive and possibly even sentient, and is your only weapon throughout the entire game. The Service weapon starts in a basic form and acts much like a simple pistol, but as you progress through the game, you unlock different forms of The Service Weapon which include a shotgun, SMG, charged sniper shot and an explosive launcher. Although seemingly simple, the Service Weapon never leaves you wanting much more, at least for me personally, and its recharging ammunition means you’re never on the hunt for more ammo, and never left wanting for extra firepower. Especially in tandem with your increasing arsenal of powers.
Jesse quickly learns a telekinetic ability where you can pick up many, many items from the battlefield and hurl them at your enemies. Even when there are no items at your disposal, Jesse can lift chunks off walls or floors to exterminate her enemies. This telekinetic ability is supremely enjoyable and was probably my favorite, and most used, skill throughout the entire game. The satisfaction of throwing fire extinguishers or hazardous chemical trolleys which impressively explode on impact, causing some of the most brilliantly well-designed explosions I’ve seen in a video game is second to none, and in between firing The Service Weapon gives Jesse an endlessly fun and enjoyable combat arsenal with just these basic traits. Jesse’s basic melee attack also does loads of damage, and apart from being a handy way to knock back or kill the enemy who’s encroaching on your position, makes for some hilarious destruction when simply exploring the game world.
As you progress through the story you’ll unlock a telekinetic shield that blocks incoming damage, an ability called seize which gives you control over a weakened enemy, and right towards the end of the campaign, you’ll unlock an absolute game-changer – levitation. The levitation ability allows Jesse to reach areas previously unreachable, float above the battlefield to target enemies, and when leveled up, gives you a slam power that propels you into enemies for incredible damage. The combat feels fresh and fun and occasionally difficult, and it’s a serious step up from the also enjoyable powers given to you in Remedy’s previous title, Quantum Break. The player is always hurling items, destroying the battlefield courtesy of Control’s unrivaled destructibility and truthfully, it never gets old. Each time a combat encounter began, I had a huge smile on my face, and along with the great story, level design and traversal mechanics made Control a wholly enjoyable experience from start to finish.
A Clear Direction
With such a unique art direction, Control looks as good as it feels to play, and it is compounded by the brilliant sound design and wonderfully crafted atmosphere. Subtle musical cues – loaded with distorted analog synthesizers with oscillating filters and ambient sounds, intense battle music that ramps up when approaching combat scenarios, and brilliantly winds down at their end – give the game an atmosphere that is as surreal as the story and location.
The choice of color palette and brilliant lighting adds incredibly to the game’s stellar atmosphere, where, in particular, red almost always indicates the presence of the Hiss. And an impressive lighting toolset within Remedy’s Northlight Engine has allowed the developers to really nail the atmosphere that permeates The Oldest House, and its incredible size and scope.
The use of licensed music made for some incredibly awesome and memorable moments as well and two of them stand out as a couple of the best moments I had outside of the main story itself. I happened upon a music studio throughout my exploration, with lyrics chalked into a nearby blackboard, and upon pressing a nondescript button and walking into this brilliant yellow room, lined with acoustic treatment, with two massive speakers upon the far wall, a song started playing – which if anyone is interested, is My Dark Disquiet by Poets of the Fall, who are long-term collaborators with Remedy Entertainment. I was simply captivated and proceeded to listen to the song in its entirety, glued to the screen while the intense music caused damage to the neighboring control room. It was just such a cool moment, which could’ve been missed entirely if it wasn’t for my decision to explore deeper throughout the maze-like levels of Control. Another moment that used licensed music brilliantly was later in the game, where you’re required to navigate a literal maze which causes the rooms around you to twist and turn and gave me vibes of the visual style of some of the craziest Doctor Strange scenes, where Jesse dons a pair of headphones and you run through this maze with another Poets of the Fall track blasting around you – this time performing under the pseudonym Old Gods of Asgard.
It’s occasionally a rare treat to experience licensed music in a video game where it is so rewarding and enjoyable, and Remedy continues to impress with their choice of music spattered throughout their latest title, as well as the game’s original soundtrack and ambient audio as well.
As brilliant as this game plays, looks and feels, there are some technical issues I encountered throughout my game. As I spoke of before, combat is intense, and with many enemies on screen, the destructibility of the levels and barrages of enemy attacks as well as Jesse’s powers themselves, there were occasionally some pretty bad frame rate drops – and I was playing on the Xbox One X. Apparently these issues are much worse on both of the entry-level consoles, as well as the PS4, and with such epic lighting and graphics engine, and tons of effects and enemies on screen, it is almost no surprise that this does occasionally occur. It didn’t make the experience any less enjoyable, and it definitely didn’t make the game unplayable, but definitely worth mentioning in this review.
What’s worse, however, is when pausing the game, or going into the inventory and missions screen, and then returning to the game, the game stutters massively for a couple of seconds, each and every time. I’m not sure what the cause of this is, but it can be frustrating when you’re leveling up, or even taking screenshots via the Xbox console, as it causes massive slow down when returning to the game.
Hopefully, these issues will be patched out, and Remedy is aware of the issues, and taking steps to rectify them, as well as an incredibly frustrating problem where the map does not appear on the screen when you push up on the d-pad. This is, to me, a bit more of a frustrating issue, as due to the nature of the game and the level design, and the necessity to use the map to traverse missions, as there is no guiding waypoint marker – which in my opinion is actually a great thing – having the map not appear on request can get very annoying.
Again, Remedy has stated this fix will come soon, but for early adopters, it seems like a pretty widespread issue and one that needs fixing as soon as possible.
Control is surreal. Control is dark. Control is oftentimes confusing. But thankfully Control is fun.
Remedy have really hit their stride with their latest title, and while it is published by somewhat of a smaller publisher, 505 Games, especially in comparison to Quantum Break’s funding coming from Microsoft, the developers have done an amazing job to bring a truly triple-A experience with some of the most impressive visual effects and level design I’ve seen for a while. Visually, this game sets some new standards on the PC version, if your hardware can handle it, with some incredibly impressive implementation of ray-tracing, but even on Xbox One X – the system I played on – the color, lighting, destructibility and overall graphical presentation were simply gorgeous.
Overall, despite the ending of the story not living up to some of the moments that carry the player there, Control is a brilliant title with much fun to be had, while experiencing a truly crazy yet intriguing and deep story, complemented deeply by fast and fun combat with stylish powers and cool weaponry, and simply incredible level design.
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