Developed By: Remedy Entertainment
Published By: 505 Games
Platforms: PS4 / PC / Xbox One
Reviewed On: PS4PRO
Control comes from the highly acclaimed developer Remedy Entertainment who is responsible for such classics such as Max Payne, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, Alan Wake and most recently Quantum Break. They are also currently working on the single-player portions of Crossfire HD and its sequel Crossfire 2. The company went through an exclusivity period for the Xbox and Windows platform with both Alan Wake and Quantum Break so it really got me excited when I learnt that Control would be coming for the PlayStation 4. When the announce trailer debuted at E3 2018 I instantly knew that this was the one game I had to play this year as I am a fan of Cosmic Horror and this was totally up my alley and boy, oh boy does Control not disappoint.
Control stars Jesse Faden, a civilian who walks into The Oldest House, home to the Bureau of Control guided by a mysterious “friend” looking for answers to questions that has plagued her for as long as she has known. Upon arriving though she notices that something does not look quite right as the Bureau looks empty and she is led to the Director’s office where the present serving Director Trench appears to have committed suicide. She then picks up his unique and strange-looking Service Weapon which chooses her and makes her the new Director of the Bureau. With her newfound executive authority and power, she explores the halls of the Bureau digging deeper into what happened to the previous Director, everyone else and gets the answers she has been looking for all this while.
Turns out that a supernatural entity that Jesse aptly names “The Hiss” is at fault for the central issues that have crippled the Bureau. The very first experience of the Hiss that players will encounter is the seemingly random number of people floating in the air in empty hallways or offices. It is a very creepy and unsettling atmosphere as these “people” passively float while repeating a series of words in almost a chanting manner. She will then discover that not all Hiss are passive and more aggressive entities are lurking around every corner. There will also be friendly faces that will help her make sense of what is going on and more importantly her role in all this.
It would be easy for me to boil down the story in Control as a game where cool weird shit happens while your character also does cool shit along the way but there is something really quite masterful about how the whole story unfolds from beginning to end. There is truly a surprising amount of depth from a storytelling perspective that is created in such a way that not everything is revealed to the player gives them the choice of digging deeper to find out more. For me at least it was incredibly easy to just immerse myself completely and go further down the rabbit hole because of the stunning world-building. Besides the main path the game will take players on, it is highly advisable to explore every nook and cranny of the world to discover lore in the form of Research and Record papers, Case Files, Correspondence, Multimedia, and a Hotline.
There is a significant amount of information for players to learn about in these various options and I would argue that the full depth of the story in Control is revealed through them. Players will read about the Bureau’s day to day activities, learn about the various Objects of Power, Altered Items, studies on enemy types, even hilarious office memos that partly makes The Oldest House a living breathing character on its own. There are also various live-action slide presentations created by the character Dr Darling to educate the player on the various terminologies and scientific research that goes on which are incredibly produced. Radio Interviews that shed light on whether the general public is aware of the supernatural occurrences sometimes reveal hilarious conversations. There are the educational children’s show Threshold Kids that is meant to educate young children on the do’s and don’ts of Bureau protocols using puppets that manages to be both hilarious and creepy. Lastly, the Hotline is where the mysterious entity known as The Board sends Jesse cryptic messages that more than often include open-ended and double meaning statements that are entirely open to player interpretation. Director Trench also contacts Jesse using the Hotline to provide incredible backstory on the Bureau, The Hiss, and himself. What I really loved most about the Hotline is when a new one pops up the player will usually see a silhouette of Director Trench in front of them that will speak choice keywords for the player to connect the dots with but if you go into the Hotline menu you can actually watch the entire message play out in full. In my opinion, it somehow works both ways and it really is up to the player if they want to take their time reading and watching to discover more or just carry on playing the game.
Apart from that, what I also truly loved about the story in the game is how every character you meet (and don’t meet) is so well realised. There are two characters that you watch more through videos; Dr Casper Darling and Director Trench but there is so much depth to their characters that sometimes it feels like it really would not matter if you never meet them in the game. That is how incredibly well made the videos are. Other supporting characters like Emily Pope, Arish, Langston, Underhill & Ahti with probably the exception of Marshall (due to her lack of screen time and conversation options) that players meet in-game are spectacular and played to perfection by their respective actors. Players also can choose to go back to characters like Pope, Arish, Langston, and Underhill to unlock new conversation options that provide more insight into the respective characters and the world of Control. Lastly, Jesse herself is a complex character that I can see not everyone will get behind. She reacts way too tamely especially when crazy things are happening around her but the more I read and watched and discovered, the more I understood why she was the way she was.
I have said so much about what to expect from the story in Control, but I have purposely refrained from revealing too much about due to how much joy I experienced discovering it myself. All I can say is it really is refreshing for a story to constantly keep you on your toes as to how it will eventually play out.
Graphics & Sound
The graphics in this game is truly one of the best I have ever seen especially when it comes to character models. There is a danger of characters veering too much into the uncanny valley territory but the facial animations for characters in this game are probably the best I have ever witnessed in a video game that is not CGI video. There is so much nuance to the performances especially in Jesse and Emily Pope’s actresses respectively. When I wasn’t busy constantly being impressed by the motion capture performances, the incredible art direction, as well as the particle effects and level of detail of the destruction in this game, was a constant sight to behold. The cutscenes direction was masterful and truly fit the context as well as the atmosphere of the game. I think there wasn’t a single area that I witnessed in the game that felt like it was wasted or meant to be a placeholder area. Every single area felt necessary and purposeful even down to every single piece of furniture in every room. I think my only minor gripe with the game would be the performance dips as well as the game having no HDR. I was expecting performance dips probably more towards the late game but to my surprise, I experienced some early in the game when the destruction was going in full effect and it features quite prominently in subsequent encounters albeit not all of them. I also experienced a late-game flickering light bug in a location the player will visit late in the game which unfortunately was in quite an important area that dampened the experienced just a smidge. Not that the game needed it but having HDR would have made the already amazing atmosphere of the game even more godly.
I played the game switching between my soundbar and my headphones and truly the only way anyone should play this game is with headphones. The sound design of this game is phenomenal. From the way the dormant Hiss mutter and repeat their chants while floating in the air to the dreary soundtrack that never fails to elicit dread and emptiness for the player experience. The licensed music was all perfectly placed and used to incredible effect magnifying the gameplay experience even further. Voice acting was incredibly performed even down to ambient noises that fill the air; I was in a constant need to just hear everything the game would throw at me. The way things would fly through the air when you launched them or whizz past your character and even the weapon sounds were sublime. I was absolutely thrilled to find that Poets of the Fall were involved in this game by stumbling upon “music testing room” in the game. Wait till you get to the Ashtray Maze. That was awesome.
Presentation & Gameplay
The Service Weapon mentioned earlier is an incredibly versatile weapon as it can transform into five different forms. Grip would be the default form functioning as a semi-automatic gun, Spin functions as an Uzi, Pierce functions as a Sniper, Shatter functions as a Shotgun and lastly Charge functions as a Rocket Launcher. The player will be able to unlock these new forms as well as upgrade them using the in-game currency and materials scattered around from boxes or even dropped from enemies. Jesse will also gain access to special abilities that players can utilize to manage the ever-escalating threats that they will face. Launch lets players throw things telepathically to enemies, Shield protects the player from incoming damage, Seize allows players to turn a critically injured enemy and make them fight on your side and Levitation lets the player glide through the air temporarily. Players will be able to upgrade these powers as well as the total health and energy pool using ability points from completing main and side missions as well as discovering hidden areas in the game. These upgrades will go a long way towards enhancing the viability of the abilities that you wield as well as ensuring the survivability of Jesse as you encounter tougher enemies and situations. By pressing up on the D-pad players are also able to bring up the game map in real-time for easier navigation. The only downside is sometimes the map would take quite a while to display fully so It might be a hindrance to the player who is trying to make their way to the destination. It did not prove to be too much of a challenge for me.
Players will also gain access to Weapon Mods as well as Personal Mods that drop generously from enemies or completing quests. Weapon mods augment your weapons by providing bonuses such as reduced reload times, increased headshot damage, zoom capabilities, ammo refunds or increased damage to armoured enemies. Personal Mods affect the abilities that Jesse wields directly such as reducing energy costs for certain abilities, faster energy regeneration, faster Seize takeover times or stronger Shields. Players will be able to utilize these RPG-lite mechanics however they see fit as it does provide freedom for how players utilize mods with both Weapon and Personal Mods having three slots each so stacking certain perks to boost certain abilities or weapons is a viable option. If you have duplicates of mods don’t worry as you will be able to scrap them for currency.
The action in the game is incredibly frantic and both the weapons and abilities are tuned to perfection. At the beginning of the game I was primarily just shooting enemies from a regressed and static position but the further I played I realized that the game cleverly pushes the player to utilize all the weapon and abilities at their disposal even sometimes forcing players to switch up loadouts mid-fight just to survive and gain the upper hand and move around. I did admit there are some fights that feel like a huge difficulty spike especially some secret bosses, but then instead of making me frustrated I realized all the tools I needed to succeed were given to me. I just got too used to taking out normal enemies the same way that I neglected my entire arsenal until I needed it the most and it really feels rewarding taking down the tougher enemies and bosses.
Apart from the main missions’ players will also be able to undertake Side Quests that they might miss entirely for not exploring the levels thoroughly. Control has Metroidvania aspects to the level design and there is always a hidden area or side quest to discover in a section of the game that players are not pushed to but again, is entirely up to the player to discover. There is a healthy amount of side quests and I would argue that the quality of them is truly one of the best I have played. There is always a degree of vivid imagery as well as creative freedom that accompanies these missions that feed the curiosity of players even more. Apart from the discoverable side missions, there are also repeatable ones called Bureau Missions where the player will get a random alert from time to time with a timer to complete the mission. These missions are infinitely repeatable as well as provide resource rewards for players. Strangely enough, even though these missions are repeatable I always found myself discovering a new area from a previously explored location.
What I Loved
- Story – Story was really engrossing from beginning to end.
- Characters – Loved all the characters introduced and all of them are brilliantly acted
- Gameplay – The shooting and ability mechanics were tuned to perfection in my opinion where it feels absolutely sublime every time you use all the tools at your disposal.
- World Building – I’m not the type of person to enjoy reading the supplemental stuff in games. I always believed that if you wanted me to know more about the game it should be in the main path of the game, not something I need to read about and most of the time the supplementing reading just feels tacked on. This game flipped it as I was actively seeking out more sources of information on anything and everything that was happening in the game.
- Music – When you get to the Ashtray Maze you will know why.
- Level Design – I firmly believe that not a single geographical inch was wasted in every single level of the game. It all felt natural and necessary.
What I Wished Was Better
- Technical Issues – I really wished that the game did not have the framerate dips or the flickering light problem. It probably would not have bothered me so much only if it did not happen more often than it needed to and that really cost this game some points.
Remedy has clearly created an experience that truly defines what it means to love videogames. From the moment I started the game, it was like the Hiss wormed its way into my mind and would not let me go until the credits rolled. I may not be the most articulate person but there is so much I want to say about how truly phenomenal this game is. Of course, I cannot praise enough how incredibly layered and nuanced Jesse Faden was as the protagonist and even the amazing cast of characters surrounding her. There are a few truly great videogames throughout the years that really brought the gaming community together in celebrating the greatness of the medium. My wife remarked while I was playing Control that I had this look of constant joy which I myself did not realize was happening. As great as some video games have been these past few years Control came and gave me the clearest reminder yet why I fell in love with videogames in the first place. Even with the technical problems, this is probably going to be my personal Game of The Year and even if it does not end up being yours, it is a definite must-play game.