Control is a suspense-filled thrill ride that grips you and won't let you go, even after it's finished. Dim the lights and prepare to explore the Oldest House.
Control is the latest title by Remedy Entertainment, famous for its Alan Wake title and experts in the art of suspenseful story-driven games. With Control, Remedy has taken another step forward and managed to combine in-depth stories, excellent characters, and stunning environments with a constant on-edge suspenseful feeling that you will remember for a very long time.
The Federal Bureau of Control
In Control, you play as Jesse Fadden, a seemingly ordinary civilian that came to New York in search of her brother Dylan. The two were separated many years ago during an incident that she will come to learn was an AWE, an Altered World Event. Jesse enters the Federal Bureau of Control and meets Control’s first character, the building itself. Named the Oldest House, the building is an Object of Power that most people can’t even see. It’s hiding in plain sight and is filled with not only the staff of the FBC but also all the Objects of Power and Altered Items that the Federal Bureau of Control has secured over the years.
Once inside, things are even stranger than usual as something has taken over most of the staff inside the ever-shifting building. Without going into spoiler territory, it’s safe to say that Control’s story is one that keeps you guessing and wanting more. Control is one of the few titles where I have read every single piece of lore that I’ve collected. The narrative is so intriguing, and part of the entertainment is just trying to understand what this place is, what people do here, and what’s happened to it to make it all go wrong. Then it’s up to Jesse to fix it all, of course. The entirety of Control brought back memories of the science fiction TV series Fringe. The world is full of bizarre, supernatural, unexplained phenomenon, and the Federal Bureau of Control is trying to contain it all. Fox Mulder would have a field day here.
Fortunately, Control isn’t all about reading the lore and trying to piece the narrative together. The story is supported by an excellent case of characters, ranging from the bizzare janitor Ahti to the mysterious Dr. Darling, and many others that Jesse will interact with. Each character is incredibly well represented by high-quality voice actors and writers. Not once are you entirely sure about a character’s motives, intentions, or whether they are trustworthy. Control keeps you guessing and wanting to find out more throughout.
With the help of these characters, Jesse unravels more and more of the mystery of Control, but even when the main questline is complete, there are so many outstanding questions that you’ll want to continue immediately. Control does let you explore the Oldest House after the initial story has concluded, and there will likely be many side quests and mysteries remaining. Throughout my entire time with Control, I wanted to know more, discover more, try new things, and Remedy managed to create one of those rare titles that had me thinking about it away from the computer. For that reason alone, Control is one of the best narrative-driven experiences I’ve had all year.
How to Be a Bad Ass With One Gun and a Bit of Power
In Control, you will not be decked out with a vast arsenal of weapons or armored to the teeth. Instead, Jesse has a singular gun at her disposal; the Director’s Service Weapon. It is an Object of Power itself, and as you progress through the game, you will gather materials and experience to upgrade and modify the gun. You’ll be able to choose from a variety of gun modes, covering the archetypes of autorifle, sniper rifle, shotgun, and more. Mods will allow you to customize the Service Weapon to your personal preference further. While the weapon itself cannot be reloaded, it regenerates ammunition automatically when not in use. This forces players to take advantage of the other combat mechanic in Control; Jesse’s powers.
Throughout the story, Jesse learns more about her history and how her presence in the Oldest House at this very moment is no pure coincidence. As you unravel her secrets and unlock more of her powers, you’ll be able to take advantage of actions such as Launch and Levitate. Using Launch, Jesse can pick up nearby objects and throw them all enemies, all with the innate power discovered inside her. This, in combination with the Service Weapon’s mechanics, makes for a unique combat experience.
Once you master the art of using your powers in concert with your gun, you’ll quickly begin feeling extremely powerful. That’s important because the range of enemies will become tougher and more ingenious as you progress. Add in the Levitate powers that Jesse discovers later in the game, and you’ll find yourself hovering in mid-air, throwing enemies into each other while launching explosive projectiles from your Service Weapon. The entire experience feels like a dance, a ballet of carnage, destruction, and power, and it’s unlike anything else I’ve experienced in gaming before.
The Sights and Sounds of Suspense
Control is one of those rare titles that fully supports DirectX 12 and real-time raytracing provided you’ve got the hardware to support it. I played Control on an RTX 2080 Ti, and I stubbornly stuck with DirectX 12 and RTX throughout. I say stubbornly because it seems as though real-time raytracing and especially DX12 support still needs to mature. There were occasional crashes, no doubt related to DX12 more than anything Remedy would have control over, and you take a hit on the FPS front.
The graphics in Control took a while to grow on me. I initially thought something was wrong. There’s a strange pixelation effect that can occur at certain angles and distances, and it’s bizarre. Especially when putting it into stark contrast with some of the beautifully rendered in-engine cutscenes. The design choice did grow on me, however, and eventually, I began to appreciate the benefits of the real-time raytracing and other style choices; the atmospheric immersion is intense. Control is all about suspense and the unknown. The deep shadows, creepy environments, fog-like effects when enemies fall, all work together to create this place that’s both uneasy to be in and yet irresistable. Control plays on all those qualities that real-time raytracing is supposed to add, and the lighting and reflections are excellent once you get used to them.
On the audio side of things, Control also exceeded my expectations. Part of why the suspensful atmosphere works so well is because of the sound design. There’s never a moment where you don’t hear something off in the distance, a creak, a whisper, or hiss, and it all adds to the feelings that Control provoked in me. During several sessions in the game, I mentioned to a friend about how uneasy the game made me feel and how much I was looking forward to something cheerful afterward. This isn’t a negative against Control, however. You’re supposed to experience these tensions, and the audio choices in-game immerse you in its world always. During combat, audio is also incredibly helpful. When the music dies down, it signals the end of an encounter and allows you to take a breath for a few moments.
Control also includes a particular sequence of gameplay where you have secured the janitor’s walkman – in true yellow Sony fashion – and must navigate a maze while defeating enemies and watching your step in the ever-changing Oldest House. This entire five to eight-minute sequence is accompanied by music that is so perfect; I had to look it up on Spotify afterward. Control’s sound and music choices will no doubt end up as the best of the year for me.
You’re in Control – Don’t Miss Out
Control does suffer from a few minor quibbles, such as the aforementioned graphics-related crashes, as well as a checkpoint system that I’m not a fan of. Overall, however, these are minor annoyances that have no marked impact on an incredibly immersive and memorable experience. Remedy Entertainment already has expansion content planned over the next year, and there are so many questions I still have about the Federal Bureau of Control and the Oldest House, that I can’t wait to jump back in.
If you’ve been on the fence about Control, don’t be. This is easily one of the best games of the year and perhaps of the decade. Remedy Entertainment has crafted a masterpiece of suspense filled with tension, engaging characters, varied combat, and an intriguing story, and you ow it to yourself to experience it.