Control is a great game for a lot of reasons, both big and small. It tells an exciting and interesting story in an extremely fascinating setting. It weaves in the episodic framework of a television show without requiring you to put down the controller for long periods of time. The action weaves together traditional shooting and supernatural abilities in a way that feels very natural, letting you flow from one move to the next in a way that feels pretty cool. Control also trusts its players by creating a large, shifting space to explore without feeling the need to paint a ton of UI over the action in an effort to keep you on track. The signs on the walls work in Control, helping to ground it and make the Oldest House feel like a real space. Well… right up until all the astral projection starts happening, anyway.
The story, setting, and world of Control was easily my favorite part of the game. From the opening moments, when Jesse Faden finds her way to the front door of the Federal Bureau of Control’s headquarters only to find the front desk completely unmanned, inspiring her to step in and dig deeper, I was hooked. There’s something about the game’s mix of Twin Peaks, X-Files, and SCP Foundation that just spoke to me from the get-go. From there, you begin exploring the Oldest House on a search for your brother, who’s been missing since the men in black showed up and took him when you were kids. The hows and whys of all that are fascinating, and I think the game’s main plot is really solid, even if the ending wasn’t quite as explicitly revelatory as some might want. But it’s all the parts around the edges that do the heavy lifting in Control. Finding a “weird” artifact down a side path or reading some of the game’s well-written collectibles ends up feeling rewarding on its own, and chasing down some of those side missions ended up being my favorite stuff in the game. It has a few memorable characters that you’ll meet along the way, but for the most part it’s Jesse, alone, exploring an amazing space full of intensely weird supernatural objects and blasting possessed humans with a cool-looking gun that morphs into different styles of weapon.
The combat feels fine in Control, and it fleshes out more and more as you progress and unlock new powers. You’ll eventually be able to levitate, for example, and this opens up some interesting new concepts for combat. Control isn’t necessarily a cover-shooter, though putting some geometry between you and the incoming attacks certainly helps. The action flows pretty well, letting you slide from one move to the next, over to the gun for a bit, and back without feeling like you’re plodding or planting your feet after every move, which was something that pushed me away from Quantum Break. There were a couple of tough, if not mildly frustrating boss fights to be found here, but nothing that felt wildly unfair or broken.
Control also nods towards Remedy’s long-running interest in tying its games to episodic television or radio. After finishing a main mission, you’ll hear about your next task, and then get a quick montage of future events. It isn’t explicit, but it sets up a real “next time on Control” vibe that kept me pushing forward to learn all the context behind the moments in the clips. I was rarely disappointed by what I found.
This is an open-world adventure game of sorts, one you could sort of compare to a Metroid-style game. You’ll gain traversal moves here and there that open up access to new parts of the facility. But that isn’t necessarily a huge part of the game. I found it really interesting that Control trusts players to navigate the facility without the benefit of an on-screen minimap. You can pull up a map of the facility at any time and get a sense of where you’re at, but most of your reconnoitering comes from actually looking at your surroundings and reading signs. Like a real person might actually do. This probably isn’t the first time a game has done this, and some people will probably come away from Control wishing that the map was more functional and modern, but this is the first time I can say this felt like a benefit to the game instead of just a game with bad mapping options. This helps the Oldest House feel “real,” even when its warping, twisting walls reconfigure on the fly, leaving you wondering what just happened and where you might be now.
This is probably a good a time as any to say that this review applies to the PC version of the game. I found Control to run quite well there on a few different configurations, and this was also the first game I’ve seen that made all the fancy and extremely expensive ray-tracing stuff that Nvidia has been banking on lately feel like a cool, useful feature. The reflections and lighting with all those bells and whistles turned on just look fantastic. But the game still looks solid without the (extremely) expensive graphics card. Much has been said about the graphical fidelity and frame rate issues found in the console versions of the games, especially when running on the old base model boxes. That stuff sounds like a real shame and like a significant knock against Control if you own the original PS4 or Xbox One, but that’s beyond the scope of this review.
Great performances, strong action, and a solid sense of design all come together to make Control one of my favorite games so far in 2019. Control feels like Remedy finally making all of its different interests play well together, better than they’ve ever done it before.