Remedy Entertainment has long been known for diving headfirst into the weird and unusual with its titles. The first two Max Payne games stunned with noir crime drama, Alan Wake brought a detective novel to life and Quantum Break, for its successes and faults, blended the idea of a live-action television show with a campy, super-powered third-person action game.
So how about Control, the team's latest paranormal third-person shooter? Well, Control works best when its juggling every bit of its meta at once.
The game starts fairly abruptly, with main character Jesse Faden arriving at the Federal Bureau of Control, a shadow government organization that dabbles in the paranormal. With the place on lockdown, Faden makes her way in to meet the Director only to find him dead in an apparent suicide. She picks up the Service Weapon (the gun next to his body) and assumes the role of Director. Yes, it's that sudden, but there's enough there to hook the player immediately.
You quickly learn that Faden's goal in Control is to locate her brother Dylan, whom she hasn't seen in nearly 20 years, and discover the origin behind the voice in her head. This ghostly entity communicates through thought with Faden and nudges her in certain situations. Unfortunately, a mysterious infection called The Hiss is in her way, and she's tasked with playing nice with the bureau to dig deeper, find her brother and uncover the conspiracy at the heart of the game.
But as much as Control is about Faden, her twisted past and present quest to reunite her family, it's just as much about the world around her.
Control's narrative is expressed not only through its voiced characters, but through written communication on notes and journals you'll collect, expertly crafted and ever-changing rooms and through the game's unmatched sound design. Control is overflowing with these little story moments, and when the game regularly struggles from performance issues on console, it helps to have enough there to keep players going.
At its core, the gameplay of Control is centered around the use of the Service Weapon and the cleansing of Objects of Power to unlock abilities Faden can use throughout the game. These include Launch, a telekinetic blast using objects around you, Dash, which makes combat scenarios a bit easier to maneuver, and others like Levitate, Shield and Seize. These abilities, while a bit off-putting at first, blend together to create a seamless and extremely enjoyable combat experience, making each interaction with enemies just another puzzle to be solved.
Combat is further enhanced through ability points, personal modifications and weapon modifications. Ability points can be used to upgrade things like health, energy and supernatural powers. Personal and weapon mods add a buff, whether it be to health recovery, energy gain or weapon damage. There are also weapon forms for the ammo-regenerating Service Weapon that essentially make up for the fact that it's the only real weapon in the game. These forms turn the pistol into a shotgun, burst rifle, charged energy weapon and more. Though, the default form feels like the most reliable, and you'll find yourself rolling back to it throughout the game.
More typical puzzles are also littered throughout Control, with a hint of platforming and some time-based scenarios you'll have to seek out. None of these are inherently bad, but are a bit lackluster compared to the particle effects and debris that go flying during a story combat encounter. However, these puzzle mechanics work incredibly well during Objects of Power missions, and really drive home the strive toward an inanimate item of insane power. In one scenario, Faden is sent through a field training area to recover a Safe. If she completes the training under the specified time, the Object of Power reveals itself. These smaller missions are part-glorified tutorial and part-refinement of skills for the player. They're worth it, for sure, even if a few of them are off the beaten path.
For everything that Control has packed into it, it's difficult to ignore the aforementioned performance issues the game suffers from. The game is, on its face, technically incredible. Light bounces off of surfaces, particle effects litter the environment as objects are thrown and the game's many sound effects -- from its weapon sounds to its score -- are absolutely haunting.
But even playing on an Xbox One X doesn't curtail things like slowdown, frame stuttering and long load times. Similar issues have been reported across the console space, with PC seemingly being the platform with the least amount of issues. There was also a glaring issue that plagued the game in its final missions, where sound cut out from certain characters entirely. It's all a shame, really, because with new consoles seemingly on the horizon next year, one wonders if it would have been worth the wait for a next generation release.
As far as unique experiences go, it's hard not to recommend Control. It's campy, sure, but works extremely hard through its writing to take itself seriously. And while it may come across as cold or fleeting in places, the world of Control totally works. There are plans for a performance fix, as well, so it might just be worth the wait to see how that shakes out.
Control is now available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. The game was played on an Xbox One X.