Control Review | Paranatural Perfection
There is something fascinating about clandestine United States facilities dealing with the occult. The idea, no matter how faint in all actuality, that something mysterious is always lurking underneath the surface is alluring. Remedy Games, especially as of late, has really leaned into the third-person sci fi adventure genre with the Alan Wake series and Quantum Break. But, it looks like Control is ready to have a say in the conversation with the best Remedy game, or one of the best sci-fi third-person games out there. Control features a perfect blend between strong characterization, a fully fleshed out world and a playground of fun abilities and weapons to battle through The Federal Bureau of Control.
The leading character, Jesse Faden (Courtney Hope), begins the twisting tale as she searches for her brother Dylan Faden in the Federal Bureau of Control, specifically their location that is conducting research on Altered World Events and Objects of Power, Oldest House. Quickly, you’ll understand just how mysterious The FBC and Oldest House are with the first meeting with resident Janitor, Ahti (Martti Suosalo). Ahti is such a peculiar character in the sense that he seems pretty at home with all the strange occurrences in Oldest House, and he later becomes a key character throughout the story. One which quickly kicks off as the current Director, Zachariah Trench (James McCaffrey), mysteriously dies. Then, the first object of power we find, or more aptly finds us, is the service weapon. Thus the tale begins of Jesse Faden meeting a slew of department heads of The FBC. What starts out as a search for Dylan soon turns into much more.
Jesse Faden is one of the more human-like characters you’ll find in gaming today. The writers have managed to make her so well-rounded that she eschews any female-leads stereotypes out there. She’s not weak. She doesn’t make rash decisions. She doesn’t struggle to find herself barely making it through only to triumph in the end. She’s driven. Strong. And, which happens to be one of my favorite aspects about her, she’s reasonably sarcastic. When meeting various characters throughout Control, when dialogue is occurring, Jesse often has internal quips that force a smile on your face. Mainly because that is often what an actual person would say in that scenario. I can’t recall a single time where dialogue was spoken out-of-character. From the mysterious Finnish Janitor Ahti who know every inch of the FBC to the grizzled former director, Zachariah Trench that describes nearly every location you come across, these characters all fit perfectly into the world of Control.
Without spoiling too much of the story, Jesse has been searching for the Bureau because of her insistence that they played a role in what happened to Dylan due to an anomaly that happened in their town of Ordinary. Ironically, it turns out to be anything but ordinary. As you’d come to expect, a bureau dealing with paranatural activities is notoriously comprised of three things: 1) experiments that leap past the bounds of being ethical, 2) a shady cast of characters and 3) some extremely weird occurrences happening everywhere. Well, Control has those all in spades, and then some. While the games are pretty dissimilar, venturing through the floors of the FBC was reminiscent of exploring vaults in the Fallout series. Each vault in that series dealt with some specific experiment which often leads to an abundance of additional side quests. That is one of Control’s many strong points. Through collectibles (including audio logs, videos and documents) and just general projector reels in areas throughout, the game’s world is teeming with life. They are informative to the area in which you are, and often quite comical; especially the cartoons and live-acted projection reels. There are three specific occurrences that really emphasize why Remedy Games are top of the class in crafting a world that actually feels believable.
“Side Quests,” specifically those even smaller in nature highlighting with one in the Luck and Probability Lab Department
Approximately half way through the game, you will reach one of the most peculiar areas in the Experimental Sector, The Luck and Probability Department. With tons of interactables, you know there is something hidden within. It turns out, that by following the instructions on a white board in the room, paired with reading through a collectible found in the area, allows you to complete the test. Failing results in some hilarious things happening, but once you complete it you are rewarded with a fancy outfit. This is only one of Control’s many hidden side quests. When I say hidden, I mean hidden. With a pretty minimal UI (and the ability to alter it extensively), there are no big flashing icons or arrows directing you where to go so they really feel earned. Add to the fact that they often feature some of the best puzzles in the game, it’s the swift push you need to continue exploring Oldest House.
You know when puzzles get so aggravating it teeters on you questioning why you are even playing the game and are almost forced to have to look up a guide or wiki? Not every single aspect of Control’s numerous mysteries were solved during this review, but I never really felt a sense of frustration when faced with a puzzle (sans one). That wasn’t due to the puzzles simply being too easy, but with Remedy’s ability to gradually build up to more complex puzzles and their amazing job at signposting. The Luck and Probability department is just one instance of the devs giving you absolutely everything you need to complete a section, without putting a big arrow directing you on how to complete it. Another (discussed below) is that of the Oceanview Hotel. About the one puzzle that had me scratching my head, it’s important to remember that this is a metroidvania game. The specific section wasn’t meant to be completed at that time, and becomes an amazing sequence later in the game.
On top of that, there is also a very, very spoiler heavy section so I will be vague when talking around it that portrays some interesting foreshadowing. Character dialogue in Control is equal parts enlightening and hilarious. If you’re one to complain about your job, I mean who isn’t from time to time, there are a few characters you will absolutely feel at home with. But, above being funny and sometimes endearing, there is one sequence that really stands out. If you continue asking a specific character questions, the character will tell you upwards of 7-8 stories with Jesse begrudgingly listening to them all. One of these stories is foreshadowing a pivotal scene in Control. Literally to a T. Some neat foreshadowing that not everyone will see if they don’t continue to dialogue with the character. Jesse also has some amazing quips that show the devs went above and beyond in thinking of everything. There was a section where Jesse said, “I don’t know how I’m going to get past that.” So, as any gamer does, I leaped to my death… twice. To be fair, I did make it across, but doubt I was supposed to be able to do so. After progressing through the game a tad more, I realize that obtaining one ability made that section possible. Once returning, where Jesse once quipped about our inability to get past that area, she was silent on this return trip. Those tiny interactions are what really stand out in games.
Oceanview Motel and Casino
One of the best examples of creatively using the environment to aid the user in completing a puzzle has to be the recurring Oceanview Motel and Casino. In this motel, which is bound with dream-like logic, you simply ring the front desk bell and a door opens. Ring it again and… another door opens as the previous one closes. When peering down the hallway, light shines through showing you the mechanics of the bell, small tidbit, but an interesting one. You have to enter each room and complete a puzzle to obtain a key to open the door with a black pyramid on it. These puzzles become increasingly more involved, but work more so as an, interestingly enough, nice relaxed sequence to the main areas in the game. They also led to some of the more interesting parts of the game.
Action & Enemies
The Service Weapon is far more than a single revolver, albeit the “Grip” form is tremendously powerful once modded and upgraded. Outside of being a revolver, the Service Weapon can transform into Scatter (close to a shotgun, perfect for close quarters), Spin (Uzi-like focusing on rounds per second), Pierce (a penetrating sniper-like weapon that requires a charged shot) and charge (a more futuristic weapon that uses…charged energy for big blasts). As you’d expect, the Service Weapon and all its forms don’t use traditional ammunition. They use energy which simply refills after waiting a certain amount of time. With modifications (such as the ability to increase damage, fire rate, chance for ammo return, etc.), the guns start out and continue to tactically feel great. But, what do you do when you are surrounded by Hiss and waiting for your ammo energy bar to fill? Use one of the handful of abilities you acquire via story progression of cleansing Objects of Power. From telekinetic powers to seizing your enemies’ minds and making them allies for a brief time, the abilities are fun to workshop with while creatively battling back the Hiss. Similar to the gun forms, you also receive personal mods throughout the game and can upgrade each ability earned. These mods can be obtained via killing Hiss, completing missions or via the personal mods menu.
There is a great balance of using your abilities while your weapon energy is refilling and vice-versa. While you are somewhat limited early on, things get beautifully chaotic towards the second-half of the game. There will never be anything like upgrading your telekinetic power to hurl enemies at one another. The game isn’t ever really all that difficult, but I don’t think it needed to be, nor does it hinder the overall experience.. Unfortunately, this leads to two of the very few criticisms I have of the game. Once you get into the late game and an arena of enemies is spawned and you are using all your abilities, the frame rate does hitch for a brief couple seconds. It’s nothing that persists after it does happen, and with all the interactables in the world, I went in assuming this might be the case. But, I am happy to say that it is far and away more stable than I could have ever imagined. Only in those handful of chaotic instances and when resuming from a menu (sometimes) and when completing a mission where you gain ability points, personal and gun modifications, the game saving and a trophy popping all happening simultaneously is there a minor freeze. It only happens for about 3 seconds (for that last set of instances), but it did make me hold my breath thinking the game hardlocked. Additionally, if you do die, respawn points often put you a decent ways back forcing you to retread your steps, and the load time is roughly 10ish seconds from death to loading in or when fast travelling to a new sector.
The enemies you will face off against are most often Hiss, agents possessed by the corruption. Through main and side-content you will also face off against some more paranatural entities. They are fascinating in their design, and often require the utilization of all currently acquired abilities to defeat. Various altered objects also provide some boss-like encounters that freshen up what can sometimes feel like a samey affair with enemies. The one cue outside of the red flashes of incoming enemies is the sound design for the game. It is exceptional. As enemies are about to spawn, the sound gradually picks up and then transitions to full on when amidst combat and then trails off once the enemies are taken care of. The fire of your service weapon and the wooshes of tossing Hiss around is also spot on.
A PS4 code was provided by the developers for this review.