CONTROL Review – Shatters Reality And Your Expectations
Developed by Remedy Entertainment
Published by 505 Games
Available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One
Rated M for Mature
Has anyone else lost an embarrassing amount of time browsing the SCP archives? I know I certainly have. I actually once spent a day at Six Flags just delving deep into the “best of all time” archive. In case that didn’t quite land, I spent over $70 to go to a place with rollercoasters and spent that time sitting on a bench reading internet horror short stories. If you’re not familiar with the cult phenomena, SCP is a platform for users to create short stories in the style of scientific journals. Each entry chronicles one of the eponymous SCPs, and gives instructions for containment and an overview of the SCP’s powers/”anomalous properties.” SCPs can be anything, ranging from a kaiju style lizard that never dies to a book that rewrites history. Each entry builds into a loosely connected yet robust cannon that chronicles the efforts of a vast organization doing their best to hold the world together. It’s that perfect blend of creative freedom, minimal yet comprehensible restrictions, and [REDACTED]. Fans of SCP have long clamored for a video game adaptation of their supernatural obsession. And with Control, we finally have it.
Okay, not LITERALLY an SCP game. But I’ll be shocked if someone in Control’s storytelling department hasn’t jumped down a few late-night SCP rabbit holes. From the mundane objects with bizarre powers to the shadowy organization outside the normal bounds of government, Control captures everything that first drew me into the SCP universe. The cold, calculated, clinical approach to the unfathomable terrifies me far more than shocked faces and screaming teens. It makes for a more believable world, where ordinary men and women do their best to contain the unthinkable darkness through science and reason.
And oh boy, what a world that Control spins. An extended world, as it turns out, but I’ll get into that later. You play as Jesse Faden, a young woman on the hunt for her long brother Dylan. This search leads her to an innocuous government building in the middle of New York, home to the Bureau of Control. Stepping through the doors, it becomes immediately apparent that something isn’t right. Everyone is gone, except for a single janitor named Ahti that might just be replying to your internal monologue. He directs her to an elevator that previously didn’t exist, and up she goes into the heart of the building to speak to the Director.
Upon arriving at the Director’s office, Jesse finds him dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A strange voice from beyond instructs her to pick up his gun (known as the Service Weapon), and after a series of trippy images featuring an inverse black pyramid that speaks in paradoxes and a blue geometric spiral, she is now the new Director. Easy as that. Turns out her gun is Excalibur (not even joking), but instead of being King of England she now runs the Federal Bureau of Control. Meritocracy is overrated.
Soon after leaving the Director’s office (which I guess is her office now), she is assaulted by an extra-dimensional entity called the Hiss. After failing to control her mind, the Hiss sends a number of possessed soldiers to kill her with good ol’ fashioned bullets. Fear not, as it turns out that the enchanted weapon election system is actually spot-on. Once bound to the Service Weapon, Jesse becomes a one-woman murder machine. The Service Weapon itself is magical and modular, reloading itself over time and unlocking various new forms like a machine gun, sniper rifle, and even a rocket launcher.
On top of that, Jesse can bind to certain Objects of Power (OoPs) to gain new abilities such as telekinesis, shields, mind control, and levitation. These objects can only bind to a select few parautilitarians, and even then can only do small feats like moving pencils around. Jesse’s ability to lift entire forklifts and launch them at lethal speed is an oddity, even in the land of the odd. The Oldest House – oh did I forget to mention that the entire facility is itself a shifting space between dimensions with a mind of its own? – is a trove of such OoPs, many of which are housed in a giant prison called the Panopticon. Most astralnauts don’t even have these minor abilities and have to rely on their Hedron Resonance Amplifiers to keep them safe in the Astral Plane.
As you can tell, playing Control is very similar to reading A Clockwork Orange; if you don’t have a glossary handy, you’re going to have a bad time. Luckily, Control happens to have just that! Taking the form of mountains of text logs, item descriptions, educational videos, and even calls from beyond the grave, there’s a novel’s worth of collectible tidbits that bring meat to the world’s hefty bones. By the end of the game, you won’t bat an eye when someone describes an OoP resulting from an AWE caused by an undiscovered Threshold.
Control might sound daunting, but it never feels like the information is overwhelming. Control is expertly paced and remains grounded through Jesse’s status as an outsider and her clear goals. Jesse isn’t there to enact some grand plan, she just wants to find her brother. To find her brother, she has to fight through the Hiss. Along the way, she has to stop The Oldest House from exploding, lift lockdowns, find various key staff, etc. The world opens up piece by piece and when Jesse asks just what something means, it makes sense. She’s just as much a foreigner as the player. Even that mountain of text logs is drip-fed to you in manageable chunks.
As your understanding of Control grows, so to does the explorable area. Taking place entirely within The Oldest House, the sprawling multi-dimensional labyrinth has been converted into a government facility. There are four main zones, each of which has multiple sub-zones that are reachable when you acquire various powers. It’s a Metroidvania style approach, requiring you to memorize locked doors and unreachable platforms to unlock more secrets. You’ll often find that a background piece that seems like decoration actually hides a hidden item once you can actually reach it. It makes you constantly take stock of your surroundings, and expand your thinking past the corridor of enemies in front of you.
The overall effect is that Control draws you deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole you never want to escape from. Control is captivating, answering just enough questions to suck you in but always leaving room for more digging. The details to the world go far above and beyond what’s expected. It’s in these logs you find that the entire facility is powered by a person, that the furnace might eat people and keep The Oldest House alive, and that this game is actually in the same world as Alan Wake.
You heard me right. If you hadn’t read it somewhere else already (like my article where I actually predicted it), Control is an extension of the Alan Wake universe. It’ll probably have to be named something else now, like the Remedy Dark Universe. As Alan Wake himself said at the end of his game, “It’s not a lake. It’s an ocean.” We’ve been waiting for a sequel for almost 10 years, and with Control we get the most unexpected type. Expanding the game beyond the town of Bright Falls and into the multiverse, Control manages to simultaneously tell its own story, expand the universe, and give some answers to questions left lingering by the previous game. So you best read those text logs, and join me on the forums to debate just where this series will go.
Typical of any quality rabbit hole, I find myself having gotten lost in the story and forgotten to even mention the gameplay. Worry not, Control isn’t all text logs and [REDACTED]. Control is, at its core, a third-person shooter. Don’t let that trick you into thinking this is another Gears of War. This is more run-and-gun than duck-and-hide. Casting off much of the convention plaguing the genre, Control’s combat is relentless. Health doesn’t regenerate normally, and can only be regenerated by drops from enemies. There’s no reloading in the traditional sense, with the Service Weapon recharging when you stop shooting. You can equip two of your weapon forms, and swapping between them is instantaneous. As you unlock more powers, you’ll dash and fly around the arena as you launch boulders and blast enemies to oblivion. Rarely are you stationary, as the health drops encourage you to always keep up a mobile offensive.
It’s a whole cargo ship full of baboons fun to launch enemies into other enemies while shotgunning a third dude in the face. Control‘s enemies are diverse, and special advanced forms offer enough of a challenge to keep you on your toes. The only downside is that I wish there was a bit more weapon variety. There are five modes for the Service Weapon: pistol, shotgun, sniper, machine gun, and rocket launcher. The pistol form might as well not even exist. There are various modifications you can use to upgrade your guns, such as decreased shotgun spread or increased fire speed. Regardless of what you do, your shotgun will always be a shotgun and your rocket launcher will always launch rockets.
For a game with a gun made of magic, I wanted more creativity. We’re talking about a gun with floaty bits that grants otherworldly powers and can change shape on command. Why is there no magic whip version that sliced dudes in half? Or a lethal boomerang? Or maybe a mode that plants itself as an automated turret while you run around using your other powers? These are all ideas I just came up with sitting here in a coffee shop writing this review. I usually avoid these pointless “what if” conversations. I’m not the kind of guy that needs 100 pointless weapons or 12 versions of an assault rifle, but there’s a real missed opportunity here. The Service Weapon is a great idea, but it didn’t match the creative vision of the rest of Control.
The only other issue I had with Control was the optional timed quests. Overall, the quest design in the game is great. The main quest does a good job leading you through new zones, and the side quests expand the world with interesting challenges that never feel like busywork. Rewards are kind of disappointing, but the real reward is always seeing what else the world has to offer. Then there are the timed quests. Randomly throughout the game, a claxon will blare and giant text appears in the middle of your screen letting you know where the quest is. You then have 20 minutes to get to a checkpoint, warp to where the problem is, and complete the quest. If you die, you fail. You will be rewarded with some crafting materials for your troubles if you succeed.
Why these quests even exist is beyond me. They add nothing to Control‘s story, don’t contribute to building the world, and offer no interesting challenge. The three different versions of these missions all revolve around killing all the bad dudes. Sometimes you kill bad dudes while shooting red blobs, sometimes you kill bad dudes while protecting good dudes. It’s all pointless grind and makes no sense in the larger world. That is when they even work. Of the six side timed quests I tried, four of them didn’t even work. The first just failed to spawn any enemies, and the last one put the people I was supposed to protect in a pit filled with unkillable blenders.
Aside from these small annoyances, Control might be my favorite game of the last few years. The combination of a fantastic story, tight combat, and expert level design draw me in and refuse to let me go. It took me a little over 20 hours to get to the finish line. After the credits rolled, I just wanted more. Unfortunately, the timed side quests aren’t enough to keep me playing. Still, I’d have to be crazy to hold that against it. Control is a masterpiece of world-building, and with a little more weapon variety it would have been perfect. Pick it up immediately.
Shatters Reality And Your Expectations
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