Control (Xbox One Review)
The first time Control was teased to be Remedy Entertainment’s next big title, I was apprehensive in my excitement. Remedy has come a long way since creating their hallmark title, Max Payne, but games like Alan Wake and Quantum Break often felt like they were very by the book; the latter feeling more a technical showcase of what was to come. Remedy has taken all these years of creating compelling narratives, deep character development, astute environmental design and condensed it all into what is now Control.
In the world of Control nothing is as it seems. Jesse Faden, a determined young woman, is in search of her 20 years missing younger brother. Her sleuthing has led her to the doorstep of the Bureau of Control, a secret government organisation in charge of handling supernatural events and are masters of keeping things hush-hush. It’s not long until Jesse finds herself trapped within the confines of this concrete prison as the building suddenly goes into lockdown. From there, Jesse must face her fears and encounter otherworldly entities, known as The Hiss, her own convictions, and the pursuit of her missing brother. Mystery is at the forefront of Control’s plot, fluidly unraveling with each chapter, although it is largely relegated to files scattered about the bureau. Case files and personal memos lay strewn throughout the world, helping break down the walls to the preternatural for the player. Remedy went above and beyond to convey the intricacies of the world they’ve built in these memos, with over 200 to collect. That being said, once you’ve read your 150th journal entry, things start to become a little overwrought. If the player can’t understand the world they reside in by then, then they never will.
The Bureau of Control is an environment like no other, an evolving world ready to burst at the seams. A construct that the developer has employed to create as a quixotic world as they like by still grounding the world in relative realism. Boardrooms and offices are just as they seem, quaint and mundane vestiges of the corporate workplace. However, at the flick of a switch things can suddenly change. Rooms can shift and disappear or even rearrange into something new, whilst reality skews along with it. These are described in game as Altered World Events and take Control’s drab corridors and ‘redecorates’ them or even teleports the player to a whole new world. Suddenly the roof disappears and your under a starry sky or seemingly miles away in a sleazy motel room. Most of your time will be spent in the less illustrious corridors however, gathering keycards, fending off baddies and reading up on the world around you. It’s a sad fact that the more interesting parts of Control feel like a treat while the metroidvania style exploration of the bureau — the back and forth with keycards — feels rudimentary in comparison.
What tends to break up the staleness of the in-between fetching is Control’s combat. Jesse has at her disposal a metaphysical weapon that can alter its function based on the user’s will. The Service Weapon can be modified to fire like a handgun, shotgun or even a rocket launcher once you’ve collected enough upgrade materials; Jesse’s aberant swiss army knife. Crafting is indeed a thing within Control but is less essential than you might think. Materials are gathered by eliminating enemies, kill enough enemies and you can possibly craft a new alteration to your service weapon or gamble them away for weapon enhancing mods. Mods are self-explanatory in that they increase your gun’s attributes, such as damage or reload speed but are never really compulsory. This particular crafting feature feels like a waste of resources as weapon mods tend to drop frequently from various containers around the bureau and you’ll come across plenty to suit any loadout you prefer.
The Service Weapon isn’t the only supernatural tool at Jesse’s disposal. The Bureau of Control is home to a bevy of Altered Items; everyday commodities spliced with supernatural power. Once Jesse comes into contact with one she gains its ability. Jesse will eventually be able to launch objects using telekinesis, create a makeshift shield using debris or levitate. With the same mods mentioned before, Jesse can upgrade each of her abilities to maximise its effective output. The most interesting of Jesse’s abilities — while not an actively usable one — is the ability to speak to the beyond using Hotline. This skill is more for plot purposes as it relays key information from important characters. Such characters as the former director of the bureau Zachariah Trench played and voiced by the infallible James McCaffrey or the mysterious and anonymous ‘Board’ that links the bureau to other worlds.
There are plenty of other characters that fill the agency but none come close to feeling as alive and indentured into the fabric of Controls world as the solemn Zachariah Trench or the witty and spontaneous scientist Casper Darling; who pops up in the odd personal training video. The characters Jesse interacts with through side missions seem aloof at first, but gradually warm up to Jesse and usually give her vague hints of what’s going on. Largely though, supporting characters go amiss as their apparent nature to keep their distance and divulge as little information as possible fails to elicit any sort of connection or understanding to them. Their roots are firmly planted in giving you busy work to do rather than be your friend. That, and some of their facial animations can be a little jarring and off-putting, with skin stretching to unappealing proportions.
Control does have its fair share of technical issues beyond that of a few languid facial expressions. Control manages to keep a stable framerate, for the most part, as long as you’re not bringing up the in-game menu. Doing so sees the framerate drop to single digits and some textures to depopulate. Not to mention that the map has problems loading in now and again too, so it can be difficult to navigate without proper bearings. As a result, you’ll constantly be checking your map of where to go next and in doing so destabilize Control’s overall technical integrity, slowing it down to a snail’s pace.
Control is hands down one of Remedy’s finner creations; setting my nostalgia goggles aside from Max Payne. The result blends years of work and understanding from past projects and brings it to a satisfying amalgamation of everything before. While there are plenty of reasons to doubt this ambitious venture given fans have mixed feelings of its spiritual predecessor Quantum Break, Control is still a game you don’t want to miss this generation.