Control, the latest release from the makers of Max Payne and Alan Wake, Remedy Entertainment, is one of the most unique games I have ever played. It’s at the same time unlike anything I’ve experienced before and a glorious amalgamation of all the best parts of classic games like Metroid, Half-life, Resident Evil, and Bioshock distilled into their purest forms. Here’s everything that stood out during my 20 or so hours touring the halls of the Federal Bureau of Control and investigating “altered world events” with the help of some telekinetic powers.
The second you step foot into the secretive Bureau, you immediately understand the kind of place you’re in. The sterile, outdated architecture conveys the crushing bureaucracy perfectly, while the constant presence of floating possessed government workers adds a sense of dread and foreboding to all proceedings. Little details like changes to paintings lining the halls or the accidental coining of technical government jargon help the game feel more alive and enigmatic. Be sure not to skip over any documents you find as they shed light on both the seriousness and hilarity of the unknown being explored. Perhaps most striking, however, is the bold, large font that is stamped across your screen when you enter a new area or receive a new mission and sends a chill down your spine.
Unraveling the Layers of the Building
Many reviewers have compared this game to a 3D Metroid taking place inside a government building, and the comparisons are apt. Throughout your adventure, you gain access to new areas thanks to receiving higher security clearances and new powers that expand your ability to explore. This is most clearly demonstrated by the amazing verticality of levels. An area that may have seemed relatively straightforward quickly morphs into a vast wonderland of mystery when you gain the ability to levitate and reach the uppermost areas. Even well into the endgame, I was discovering entirely new aspects of rooms I’d traversed dozens of times at that point making the game feel surprisingly fresh throughout.
Full Motion Videos
The use of video clips as opposed to CGI adds a welcome sense of realism to the otherwise paranormal setting. This is best exemplified by the amazing clips from Dr. Caspar Darling that discuss the research going on and demonstrate his spiral toward despair and catastrophe that led the bureau to its current crisis. While there often exists a welcome level of humor to Dr. Darling’s appearances, the Threshold Kids puppet show may be among the creepiest and most unsettling things I have come across in a game.
The Ashtray Maze
Without giving away too much, I will say that the late game Ashtray Maze is one of the most memorable and brilliant set-pieces I have ever come across in a game. The use of music and feeling of immense power put me in precisely the right mindset to finish the adventure once and for all. Remember how everyone thought the hallway fight in Season one of Daredevil was the great thing ever? Imagine that ratcheted up to 11 and featuring dimensional distortion, and you’re about halfway to how awesome this sequence was.
The Endgame and Getting the Platinum Trophy
I often struggle to continue playing a game once the credits have rolled and the main story is complete, but that was far from the case with Control. I couldn’t wait to continue wandering the halls and talking to everyone again to see how they handled the aftermath of the finale. I simply couldn’t leave a single stone unturned and had to complete every side quest. Hell, I even decided to go for my first every PS4 Platinum Trophy because I truly did want to experience it all.
The Physics System
There has never been a use of physics quite like this. It seems like every object from books to desks to projectors and sofas is just waiting to go flying across the screen. Environments feel entirely destructible, and I found myself more than happy to take some time to test their limits. I’ll never forget how gracefully feathers exit sofas during gunfights.
The Feeling of Power
When you first begin your quest, you feel weak and terrified of all the horrors unfolding before you. By the end of the game, you feel like a complete badass who can take anything down. Random Hiss invasions morph from life or death situations into just another chance to see something cool on your way to the next big discovery.
Without a doubt, the most useful and my personal favorite power was Launch. Firefights can become extremely chaotic, but Launch is so perfectly executed that you never feel like you’re in over your head. The game uses a great semi auto-lock when targeting enemies that makes utilizing it a breeze, and witnessing the progression from being able to only pick up small objects for minimal damage to flinging massive enemies from one side of a room to another really hammers home that growth of power Jesse undergoes throughout the game. I hadn’t had this much fun using an in-game power since throwing and retrieve Kratos’s axes in the latest God of War.
This could have been an easy one to mess up by giving you full flight abilities, but the limited use of levitation for short bursts of time drastically alters your movements and battle techniques without making things too simple. After an hour or so of toying with it, you’ll start using it to get everywhere with ease thanks to a movement system that feels almost as good as webslinging in the recent Spider-Man game.
The Upgrade System
Aside from standard health and energy upgrades, each power has its own tree that also branches off to new ways to utilize the already incredible telekinetic skills. Ability points are easy to come by through completing story missions, side quests, and finding hidden locations, so you’ll never feel like you’re struggling to unlock the next great thing. Additionally, it’s easy to focus on the abilities you want to strengthen first ::cough:: launch :: cough::, while gaining new appreciation for ones you hadn’t been dependent on early in the game as those branches are unlocked.
Side Quest Boss Battles
Some of the greatest moments in Control are easy to miss if you skip over the side quests. Take your time and work through them all because the boss battles are akin to Dark Souls with telekinesis and are among the hardest and most rewarding parts of an extremely enjoyable game.
The Mixed Bag
This one is a little bit of an odd duck. There is actually excellent enemy variety in terms of sheer number of types of enemies you will encounter, but most of the random encounters you will experience feature only one or two types of enemies. When the game is truly humming along though and you have to navigate levitating bad guys, rocket armed troops, and exploding creatures all at once, things truly shine.
I completed Control prior to the recent patch that supposedly improved performance issues, so these may very well be a lot better now. The most annoying performance dips actually occurred when coming out of being paused or on occasions when the map would fail to properly load. During some of the more hectic firefights, framerate could noticeable dip, but this never affected my ability to prevail, and I was impressed by how well it typically held up to all the random physics on my base model PS4. While it’s definitely apparent, I didn’t find it to be as big of a deal as some early reports on the game made it out to be.
Awkard Faces While Talking
Control is an unbelievably beautiful game, but sometimes faces get pretty awkward during dialog segments a la Mass Effect. It merely stands out because everything else looks so good.
Board Countermeasures and Bureau Alerts
Board Countermeasures are random challenges the game asks you to complete for rewards. These are often fun little diversions that can create a tiny bit of additional tension or creativity to combat by asking you to do things like defeat enemies while levitating or kill 30 enemies without dying. Sometimes, however, they can be overly specific like kill a certain type of enemy with a certain weapon in a certain location, and they can become a chore. Fortunately, you are free to abandon them and grab new ones as you please, so you can typically find more reasonable challenges especially if you are chasing that Platinum Trophy. Meanwhile, the Bureau Alerts provide timed challenges that I found myself ignoring altogether after about 3 or so, which, what do you know, is the amount required for the achievement.
Again, without giving too much away, I will just say that the ending seemed more concerned with setting up a sequel (or maybe some of this awesome sounding DLC) than with tying up the story nicely. After the gauntlet I had just gone through, I was expecting a little more payoff, but I can’t complain too much because more of this universe will be very welcome in the future.
Lack of Main Story Boss Battles
I might not have even noticed this had the side quests not contained such outstanding boss sequences. The relative lack of boss encounters during the main campaign, however, can make the end of some chapters feel almost anti-climatic following the craziness that ensues to get there.
The extremely hit-or-miss map is another item that the developers have said they will patch. I previously mentioned the performance issues plaguing the map with it not always loading, but even when it does fully load, it can often be difficult to read. Trying to figure out what control point to warp to or even if something is on the top or bottom floor can become overly confusing especially in corridor heavy sections.
The loading times in this game can be absolutely brutal. This becomes especially apparent and rage-inducing when dying repeatedly during those tricky boss battles. You’ll spend more time yelling at the load screens than agonizing over the fights. Couple this with a need for control points to be closer to said bosses, and you may have the worst part of the game oddly coupled with one of the best pieces.
The good and downright face melting awesomeness of Control far outweighs any of the relatively minor nitpicks I can throw its way. It’s a wholly unique gaming revolution that (to paraphrase former Kotaku writer Kirk Hamilton) feels like what you would have predicted the future of gaming to be 20 years ago. To this point, there has been nothing quite like it, and you owe it to yourself to marvel at it if just to see what wonders games are capable of while pondering the unimaginable heights still yet to be reached.