reminded me of this studio’s knack for crafting engrossing, oddball worlds with an incredible sense of place. Control is perhaps Remedy’s weirdest yet, with the talking upside down pyramid who’s also your boss being about the sixth-strangest part. But thanks to sharp writing, a set of awesome and varied psychic combat abilities, and an impressively thought-out world, it was easy to wrap my head around what made this adventure tick.Infiltrating the Federal Bureau of Control as Jesse Faden and her blue wavy spirit buddy, I found myself fascinated. The Bureau’s headquarters seem like a drab, nondescript office building at first, and Jesse’s search for answers to events in her past were equally mundane. But Control quickly reveals what lies behind those concrete walls: within the first chapter I became both the janitor’s assistant and the new acting director of the Bureau.
Jesse’s search is then sidetracked by solving everyone’s problems. And while taking over the bureaucracy of a federal institution may sound like a dull time, when it’s filled with as many weird and distinctive characters and overrun by an inter-dimensional force known as the Hiss, it rarely ever is in practice.
Mind Over Matter
As a kid who grew up on the X-Men, I’ve always wished I’d discover some latent psychic powers, or at least the ability to grow my fingernails super fast or something. Control’s lineup of moves is the closest I’ve gotten thus far to wielding supernatural abilities, and Remedy has made each of them fun to use. There’s enough variety for most of the 10-hour story campaign to make almost every move feel important.
Jesse’s telekinesis is the best of the bunch. With a wave of her hand a crate, table, or ever-reliable chunk of concrete snaps to your side with satisfying urgency, followed by being hurled at foes and the destructible environment, with just as much of a thrilling zoom. I easily relied on this form of attack the most, and while it’s not quite the same level of tactile satisfaction as Kratos’ Leviathan axe in God of War, the oomph of hurling heavy objects around with my mind is as close as I’ve felt since.
The other abilities aren’t quite as handy but mostly still fun to use. Late-game hovering allows for even more mobility, and Jesse’s shield is great when enemies with telekinesis of their own force you to go on the defensive. Control’s combat encourages constant movement, and finding cover is frequently necessary to survival, even if you have to summon it yourself. The standard difficulty level isn’t unfairly hard, but I died a fair number of times when I didn’t think to balance both offensive and defensive skills and got too cocky with jumping into the fray, for example. Getting up close and using the psionic wave force melee ability can be advantageous when you’re down to just a couple of foes, but anymore than that and short-range combat usually led to a swift death, in my experience.
Instead, hanging back and finding a balance of when to strike and when to defend brings a nice rhythm to combat, and also lets you make good use of Jesse’s sole firearm – the Service Weapon. “Sole” is a bit of a misnomer, though, because the Service Weapon has several unlockable modes that shift it from a standard pistol to a fast-fire revolver to a more shotgun-esque spread shooter, and more. I eventually settled on the fun rhythm of the revolver and sniper-like pierce gun combo to keep enemies at bay for both short and long range.
When it comes to enemy variety, however, Control doesn’t match the variation of Jesse’s combat options. The Hiss-controlled members of the Bureau who are now fighting against you, typically have one or two of your own moves and ammo options. It’s fun to see how Control mixes and matches them in the early goings, but by the end of the story’s 10 chapters there was little challenge to these encounters, other than fighting Control’s performance. When too many enemies were on screen firing at me and getting blown up by my explosives at any given time, I ran into some huge hitching issues – even on my PS4 Pro. They’d only persist for a few seconds, but those seconds are often crucial and led to frustrating deaths. Those were mitigated by Control’s forgiving checkpoint system, at least, and it hasn’t stopped me from continuing to explore the Oldest House – which is Control’s main setting and the headquarters of the Bureau – even after completing the story.
A House Divided
Remedy has somehow made all of this gray concrete consistently fascinating. The Bureau is divided into a number of distinct business sectors, and though there’s certainly an overriding “corporate” theme, each area feels different enough that I wanted to know about the work being done there and how I could save it.
And, thanks to the Oldest House’s ability to change its shape and internal structure at will, it can keep pulling the neat trick of rebuilding locations. It’s as if the paranatural forces at work treat cement and rebar like Lego bricks. It’s always impressive to watch how the various new sectors will conform to the nefarious presence and my attempts to stop it.
The charm of the place comes, in part, from Control’s eclectic main cast. From Ahti, the janitor with serious Log Lady vibes, to Emily Pope, the information delivery service-slash-researcher – every character feels original and right at home in the Oldest House. Each sector brings with it a new character with a distinct, engaging personality, and yet they all absolutely made sense for someone who works in a secret government agency focused on paranatural forces beyond our understanding. In short, they’re all distinctive weirdos.
Remedy’s sharp writing extends from the dialogue into the collectibles and their descriptions or text. Control is not a story to just blaze through as you go — if you pick items up, you should absolutely take the time to examine and read them. They’re not only well written and frequently funny but often contain context that sheds new light on Jesse’s current point in the story.
I could have done without some of the hokier thoughts from Jesse’s inner monologue, which often explicitly blurt out how she’s feeling rather than letting lead actress Courtney Hope’s strong performance convey that on its own. That said, there are enough winners (in which she often says what I was thinking) among those lines to make her constant asides worth it.
Of course, alongside the main story, Jesse is pursuing a very personal goal as well, and she’s always looking to explore the Bureau for clues tied to her past. Without giving away why or what that translates into, I really enjoyed how Remedy tied Jesse’s personal story into the weirder corners of the Bureau through most of the journey.
The ending of the 10-chapter story sadly doesn’t quite stick the landing, though, due in part to what felt like a bit of a rushed final chapter that left some of the most interesting aspects of Jesse’s personal stakes to be uncovered in collectibles. And the ending’s anticlimactic final moments don’t work nearly as well as the highs of the couple of chapters that precede it. That last-minute fumble certainly didn’t ruin Control for me, but Remedy lays such a solid foundation that I wished those final moments were as impactful as the rest of the story.
Thankfully, there’s plenty left to explore in the Oldest House after the conclusion. Control’s fascinating cast have left me with plenty of side missions that offer fights more unique and fun than most of what’s in the main campaign, plenty more great dialogue, and a continued reason to explore every nook and cranny of the bureau. Add to that a host of kill-based objectives to earn crafting materials, the upgradeable Service Weapon forms and skill trees yet to fill out, along with the ever-present Bureau Alert side missions (timed opportunities to tackle extra objectives) and Control has conjured up plenty of reasons to stay on my mind.