Photo Credit: Remedy Entertainment
I got my first glimpse of Control at E3 2017 where I was shown a short video introducing us to Jesse, the protagonist and the Oldest House, which as much as it is the setting of the game is also very much a character in it’s own way. The video was mostly to show off the different powers and game play aspects but I instantly fell in love with what Control could be.
Control is an action-adventure game with a psychological horror theme. The best elevator pitch I have for what this game is would be to think X-Files meets Taken. Paranormal encounters are at the core of the Control mythos, it’s not aliens, it’s not ghosts or demons, it’s just the unexplainable. You play as Jesse Faden, a woman who as a young girl was at the center of a paranormal event and is now somehow different and immune to the mysterious force that has invaded the Federal Bureau of Control. The FBC is the organization responsible for the handling of the paranormal in the world, studying it, figuring out how it works, how to control or contain it. The Oldest House is the building where the FBC operates and where the game takes place. The Oldest House is itself a phenomenon, ignoring the laws of reality and constantly shifting, changing and evolving. As Jesse, you become the new director and using your abilities must fight back against the influence invading the Oldest House.
I’m not usually one for horror games, jump scares always seem cheap, body horror is gross and while I see the value in something Resident Evil the constant fear and disgust of a zombie ravished world has never been an enjoyable experience for me. Control, however, side steps a lot of these forgoing them all together or presents them in a different light. The Oldest House as a setting is just a run of the mill government office building, it’s mundane and it’s familiar. Visually, this puts me into a state of calm and what I realize is false security but when the ‘weird’ then happens it’s more effective than the constant barrage of a haunted house or defiled graveyard. Couple that with the amazing use of music and sounds and there’s a great dynamic where my eyes are telling me that everything is fine, everything is safe and my ears are telling my brain to panic and run and get the hell out. The atmosphere and environment of Control and the Oldest House is unique and perfect in its execution.
The part of Control that stands out the most to be is the combat itself, it’s the meat and potatoes of a game and as such can usually make or break a game. In my experience, action-adventure games tend to have a sort of shelf-life when it comes to combat. Eventually, in a game there comes a point where the combat itself starts to get too repetitive, it starts to feel like a chore and if possible I’d rather just through all the enemies on my way to where the next chunk of story is. The Kingdom Hearts franchise was always very guilty of this. Control is different though and I’m still working on pinpointing exactly why. Between the Service Weapon with it’s unlimited, rechargeable ammo and the paranatural abilities I’ve gotten so far (Telekinesis, Air Dodge, Shield) I never feel like I don’t have anything to utilize. Everything is fluid and in the moment and unless I specifically need time to survey the battle field and make a decision, I’m constantly doing something. Control has very few HUD elements and the controls are all very intuitive which leaves little else for the player to worry about except being in the moment. There’s also something extremely satisfying about just picking up whatever is near you, chunk of concrete, toxic barrel, cart full of oxygen tanks and smashing it point blank into the face of extra-planar beings.
One of the other unique choices that Control has made, which isn’t new to games, is how they decide to tell their story. There isn’t a heavy reliance on cutscenes and dialogue though it is there of course. The time Jesse spends conversing is with Emily Pope, one of the FBC agents still alive and kicking. Jesse directs any questions about what to do next to Emily and Emily is just as intrigued with how Jesse isn’t affected by the invading paranatural forces. The conversations tend to be brief, to the point and set you onto the next leg of your journey. The Oldest House, the FBC and all they deal with is inherently unknown and mysterious. The whole reasoning for the creation of the FBC is try to figure out the unknown, so it makes perfect sense that even the employees here have no clue what the hell is going on. If you’re expecting a lot of answers, this isn’t the story for you. That being said, Control does one thing very right that a lot of games struggle to find a real, substantive use for…collectibles. Around you game you’ll find various files that may be something silly and mundane like memo about a private bathroom vanishing, or something incredibly useful like theories behind what creates the weird objects of power that inhabit the Oldest House. If you forgo collectibles, you’re still going to follow the story of weird paranatural house and it’s weird-ass objects — but if you take the time to read all the clues littered about, it’ll bring the game to life in a way others of its kind rarely do.
It’s hard to levy any major criticisms at Control because the areas I’d label for improvement seem to be intentionally left bare so as to focus on what the game does right. As you collect resources throughout the game you can use them to upgrade your Service Weapon or craft mods for both the weapons and yourself. This system is extremely straightforward and bare bones and could’ve been improved on and deepen, but I get the distinct impression that the developers didn’t want players to spend all their time staring at menus and figuring out how to minmax their character and powers. Which is something I welcome after a game like Fire Emblem: Three Houses which has me reorganizing and equipping ten plus characters after every battle. It encourages you to play the game, to explore the oldest house and become immersed in the world they’re building.
Control knows exactly what kind of game it is and exactly what it wants you to do. If you pick up this game and accept that, you’ll have a blast with it. I don’t think it’s going to change any perspectives or shatter any minds, but it’s a solid start to what could be a rich and deep series going forward.