There are few games I find myself absolutely in love with at first sight. Control is one of those games. I've gone out of my way to experience as much of it as possible leading up to release. I've interviewed several of the team members that worked on the game, I got to try it at E3 this year, and I've given it a game of the show award for E3 in both 2018 and 2019. Finally, it's here. I've played through it. My questions have been answered and I learned if Control is really, well... in control.
Control follows Jesse Faden as she stumbles into an obscure building in the middle of New York City known as The Oldest House. He goal is to find the equally mysterious Federal Bureau of Control or FBC for short. This enigmatic organization has Jesse's brother, abducting him after the two of them stumbled onto a supernatural event. Along the way Jesse accidentally becomes the FBC’s new director, throwing her headfirst into a leadership role in a world she knows little about. When an otherworldly force known as the Hiss begins to possess FBC agents, Jesse must step up to her new role and attempt to save both her brother and the rest of the FBC.
Control Review | It's Time to Get Weird
Every single thing in the world of Control is just weird, and this is the point. If you're expecting solid answers or plot point explanations, you're in the wrong place. There's always a constant sense of the unknown, with cutscenes often cutting to impossible features, characters standing in dark rooms, or live-action videos of former director Trench (played awesomely by Max Payne actor James McCaffrey) standing around and smoking. This isn't some easy point A to point B tale that will be neatly tied up at the end. Despite this, Control manages to pull off its narrative extremely well. If you were a fan of Remedy's last attempt at this style, horror game Alan Wake, then you should find a lot to love here with no issue.
Most impressively is The Oldest House, where Control takes place. A character of its own, the place is full of quirks that should feel out of place but manage to work together to really give the impression that it's alive. One of my favorites comes from a pair of pictures at the start of the game. You'll see some giant paintings of Trench giving you an idea of who's in charge. Once Jesse finds Trench's body and becomes director, all these paintings are suddenly of her. When did this happen? In another game, this could easily be a weird plot hole. In Control it just works as another oddity of the living building.
While there's an awesome visual style in Control, there's also a notably great soundscape as well. The voice acting is on point, with each character feeling creepily calm or suitably deranged for the situation. This combines with a soundtrack that's equally as weird as the visuals. Many of the tracks sound like a random jumble of drums, almost like someone is totally failing at a drum-based rhythm game, which fits in shockingly well. There's also a smattering of licensed music, with a few songs showing up on the radio. There's one amazing late-game head trip set to an awesome rock song in a mind-bending maze. It's easily one of my favorite segments.
Control Review | Shooting and Looting
As Jesse goes about solving conundrum behind The Oldest House she'll have to deal with its dangers as well. At the start, all Jesse has is the Service Weapon, which is little more than a fancy looking pistol. As you advance, you can buy new forms for the Service Weapon to shift into, turning it into a shotgun, rocket launcher, and more. In addition, Jesse will slowly gain control over telekinetic powers, such as throwing objects at her enemies, creating a shield out of anything nearby, and levitation. She also gains the ability to hijack people's brains and get them to fight for her. This isn't really telekinesis, but don't worry about it too much.
All of this means there's a bunch of options in how you approach combat, and every fight feels fantastic. At one point, I turned the Service Weapon into a submachine gun. After using it to rush enemies and strip away their shields, I put up shields of my own to absorb a few attacks. After finding an opening, I hurled the entire shield back at the Hiss like it was a giant concrete-filled shotgun. Another occasion saw me grab a rocket out of mid-air and hurl it back at its owner.
Combat is fluid. I'm always feeling like I could use all of Jesse's awesome powers to their fullest extent. Thankfully, there is plenty of weird enemies to use them on. Some have shields that are vulnerable to thrown objects. Others like to dodge those objects, requiring me to spend more time shooting at them. One enemy type has tons of health and comes in large swarms. They're difficult to take down but can only attack if they're in melee range. This meant I spent a lot of time dashing and levitating away.
Control Review | I Broke It
In addition to this, Control has an incredibly destructible environment. Bullets blow gaping holes into pillars, throwing a desk into another will cause both to shatter into splinters, and Jesse literally rips chunks out of the ground if she needs something to fling. It adds a lot of oomph to the battles, making you feel like a destructive force of nature that can't be contained. At one point, I picked up an enemy and threw him into another. They collided and both of them ragdolled into a bookshelf, which promptly collapsed around them, covering their corpses with documents and wooden shards. In a way, it just an absolute joy to witness. There's a certain fun in being a wrecking ball. More than once, I found myself just messing around, using telekinetics on the environment just to see how it'll react.
Despite all the power and destruction you can cause, Control makes sure to keep you in check with decidedly difficult combat. You can only regain health by hurting enemies, so there's an encouragement to stay on the offensive rather than turtling and playing Control like a cover shooter. Enemies hit fast and hard, so you have to be careful and constantly dish out damage to keep your health high. As you dish out punishment you'll find mods for both Jesse and the various forms the Service Weapon can take. They'll provide passive boosts that you can use to hit harder and survive longer. There's also a simple crafting system, where you use theme-fitting concepts such as "stray thoughts" and "house memories" as materials. Thankfully, you can avoid the system entirely without really having to worry. I managed to finish on normal after crafting only a few items towards the beginning.
However, there is one major issue with Control's combat that holds it back from near perfection. Simply, the base PlayStation 4 clearly can not handle this game. Once the fights extend beyond more than three or four people, the framerate begins to chug. Add in said people often shooting explosives and throwing around tons of physics-based objects in a highly destructible environment and it's a recipe for disaster. Oddly enough, I also saw frames drop at other points. Unpausing often meant five to ten seconds of Control running super choppy. Collectible videos would often freeze or vanish, leaving me looking at a pause screen while I hear the audio. It's a shame that Control doesn't have control over the hardware it's on. I'd be a little wary unless you have a higher-end gaming computer or one of the upgraded versions of the consoles.
Control Review | It's Not All Gunshots
You don't just use Jesse's powers for combat either. A lot of the time you'll find secrets and side quests while exploring The Oldest House, and your new abilities will help. Exploration becomes vital, as there are no map markers and few indicators on where exactly you should be going. In addition to this, some of the coolest content is off the beaten path.
At one point, I saw a mysterious flashing light and decided to follow it. To my surprise, it led to a tiny break room with a single item in it. I went to grab it only to fall through the floor, ending up in a strange plane full of cubes and a peculiar fleeing merry-go-round horse. Reaching the horse allows Jesse to take its power, giving her a speedy dash that can let her get away or dash through the air and reach new locations.
These side quests would become some of my favorite moments. I found a bizarre pit in one part of the house. Climbing down it led me to discover a hidden research station working on a baffling invasive substance known as the Mold. I continued to look around, finding weird documentation and messages from other people that have wandered. It all culminated in an innocent flower that suddenly turned into giant tentacle monsters, leading to an impromptu optional boss fight. Another section saw me wander into a mirror realm where I got to solve a simple puzzle and then do battle with an evil shadow version of Jesse. There's a refrigerator with an interdimensional portal in it, and it led to an extremely awesome moment that I won't spoil here. Sorry, I can't give away all the good secrets.
Control Review | I Must Solve Every Mystery
As great as the spontaneous side quests are, the ones NPCs have for you are less thrilling. Often, these missions tasked me with killing specific enemies or hunting down objects in a certain location. Some try to be pretty funny jokes, like one that involves the janitor literally asking you to take out the trash. Others lean towards a serious tone, and these can drag.
No side quests were awful, but quite a few were rather generic. The game also tosses randomly generated timed alerts at you. These give you 20 minutes to get to specific locations and perform tasks like helping FBC employees in trouble or kill groups of Hiss soldiers. They're basically all the same, and once you've done one you've seen them all. In a way, it kind of reminds me of a live "games as a service" styled event, but without the other players or the need to grind out new equipment. I fail to see the point.
There's another reason you want to explore and perform side quests: lore. The world of Control is absolutely dripping with little lore nuggets that are fantastic. From a goofy book club where adults try to read a novel not suited to their age group, to weird everyday objects with supernatural abilities and how they need to be contained. If you're into SCP then you should find plenty to love here. The redacted government-styled documentation manages to perfectly fit the tone of the game world.
Control Review | Final Thoughts
Control is one hell of a game. Each fight is a frantic mess of destruction and chaos. Despite that, I always feel like I have total control (haha get it?) of the situation. I love exploring The Oldest House, and its become my favorite setting in video games. Each character is awesome, and solving Jesse's mysteries is a trip I've quickly grown attached to. It's just a shame that the game doesn't run very well, and that stops it from being quite at the level it should be. Still, you don't want to miss out on Control and its well worth plowing through some performance issues.
- Interesting Story
- Amazing Setting
- Fun Combat
- Great Exploration
- Destructable Enviroments
- Supurb Graphics and Audio
- Some Boring Side Quests
- Performance Issues on Base PlayStation 4