Jesse In Wonderland
HIGH The combat consistently made my pulse pound.
LOW The checkpoint system.
WTF That… was the ending?
I’ve never had much faith in Remedy. Although their games are consistently successful and boast (generally) positive scores, their previous two titles, Alan Wake and Quantum Break, both left a bad taste in my mouth. In fact, it was a taste so disappointing that I was iffy on playing Control and not trusting the pre-release hype. I even hesitated on saying “yes” to a free review copy. Was it possible for me to be any more skeptical? Probably not.
However, when I’m wrong I’m the first to admit it, and I now get to dine on a bowl full of crow because after finishing Control, I have no choice but to champion it as both a breath of fresh air and probably the best game Remedy has ever produced.
Ordinarily, here is where I would proclaim Control’s protagonist the star of the show and give a description, but the real main character here isn’t Jesse Faden, the red-haired woman on the front of the box. No, the real protagonist is The Oldest House — the New York skyscraper the campaign takes place in.
This eerie building houses The Federal Bureau of Control, and once players are inside, it doesn’t take long to notice that the laws of time, space and physics don’t apply. Things only get weirder as Jesse descends deeper down this bizarre transdimensional rabbithole.
Inside The Oldest House some rooms are several stories high, some are tight cubicle-laced offices, and others appear to be completely outdoors — starry sky above and all. The Bureau features multiple departments that each have a distinct flavor, but the building as a whole never loses its identity. It’s easy to tell Remedy thought through each area carefully and designed them all with tight cohesion.
The art direction is impeccable, but Remedy also paces Control in a way that lets it breathe to encourage exploration. Yes, there is plenty of shooty-bang action, but roughly 40% of my time was spent running around, exploring, platforming, chatting with NPCs and doing light puzzle-solving. Control isn’t just balls-to-the-wall action, and it’s better for it. However, there’s no denying that the action kicks the doors off their hinges.
Although the combat might initially seem like standard third-person fare, the tightness and intensity of each shootout had me pumped — nearly every enemy encounter made me sweat. I don’t often experience adrenaline rushes from combat in games, but Control hits a perfect sweet spot that got my pulse racing.
Almost immediately after entering The Oldest House Jesse finds a supernatural gun with unlockable modes (machine gun, shotgun, explosive, etc…) and she also gains special powers over the course of the adventure that provide balance to Control’s combat — things like a shield to guard her when she’s exposed, or picking up random items with telekinesis to use as projectiles. Lifting a computer monitor in the air and launching it an enemy so aggressively it blows them off their feet never gets old.
Jesse’s magic gun recharges its ammo (no pickups or reloads here!) and her special powers pull from a separate recharging gauge, so combat often alternates between bullets and abilities to keep Jesse active in the fight. In a refreshing move, Control also features no cover system — it’s all frenetic run-and-gun, and it feels damn good to play something so unapologetic about it.
Despite the tight aesthetics and intense combat, Control isn’t quite a true homerun for me for a few reasons. Perhaps its worst mistake is the checkpoint system.
When Jesse enters a new area, there’s usually a checkpoint that she must unlock to use as a save and fast-travel point. Despite an autosave icon blinking regularly in the corner, anytime Jesse dies, she resurrects at one of these checkpoints instead of immediately before a fatal encounter. This means that if I traveled through ten rooms with multiple enemy ambushes before things went south, I’d have to go through it all again to get back to where I died.
Another aspect of Control that rubs me the wrong way is the story itself — I wish the amount of energy that went into visual design was matched by the script.
Jesse meets a cast’s worth of characters during Control and not only did I fail to care about any of them, I didn’t care about Jesse herself. However, she’s not unlikable — just boring. Also, once the story wrapped, it didn’t hold together, and the amount of files and audio clips planted around the world is embarrassing. With such a beautiful environment and tight action, the last thing I want to do is spend time reading files with information that isn’t effectively woven into the narrative.
Last but not least, that ending? If I can even call it that? Remedy didn’t waste time announcing DLC, so I can only expect they’re saving the real finale for one of those. I won’t be holding my breath though — the complete lack of payoff felt like a slap in the face.
Even with these complaints, Control feels successful, fresh and, most importantly, like a game I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. The world is so carefully crafted and the combat so great, they both carry all the weight the story doesn’t, and then some. After being unimpressed with Remedy’s previous work, Control feels like a powerful final draft after those early false starts and marks a strong new creative direction for the studio.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Remedy and published by 505 Games. It is currently available on PC, PS4 and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood, Strong Language and Violence. Control might be rated M, but I didn’t experience anything memorable that some T-rated games like Uncharted don’t get away with. There is violence and language, but none of it is over-the-top. I don’t see any problem with early teenagers playing this with some adult supervision.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes but an option to toggle enemies’ health bars between red or yellow exists.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Control features subtitles in three different sizes for all spoken dialogue in the game. It also features an option to put a shaded box behind the subtitles for better clarity. Control features text-overlay options for signs in the world, but the subtitle size changes do not affect the sign overlay text size. Control is more difficult without sound due to a drastic music change that signals when enemies are on the attack and when they’re asbent. This music change has no visual cue. Also, Control includes three options for subtitle sizes, the largest is shown below.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls on the PS4 version. Y and X-Axes and stick sensitivity can be changed. A picture of the PS4’s controller setup is below.