Remedy, as a studio, has always defied convention by combining their love for other media with video games. If Max Payne was an examination of film noir, then Alan Wake was Remedy’s attempt at a playable Stephen King novel. Quantum Break, with its jarring, stuttering temporal fractures and its equally jolting foray into cross-media is, in part, an attempt at mimicking David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Control is a little bit King, a little bit Lynch – with a dash of Fringe, a smattering of the X-Files and a little X-Men. It’s Remedy’s penchant for the surreal, dialled up to eleven, with the knob superglued in place.
When Jesse Faden steps into the clandestine Federal Bureau of Control, guided by the mysterious entity inside her head, the agency’s personnel have been corrupted by a hive-like, malignant force that’s come to be known only as “The Hiss.” The Federal Bureau of Control – FBC – is a secretive government agency that ostensibly seeks to research – and ultimately control – paranatural objects, everyday items created through Altered World Events that violate the laws of nature and reality. They’re mundane items – like coffee cups, rubber duckies, or pink garden flamingos – that have become imbued with otherworldly power. The FBC’s building itself is a place of power. Nicknamed “The Oldest House”, it’s an impossibly cavernous, twisting bit of arcane architecture, defying physical laws. As you might imagine, it’s already filled with the preternatural and aberrant.
What Jesse encounters is bizarre, even for this place. Bodies float in the air, their thoughts perpetually echoing through the Oldest House, a cacophony of commingling intonations. They’re lost to The Hiss, stuck in a loop in their own heads. Jesse though, is immune to the Hiss’ influence. Even weirder for Jesse is that within minutes of her arrival – after a brief meeting with an eccentric, elderly Finnish janitor whose babbling suggests he knows more about The Oldest House than it seems – she becomes the new Director of the bureau. It all starts when she picks up the Service Weapon, an object of Power – one of those paranatural items that’s suffused with greater energy. For reasons that are adequately explained but make me go cross-eyed when I think about it, whoever wields that weapon is the director. That she got it off the dead by suicide previous director is an inconsequential matter. It sets Jesse on a quest further inside the bureau, trying to find out what exactly is going on, why the Hiss has taken over the Oldest House and helping those who’ve survived their onslaught.
Look, I told you it was weird.
Unfortunately for Jesse, getting around the building isn’t easy, even for the newly-appointed director. The Hiss-affected personnel who aren’t lost in their heads are corrupted, armed and out for Jesse’s blood. While the service weapon – a living gun – is your primary bit of offense, it’s not long before Jesse finds and controls other Objects of Power, giving her an array of super-powers. Control’s combat quickly evolves into a beautiful ballet of gunplay and supernatural abilities, including telekinesis that lets Jesse hurl objects at enemies, a shield that rips concrete from the floor giving Jesse a protective barrier, and the ability to seize weakened enemies, using them as deadly puppets. By the end of it, Jesse’s able to effectively fly. The whole thing’s incredibly empowering, and though they’re all abilities and powers we’ve seen in other games, here they coalesce into something beautiful – and probably the best superhero game of the year. While I grew tired of the similar waves of enemies, I didn’t bore of sending all the bastards to hell.
Of course, there’s a quasi RPG-lite element to it, because you’re able to level all of your abilities up to suit your playstyle. There’s more to it than that though. Your service weapon has its own upgrades and modifications, able to switch out to secondary modes. It can be used as a machine gun, a sniper, a rocket launcher and more, with craftable and collectible tiered mods that amplify its efficacy, along with your own. The game is about more than its off-the-wall narrative and its empowering combat. In fact, I think the game’s best facet is its focus on exploration.
The game’s been compared – by the developers themselves – to a Metroidvania. While that comparison is perhaps a little overstated – I only really felt gated by a lack of abilities once, with most of the gating down to doors with a clearance level – it has the spirit of one, thanks to the rewards you’ll get from exploring The Oldest House. You’ll not only find mods and the materials to craft them and other upgrades by scouring every nook and cranny of the impossibly expansive building, but also countless notes, research papers, videos, audio files and more, detailing the research and experiments the staff of the FBC have carried out. While I’m usually happy to ignore this sort of periphery in games, in Control I delighted in reading every scrap of information, watching every kooky video, backtracking to make sure I missed nothing.
That sort of focus means the game’s not for everyone. There’s a lot of quiet time, where you’re just dashing between halls and rooms, trying to find the McGuffin that’ll propel the narrative forward, and some might even find it boring. I didn’t. Occasionally, there’s a sense of obligation when reviewing games, and I didn’t feel that at all. Every day, I was excited to play Control; to find out more about the Altered World Events and the Objects of Power and how they’ve changed the world. There’s even information – retconned, I’m sure – that’s changed my perception of previous Remedy games. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so lost in, and so enraptured by a game.
That giddiness helped me overlook some of the game’s problems. The waves of similar enemies lack creativity, and I think it would have been nice to have more enemy archetypes and perhaps a few more interesting bosses. The narrative itself, while not explicitly setting itself up for a sequel, also ends up feeling unresolved. That’s all made up for by one of the coolest action sequences in a video game. While I won’t spoil it, it’s a balls-to-the-wall mad, guns-blazing sequence accompanied by a cheesy rock song by a familiar, Nordic-themed rock band.
Last Updated: August 26, 2019