Remedy entered 2019 in a weird place; after middling reviews on their last major projects (Alan Wake’s stand-alone expansion American Nightmare and Quantum Break), the highly regarded studio no longer possessed the automatic buzz its projects used to have. Control was highly-anticipated with trailers and showcases of the game gathering momentum and hype, but there was an underlying skepticism on their ability to create something truly unique, like they were able to with their previous work. Thus Control was not simply another game for both fans and studio; it was their chance at reminding people why Remedy was considered to be one of the most creative and exciting studios currently working.
In that regard, Control is an unquestionable success. Despite minor and major flaws, Control is a unique and brilliantly weird game that signals a return to form for Remedy in an unexpected way; I’m not just excited for what their next project will be, I’m also excited about the free content that’s coming to Control in the near future and that is the first time I’ve felt like that about any game since The Witcher 3. Control is not just a great feeling game with fantastic visuals, excellent sound, and great but flawed gameplay mechanics; of the “AAA” releases so far (if you categorize Control amongst them), it is arguably the “must-play” experience of 2019 so far. It is by far the most unique and weird offering, with unrivaled atmosphere and excellent writing, which on their own can justify the purchase, despite the various flaws and stumbles the game has. If the question asked was “Can Remedy deliver a unique experience?” and the answer was Control, then I am relieved and satisfied with that answer.
Unlike their previous offering (Quantum Break), Control is a living, breathing, and varied experience; every area, room, hallway, and corridor has a strong vibe to it. You have areas like the oppressive and corporate feeling Executive sector to the mechanical and eerie Maintenance sector, rooms like the vast, vertical spaces of Central Research to the gloomy, moldy spaces lurking beneath the Oldest House. Although Control is confined to a single location, the fact that the Oldest House is a paranormal entity that shifts and morphs as you progress through the game allows the game to have enough visual variety and different level design as to feel distinct from each other. What makes these areas, rooms, hallways, and corridors worth exploring though, are the amazing collectibles scattered throughout the Oldest House and to discover how many different types of weird they can fit in this game; you have funny weird, eerie weird, creepy weird, bureaucracy weird, the list goes on and on. This is why you should play this game: Hunting down every collectible, every side and main mission, every “episode” of Threshold Kids (Control’s version of the trademark Remedy TV show within the game), and devouring them as you find them, soaking in every minute detail about this bizarre world. I’ve never been a completionist or someone who will read and search for everything, but I spent at least 30% of my play-time in Control searching and consuming every collectible or interactable object.
Beyond the incredible atmosphere and gorgeous visuals, Control has an excellent voice cast and beautiful sound design; everything from footsteps in a vast, empty room echoing to soundtrack and ambient music are as immersive as they should be. However, Control is an action game and thus, it as good as its gameplay is and that element is not great – it’s not bad, but it’s not as good as all the other elements. First off, gameplay in Control is about agile and consistent movement, thoughtful use of abilities, unrivaled destruction and a balanced use of your ‘service weapon’; starting with the service weapon, it has the mechanical identity of a mini-gun (no reload, no ammo restrictions, but if you use it unwisely you’ll have to suffer a cooldown where it cannot be used) and it can transform to various weapon forms (grip which is the standard, balanced form, shatter which is a shotgun, pierce which is a railgun for long range combat, spin which is an SMG equivalent, and the grenade launcher one – it sucks so I never used it.) That’s all great, and it serves to create this balancing dance where you shoot at bad guys mindfully and always considering how to be consistently moving, how to most efficiently use your abilities and space, etc.; where it falls apart is the fact that I only really needed to use one weapon form and that made most encounters feel the same. Furthermore, the game is very punishing in how much health you lose every time you’re hit and the only way to replenish health (while in combat) is to pick up health from fallen enemies, but it’s not a challenging game for the most part; in fact, it does a pretty good job at ramping up difficulty slowly in order for the player to learn when to risk pushing forward for health pickups, when to stay at a distance, how to use your abilities efficiently. However, it has these sudden spikes in difficulty that create frustration, especially when it comes to side missions and boss fights in them; this is especially hurtful because these side missions are by far the most interesting aspect of the campaign, as they allow the player to learn more about the Bureau and how Jesse sees it. Furthermore, the order which the abilities are handed to the player and the time it takes to get everyone make the last ones not part of your core gameplay considerations; this is especially egregious when it comes to levitate because you get it more than halfway through the game, but it changes exploration, combat, and puzzle solving, yet I never considered it as such, because I already had an efficient and working way that I used for most of the game.
That’s not to say that the combat, exploration, or puzzle elements of the game are bad; in fact, they all have a satisfying punch when the game works as intended. Combat scenarios feel like chaotic, bombastic encounters that you edge because you were smart with your decisions, all the while stuff is just exploding around you destroying furniture, objects, and structures due to your use of your abilities, which makes the game incredibly satisfying visually, sells Jesse as a character who can take a dozen of enemies at a time, and enhances the brutality of combat. Similarly, exploration and puzzles are never too difficult to stop your progress, but are hard enough to give you a momentary pause and a grin when you solve them, which is the right balance to strike on a game that doesn’t focus on puzzles and exploration is necessary to truly experience the best parts of the game. However, Control does not get all the details and balance right, and it is extra noticeable because everything else is on point (I haven’t even talked about the surreal and mysterious story that works superbly with the cinematics and mind-bending visuals, making you want to learn more about Jesse and her past, but this article is already long as it is), and it is a shame because those details, and the sloppy technical state on consoles at launch (with long loading times, frame rate drops after every loading screen and if the combat scenario gets busy), keep it from being in my personal favorites of all time. They don’t keep it from being excellent though, and it is by far one of the most interesting and ‘must-play’ experiences of 2019 so far.