Control Review — Keep Being Weird, Remedy
Remedy Entertainment's latest game, Control, continues to embrace the weirdness that has permeated in the studio's past titles but fails to excel in any one area.
Remedy has long been one of my favorite studios in the gaming industry. The games that the developer has put out over the years are often unlike anything else around and above all else, strive to tell strange stories in strange worlds. After splitting apart from Microsoft a few years back, Remedy then had the opportunity to bring its next game, Control, to additional platforms outside of the Xbox ecosystem for the first time in years.
Control is very much a departure from Remedy’s past games in some major ways while also keeping the same core feeling and identity of a Remedy project. Even though it has much of the same DNA as past Remedy titles that I have adored though, Control fails to stand out in any one major way. The entirety of the experience isn’t one that I would deem as bad, though. In fact, Control as a whole is quite good, but its individualized qualities aren’t going to blow you away by any means.
Control places you in the shoes of Jesse Faden, a woman who finds herself in search of her brother who went missing some years back. Jesse’s brother was taken by the Federal Bureau of Control, a secretive organization that lies at the center of a building known as The Oldest House. Jesse ends up finding out how to access The Oldest House early in Control and quickly becomes the new Director of the Bureau through a unique series of events. She’s then tasked with not only finding her brother, but also taking out a new threat known as the Hiss that have invaded The Oldest House’s walls.
The narrative of Control is likely the area of the game that I’m most disappointed in, personally. The story that Remedy is telling here isn’t a bad one, but it also tends to get lost within itself a bit more than other titles Remedy has released. The ending, in particular, was also very unsatisfying to me. Rather than feeling like the story is ramping up within the game’s final hours, it instead just sort of falls off. In addition, there are many plot points shrouded in mystery throughout Control but once you unravel the secrets behind them, the payoffs just weren’t very satisfying.
That’s not to say everything in the realm of storytelling here is bad, though. Remedy has crafted a truly unique world with Control. One that was fun to continually dig into more and more. There are also some standout characters throughout the experience (shoutout to Casper Darling), though I wouldn’t consider the game’s protagonist of Jesse to be one of the strong ones. Writing though continues to be top-notch in most of Control, whether it be through character dialogue, videos you watch, or collectibles that you can find and read scattered throughout the game’s world.
In the realm of gameplay, things continue to be very similar to other titles Remedy has worked on, especially that of Quantum Break. Jesse has a unique array of abilities at her disposal that she can use to combat the Hiss. Some of these include a telekinetic-like skill that lets her hurl objects at foes, the ability to create defensive walls with nearby rubble, and also the power of levitation. She also has a gun at her side known as the Service Weapon, which is pretty nifty. The Service Weapon is the only gun Jesse uses in the game, but it can switch forms on the fly. The different forms that the weapon has then take on different attributes of other guns you’d typically use. Essentially, it’s a pistol, shotgun, sniper, bazooka, and machine gun all in one.
The biggest problem with combat gameplay in Control is that it doesn’t change very much over the course of the entire experience. Sure, you can acquire new abilities and forms for your gun throughout the game, but in the end, most combat situations still just boil down to you launching objects in the environment at enemies before then quickly filling them with bullets. The Service Weapon in particular only allows you to cycle between two forms at once as well without going into the pause menu and swapping things out. After the game’s opening hours, you’ll already have a great idea of how combat gameplay will work until the credits roll. The gameplay isn’t bad here in the realm of combat, but it just starts to get old after a bit.
One cool aspect of some of the abilities that you’ll acquire throughout Control though is that they can lead you to new areas of The Oldest House. Likely the biggest departure that Remedy has made with Control is placing it in a semi-open environment that is filled with secrets to find and side tasks to accomplish. Past games from the studio have essentially been only linear, so this new game structure here in Control is a breath of fresh air in many ways. If you like the structure of Metroidvania games, Control is essentially that for the most part.
Even after wrapping up the main story, I was excited to continue running around the game’s world and revisiting older locations that I knew I could now access. Side missions that you acquire throughout Control are also largely fun and feature some of the more wacky characters that can be found in this world. There are also a slew of other small tasks known as Board Countermeasures that you can acquire and complete throughout Control, too. These are extremely straightforward though and just require you to do rather simple objectives such as killing a certain number of Hiss in a certain way or with a certain form of the Service Weapon.
Control also allows you to add a bit of customization to your own version of Jesse through a variety of mods that can be used both on your character and on the Service Weapon. While this adds a few RPG elements to the game, the mod system is one that never feels fleshed out all that much. You’ll essentially just continue acquiring random modifications throughout the entirety of the game and occasionally you’ll swap in some new upgrades every now and again. It’s not a system that I would expect many to toy around with once they find the loadout they like.
On the visuals front, Control truly has some breathtaking locales, mainly backed by the game’s stellar art direction. The Oldest House’s emphasis on brutalist architecture was a phenomenal choice by Remedy and it truly gives the game a unique vibe and look. There are also many sequences throughout the game where the color palette on display leads to some remarkable looking locales. The game’s use of lighting, shadows, and vivid colors makes for a visual experience unlike any other I’ve seen in a game in quite some time. I’m now patiently waiting for the promised Photo Mode to be implemented.
By far the most frustrating part in the entirety of Control for me though, especially when it came to appreciating these visuals, dealt with performance issues. I played the game on Xbox One X and had frequent dips in frame rate throughout the entirety of my playtime. The game would struggle the most for me when coming in and out of the pause or inventory screens. In addition, I also had issues where it took too long for my map to load in and audio lines in cutscenes from certain characters would completely not appear. One sequence also forced me to reset the game entirely after a checkpoint that I needed to activate to proceed wouldn’t allow me to interact with it. Control surely could’ve benefitted from being in the oven a bit longer and I hope Remedy can rectify these problems post-launch with new updates.
One of the last positive things I can say about Control, without giving too much away, is that there are some truly fantastic “Remedy moments”, I’ll call them, throughout the game. Many of these come later on in the game’s story and will likely stick with you after you wrap up the main game. One sequence in a location known as the Ashtray Maze, in particular, is stellar. There’s also a full-motion video that you’ll see at one point in Control that is just terrific. You’ll know exactly what it is once you see it, too. It’s moments like this that really made the game that much more memorable and fun for me.
Control is much better than its separate elements would lead you to believe. Even though combat can get somewhat old quickly and the story fell flat for me later on, I still never disliked playing Control at any point. It’s yet another fun jaunt through a strange, offbeat world that Remedy has created. Control might not be my favorite game from the studio, but it continues to prove that there’s a place for Remedy to continue making titles in the AAA space like this moving forward. If you have enjoyed past games from Remedy, you’ll certainly find further enjoyment here with Control.