|Developed by:||Remedy Entertainment|
|Published by:||505 Games|
I usually like to use the ‘Ruminations’ section to give a bit of background to the game. Sometimes this is just factual, looking into the development of the title, the people behind it, that sort of thing. Other times it is more personal, especially with a retro review, where I tend to delve into my own history with the game, series or system. And of course ideally, I strive for a mix of the two.
So then, Control. Um… yeah. You see the thing is, having finished it, I’m still not really sure what it’s about or how I feel about it.
Let’s start with the basics and go from there. Control is ostensibly a third person, action adventure. Combine elements of UnchartedUncharted and Tomb RaiderTomb Raider, mix them with a side order of Half Life or Bioshock and you end up with something like, well Infamous. But chuck in an extra helping of horror styling and you get somewhere closer to Control. It was included in PS Now earlier this year on a limited time basis and as a BAFTA award nominee, i could hardly say no.
Xbox players will likely be familiar with Remedy, the Finnish developer behind well known hits including Max Payne and Alan Wake. From 2006, Remedy entered into an exclusive arrangement with Microsoft and, with my console gaming experience almost entirely Sony flavoured, these represent my first steps into their world.
Given the type of game and story that Control is, you’re best served by reading as little about it as possible (er, are you sure about this? – Ed). Normally that would present a challenge to the reviewer. How do I convey my experience, and provide a recommendation, without spoiling the story? Luckily then, no such problems here given that I haven’t a clue what’s going on.
You step off the bustling streets into the rather ordinary looking Federal Bureau of Control and, frankly, that’s the last rational thing that happens for the next 15 or so hours. Jesse Faden has come to the FBC to look for her long lost brother but inadvertently finds herself in the middle of a lockdown, the building, known as the Oldest House, having been infiltrated by something called the Hiss which has infected and corrupted most of the employees. For reasons not entirely clear, you receive a day one promotion in a job you never applied for, the creepy janitor speaking to you as if you were his new assistant whilst the rest of the building acclaim you as the new Director.
And that’s it, That’s the totality of scene setting. From there, you are dropped into this mystery and tasked with solving it.
Right from the early going, Control, and the FBC building itself, creates a brooding atmosphere of menace. Whatever the Hiss is, and whatever it has done to the FBC, it has left dozens of employees trapped, floating helplessly in mid-air, looming over you like a human sword of Damocles. These apparent cadavers are often your only company for stretches. Gradually though you are introduced to other FBC employees, who have managed to remain unaffected by The Hiss and provide you with some additional context to the story as well as guiding you towards your next mission.
Mood and atmosphere are key to Control, never more clearly expressed than when it’s time to fight. Areas of the building are ‘infected’ with Hiss and as you move into them, the screen lights up red, Hiss-controlled enemies spawning around you, those previously harmless bodies sometimes bursting into angry life. These battle zones are often ring-fenced too, the Hiss creating blockages, preventing your escape until all enemies are defeated. This may simply be one or two agents but oftentimes there are multiple waves with a variety of enemy types to confront. Standard grunts come at you with bullets whilst others utilise recharging shields. Particularly virulent strains take to the air, dodging away from your attacks and lobbing projectiles at you. The further you progress the more intense these battles become, both in the toughness of enemies, the variety of incoming fire and the waves of enemies that spawn. And even when these corrupted souls are defeated, there are still a handful of boss characters to best, each requiring a specific method of takedown and providing the stiffest challenge of all.
Jesse is no hapless maiden though. Although initially unprepared for what awaits, she very quickly learns on the job. Grabbing a weapon from the cold, dead clutches of the former Director, Jesse has a range of abilities and upgrades that can be unlocked. Initially you will rely on the service weapon, a multifaceted device that can be switched out between various forms, from pistol-style bullets, to machine gun fire, shotgun and more. Each mode can be used with a set of perks, giving boosts to rate of fire, damage and the like. There are no rounds as such and you don’t run out of bullets per se. Instead your weapon must recharge, each variation holding a different level of charge between rest periods. As ever with this type of variation, you’ll soon settle on your combination of favourites. I was partial to Charge, a mode that acts like an RPG, able to cause a wide spread of damage and bring down the biggest of enemies. It has drawbacks though, not least the rate of fire but also its uncanny ability to blast a bit of wall right in your face and wipe out half of your health. Luckily downed enemies drop shards of health that you can collect, as well as other materials that allow for both weapon and personal mods and upgrades, which can then be assigned, combined and swapped out, depending on your play style.
Jesse though has more up her sleeve than simple guns. As you progress through the Oldest House, you start to unlock a series of powers that both aid you in battle but are also intrinsic to progress through the game. Your first is the ability to launch projectiles, be that at enemies or to help with puzzle solving, comprising of anything lying around or, failing that, bits of wall or floor that you rip up. Like with the service weapon, it has a limited time use before it must recharge (extendable via personal mods) but when used in tandem with your weapon makes you a one-woman wrecking crew. Other abilities are soon added to the mix, some of them via optional side quests, so that by the end of the game, you truly feel in Control, imbued with a sense of power over your surroundings and able to confidently navigate both the environment and the battlefield.
Control is at its best when it marries up its disparate parts. Throughout, the unsettling atmosphere keeps you on your toes, Jesse never sure when the next enemy may spawn. Areas can be ‘beaten’ and a Control point established, acting as both a save / upgrade point as well as a means of travel throughout the dauntingly large facility. Claiming these Control points doesn’t however ensure that they are free of incident, enemies often respawning at a previously claimed point meaning that you can never relax. When balanced right, enemy encounters are challenging but ultimately satisfying, especially once you have upgraded both your abilities and weapons. Too often though, sudden spikes in difficulty leave you frustrated. You get warning of new enemies spawning, and their location is highlighted on-screen, however they still have the ability to sneak up on you, whether by hiding behind a pillar, sniping you from afar or hovering in the air out of sight. And with so much incoming fire consisting of grenades and other projectiles, as well as you also trying to use your own Launch ability to fight back and accidentally grabbing your own rocket, you can quickly see your health wiped out in seconds, forcing you to restart the encounter. In some of the more open areas in the back end of the game, these battles become increasingly tough, often feeling unfairly so as you field incoming waves of attacks from all angles.
Whilst the Control save points are welcome, they are often some distance from where you fell, requiring repeated retracing of steps. To add insult to injury, enemies may spawn on the journey back to the site of the original battle, leaving you bloodied and beaten before you even get back to where you first died. Added to this are the excessive load times at each restart and then a disorientating motion blur in the first few seconds after, not to mention some scandalous frame rate drop during larger encounters. When you have fallen victim to the same boss encounter for the 15th time in a row, you simply want to get back into the action as quickly as possible. It is irritating beyond belief to have to wait up to a minute for the section to reload, then have to traipse back from the last save point, get embroiled in an unnecessary additional fight along the way and finally get blasted within seconds by the big bad.
Where the Control points do come into their own is in offering the ability to fast travel around the complex. By the time you have explored all the building has to offer, it is a vast area and, loading times notwithstanding, is a blessed relief from having to trudge from one end to the other.
It’s a shame because when it is at its best, Control is thrilling. Few games can boast the atmosphere created in the Oldest House, graphics, sound and music combining to supreme effect. Jesse’s range of abilities are simple and satisfying to deploy, the use of perks and mods allowing players to tailor the experience to their liking. I felt a compulsion to finish the thing but by the end, this was less out of enjoyment and more grim determination to get my money’s worth. Story completed, you are free to keep roaming the halls, expansion pack The Foundation also available, but whilst I found some enjoyment here, I’m in no rush to go back for more.
Full of brooding atmosphere and unsettling menace, Control is never less than compelling. Its intriguing story, fun upgrades and engaging central character will keep you playing to the end but expect a whole lot of frustration along the way.