After releasing a pair of Alan Wake games and Quantum Break under the Microsoft Game Studios banner, developer Remedy Entertainment is headed back to the third-party space with Control, published by 505 Games. The developer made its name with cinematic, single-player titles that tell a focused story with at least some supernatural elements. As big fans of its work with Microsoft, we were excited for Control. Time to find out if our enthusiasm was well placed.
With its mix of shooting and supernatural abilities, Control puts a lot of power at your fingertips to deal with your enemies. On the more traditional side you’ll have a special Service Weapon, which can change its properties to form different types of guns. You start with a basic pistol, but soon enough you’ll have variants that mimic weapons like shotguns and sniper rifles. Although you can switch as often as you’d like, you’ll only have two types active at a given time. Ammo, meanwhile, works off of a cooldown timer.
You’ll also possess a selection of powers, headlined by the telekineticability to grab objects from the environment and hurl them with great velocity at hapless foes. You can also gather debris and use it as a shield, bend enemies to your will, levitate in the air and more. All of these skills draw from a single pool of power, which, like the ammo, also regenerates, tying all of your offensive and defensive maneuvers to timers. Only health requires you to pick up objects, in this case small beads that drop from defeated foes.
As a third-person action title, Control has all of the tools for greatness. Where it stumbles a bit is in the repetitive nature of combat — there should have been more enemy types — and just how easy it is to get hurt/killed. That shouldn’t be confused with this being a difficult game. It’s not. It’s just that, in the midst of everything happening on screen, enemies can sometimes get very close or sneak projectiles through, resulting in major damage. Having the screen redden when injured is common, but when enemies are often outlined with a red hue it makes visibility an issue.
Control nails the visual presentation of a stale, government building full of desks, old computers and miles of gray concrete. While that may not sound interesting, everything about the Oldest House, the name given to the Federal Bureau of Control’s headquarters, feels like it could’ve been ripped from 1960s training footage. Granted, it could’ve benefited from more diversity in its locations (and enemies), but the lived-in feel is spot on and really drew us in.
As crisp as everything is and as good as it looks in motion, there’s a cost to be paid for the power the game demands from consoles. Even running it on the Xbox One X we ran into repeated instances of frame drops and fuzzy textures that were slow to load in. We also had several instances of audio tracks dropping out (while others remained) and the game freezing and kicking us back to the Xbox’s home screen.
When the audio is working the performances are good, even if the ultra close up when we hear the main character’s inner thoughts is overused and a little silly. The dialogue is well written at least, and they do a fine job of making the implausible seem believable. Music and other sound effects carry their weight.
Arriving at the Oldest House to interview for a job as a janitorial assistant, Jesse finds the building all but abandoned. As she investigates she discovers the Bureau’s Director has taken his own life, and in picking up his weapon she’s put through a ritual ending with her now serving as the Director (complete with photos on the wall). She leaves her new office to find that a strange alien force that she labels “the hiss,” has infiltrated the Bureau and possessed many of its people.
Now that she’s in charge, Jesse is tasked with working her way through the building and cleansing it of the hiss while determining how it got in and what it wants. That’s not her only objective, though, as she also has a personal stake in what’s going on, one that dates back to an incident earlier in her life that led to her seeking the Oldest House to begin with. It’s a good story populated by suitably eccentric personalities that makes you want to keep pushing forward.
Beyond the primary objective there are also numerous side missions to encounter that will flesh out the story and provide some sort of meaningful upgrade — such as a new ability, materials to improve your weapon or attribute points to spend on expanded health, power and so on. Resources are fairly plentiful, but you’ll still need to prioritize how you want to grow Jesse’s powers to combat the hiss.
There are also optional quests that pop up that give you a limited time to repel hiss insurgency throughout the building. There’s no storyline to these nor downside for not completing them, but they do pay off with modest rewards. We didn’t do these as often as we might have because of one of our biggest gripes with Control — its map. It’s difficult to see how things connect and, as a result, which point is ideal to fast-travel to.
You’re probably looking at around 12 hours to clear the main story with side missions and exploration pushing that number closer to 20 or more, and we highly recommend you take the time to explore. A lot of context is added in the collectible materials scattered about the Bureau, and the side missions feature some of the game’s more interesting encounters.
Control is a tight, well-paced adventure that offers a reminder that not every game needs to be 50-plus hours and have a million things to do to be worth the money.