Have you ever started a new job or project and then felt like you don't know what you're doing and are in way over your head? Control by Remedy Games embodies that feeling. You start out by interviewing for a janitor position, but are quickly thrust into a situation that you never asked for and are tasked with cleaning up a mess that happened before you arrived. This game is one of the newest games I've played in a while, and I had a ton of fun playing. Here is my review for Control.
Control is a third-person shooter / metroidvania in which you play as Jesse, a woman who has tracked her way to a hidden-in-plain-sight secret government agency called the Federal Bureau of Control in search of her long-missing brother. Jesse arrives at the Bureau to find it in a state of emergency lockdown, and is tasked by the surviving occupants with eliminating the Hiss, an interdimensional threat that is attempting to seize control of the Bureau from within and threatening to wreak havoc on the world. On your journey to find your missing brother, you encounter strange objects (called Objects of Power) that bestow you with paranatural powers that help you take on the Hiss and bring order back to the Bureau.
Control is primarily a third-person shooter. Your main weapon is a shape-shifting gun named the Service Weapon that can take the shape of several different classes of weapons. It can assume the forms of a standard pistol, a shotgun, a grenade launcher, an SMG, and what can best be described as a long-range / sniper type weapon. Additionally, you gain the ability to telekinetically throw objects, quickly dash out of the way of incoming attacks, create a temporary shield of debris, take control of weakened enemies, and even fly for a short amount of time. Of course, in true metroidvania fashion, you start out the game with only the pistol variation of your gun, and the telekinetic throw ability. You gain other weapon forms and abilities as the story progresses by taking control of, or "binding", certain Objects of Power to your character.
In addition to the weapons and abilities you gain over time, you will also accumulate weapon and personal mods. You start with one weapon mod slot for each of your unlocked weapons, and one personal mod slot. These mods can be general in nature, adding extra health or damage to you or your weapons, or specific to certain weapons, adding effects like extra damage when aiming while zoomed in, or faster rates of fire for the Service Weapon's SMG form. You can acquire mods in three ways: (1) picking them up from defeating some of the stronger enemies, (2) finding them in chests littered around the Bureau, or (3) crafting them.
Crafting mods is pretty simplistic. There are a few different materials that can be found by defeating enemies in different zones of the Bureau. Each mod takes different amounts of each crafting material, with stronger mods requiring more rare materials. Additionally, each mod requires a bit of currency (called Source in-game) to craft as well. You get Source by defeating enemies and opening chests too. Lastly, crafting also allows you to unlock additional mod slots (up to three) on each of your Service Weapon's forms.
The big draw of Control's game play is all the different abilities you gain as you progress the story. These abilities are acquired by taking control of Objects of Power that you encounter as part of some of the game's main quests. Some of these abilities are necessary for accessing certain areas of the Bureau, and you may not have the one you need when you first come upon a locked area. In addition to gating areas off based on abilities you have, the game also has certain doors that only unlock when you obtain a certain level of security clearance card, which can be found by progressing the story. Due to these roadblocks, the game encourages exploration and coming back to areas when you are further along in the story. When done right, this can be a very rewarding experience. I however, am not the biggest fan of this method of exploration. I much prefer when games block off certain areas based on difficulty. This makes it so that it is technically possible to go anywhere you want in the game if you are skilled enough at the game play. Games that do this well are The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Fallout: New Vegas. Unfortunately, metroidvanias tend to have a lot of ability-based roadblocks, which is why I don't usually play these types of games. However, it didn't seem to bother me much in Control, as most of the optional locked doors simply lead to more chests, lore documents, or secret boss fights. It would be great though if there was a way to mark a location on your map so you could return to it later, like you can do in Hollow Knight.
Abilities in Control are not only for unlocking new pathways, though. They also serve crucial roles in the game's combat. When activated, each ability consumes a portion of your energy bar. If you wait for a moment, it automatically regenerates. If you happen to use all of your energy bar, you are locked out of using any abilities until your energy fully regenerates. This caveat encourages the player to balance using the Service Weapon and their abilities, which when you get the hang of it, can put you in a flow state and leave you feeling pretty awesome after a big battle.
Speaking of fights, you'll probably die quite a bit in this game. You start out with very little health and energy, and some enemies hit like a freight train. Control handles death in a way that's becoming more common in newer games, especially metroidvanias. When you die, you lose a bit of Source and then are taken back to your most recent Control Point, the game's checkpoints. Fortunately, you retain any items or abilities you happen to have unlocked since the last checkpoint. After respawning, you can make your way back to where you died to continue on. But watch out, because all of the enemies you just killed will be back and fully healed. This method of dealing with death is nice, since you don't really lose anything except for time, and fighting all the enemies again will let you regain any lost Source. However, I would have prefered something like the way Hollow Knight handles death. In Hollow Knight, when you die you leave a shadow behind that holds some of your money and some health. If you manage to make it back to your shadow and kill it, you regain everything you lost when you died. I feel like Control would have be even better if it had a similar mechanic, and it would easily fit in with the world's lore.
The last thing to mention about the game play is that the Control Points serve as more than just checkpoints. Eventually you unlock the ability to fast travel between points, as well as buy upgrades, mods, and spend skill points to upgrade your abilities. Additionally, if you get in a pinch while fighting near a Control Point, you can activate it to regain all of your health instantly. The game keeps these points well spaced out so just as you are getting nervous of dying and having to redo a large amount of progress, you run into a new Control Point. I never felt like the game was unfair or babying me with the way the points were spaced out.
I was really impressed with this game's graphics. On the surface, you may see a dull, gray, mostly samey looking game, but I think that Control knows exactly what it wants to be and nails it 100%. The game takes place in a government building, and the gray concrete structure oozes that DMV feeling. But it's not all gray and drab. Dig a bit deeper into the game, and you'll also find some great looking areas that are a breath of fresh air from the concrete look the rest of the Bureau has.
What I loved about Control's look was the effects you see in combat. As soon as you get into a fight with some enemies, the room you're in lights up with a bright red glow. Enemies give off a bit of light, and usually, the stronger an enemy is, the more red light they give off as well. Effects are very easy to read, and look great. There's tons of particle effects given off by both your attacks and the enemy attacks, too. The most impressive effect though, was the insane amount of environmental damage this game allows to unfold. Explosions send all manner of desks, papers, computers, and general debris flying. Additionally, your telekinesis ability can be used to pick up and throw almost anything in the environment, adding more to the chaos. And if there's nothing laying around for you to throw, you'll end up ripping a chunk of concrete off a nearby wall, exposing the rebar underneath. This game has some of the most impressive environmental physics I've ever seen.
However, all that destruction comes at a heavy computational cost. Most of the time, The game seems to float around 30 fps, with a couple dips into high 20s in some intense situations. However, there is a certain type of enemy in this game that absolutely wrecks the frame rate when it's on screen with any other enemy. When these guys showed up with friends, I could see the game really trying hard to keep up. If I had to put a number on it, I'd say the frame rate dipped into the mid-teens. Another small graphical issue I had was when I opened the in-game map, sometimes it loaded instantly, and sometimes it took several seconds to load. Keep in mind that I played Control on a PS4 Pro, so I'm sure PC players have a better experience, depending on hardware. Most games will just not even bother with environmental effects on this scale, so it's nice to see that Remedy was able to make this level of environmental fidelity work.
The sound and music of Control was just as great and thematically consistent as the graphics. Gun effects were punchy, and the telekinetic abilities all had great sound effects as well. Characters were all voiced very well, both in cutscenes and in the video logs scattered around the Bureau.
When you aren't in combat and are just exploring around, there isn't any music playing, but it never feels lacking given that you're inside of a drab government building. However, in some rooms there are npcs that chant a strange, indecipherable incantation, which really adds to the erie atmosphere of the Bureau and keeps you from truly relaxing (in a good way). When you are in combat, Control has a single music track that it loops through until it ends with a nice sound effect that lets you know when you've killed the last enemy in the room. While it never changes the music it uses for fights, it doesn't really get old because the music doesn't try to steal the show. It happily sits in the background, adding more of a feeling rather than something to listen to.
Looking at just the cutscenes, one could be mistaken in thinking that Control has a very barebones story. However, the more you get lost in exploring the Bureau, find hidden documents, and dig into the optional dialog with some of the main characters, you start to discover that there's a lot of things going on here. The world of Control is very fleshed out in the documents you find littered around the Bureau. All of the background info makes it feel like there's actually a world outside the Bureau's walls, while also adding context to the main story as well. In addition to the documents you find, there are also a few video logs made by one of the main scientists at the Bureau, Dr. Darling. He usually has quite a bit of crucial story info or background on some Objects of Power. These are pretty important videos, but they are also the easiest to find. In my opinion, Control gives you as much story as you are willing to go out and find, while also making sure you know everything you need to know about the world. The game drip feeds you information, always making you want more, and ends with a few interesting unanswered questions.
Control was a blast to play. Once I started getting a hang of the combat and unlocked most of the abilities, I started craving longer and more difficult fights. I got completely sucked into the game play and story. (So much so that I often forgot to take screenshots.) The enemy variation kept me having to constantly rethink my loadout and swap around my weapon mods, so I never got bored. For a game set in a boring government building, Control has a lot of excitement and so many nooks and crannies to find. Ultimately, this game was held back by my PS4 Pro's hardware. If I had the chance, would have played it first on PC, but I still had a great time on PS4. If you're looking for a game with great game play and fun exploration, look no further. While Control had some minor flaws and room for improvement, it was still a stellar title.