I’ve been harassing people on Twitter about Control, but since I have now completed the base game (main story mission), I have to celebrate a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence with a final blog post.
Although it’s a shooter, the setting is more akin to The X-Files, with liberal doses of Secret World Legends and a bit of Half-Life-flavored spice. You play as Jesse Faden, a woman who arrives at the Federal Bureau of Control looking for her lost brother. When they were children, the Fadens discovered an Object a Power — an ordinary looking slide projector — which opens a door to another world. Although the kids manage to shut down the projector and close the door before anything terrible happens, the event had two consequences: Dylan Faden, Jesse’s brother, was taken by the FBC as their town was placed on lockdown, and Jesse ran, accompanied by a presence that did pass through the dimensional door and who Jesse refers to as Polaris. Jesse believes that Polaris has brought her to the FBC where Dylan might be found, but at a difficult time. The FBC’s study of the acquired projector has allowed through what the Fadens did not: a malevolent power that Jesse names “the Hiss”. With the FBC on lockdown, and Jesse suddenly thrust into the position of the Director of the FBC, she must traverse the strange world of The Old House, the HQ of the FBC, in search of her brother and a way to stop the Hiss.
The overall gunplay is fairly standard. Jesse only gets one gun, a special relic belonging to the current Director, which has the ability to change form and function. The gun can take up to five different forms, and can have two at the ready at any one time. Each form can have up to three additional buffs applied, with each slot unlocked by spending resources and materials that can be collected throughout the game.
About half-way through the game (or so, I didn’t time it) Jesse gains the ability to throw items using her innate psychic powers (the same powers which got Jesse into the position of Director). At this point, grabbable objects are outlined in white, which becomes useful when faced with puzzles that require certain objects to be moved, or to clear out obstacles. Even if there are no moveable objects directly in view, Jesse will tear chunks of floor and walls to fling. Because a good portion of the game world is deformable (usually in the presence of bullets, rockets, grenades, and psychic-enabled projectiles), there’s always something to throw. About 2/3 of the way through (again, roughly), Jesse gains the limited flying ability which is henceforth used to add another dimension to the terrain, and to help out should she fall into pits and trenches that The Old House seems to have in abundance.
The Hiss have taken over most of the employees of the FBC, so Jesse will encounter anything from rank-and-file security guards to executives who float around in their leather chairs. Alongside these two there are enemies which will throw grenades and fire rockets, enemies which will explode when they get near you (a staple of the FPS genre, it seems), enemies which can dodge your thrown items, enemies which cloak themselves in shields of energy or stone (throwing items at the latter will re-energize their shields), and at least one enemy who can only be pacified for a few seconds but never killed. On occasion you have encounters with un-Hiss’d FBC employees who are sporting an anti-Hiss technology which allows them to retain their humanity. Also, there’s a Finnish janitor who is apparently immune to everything going on around him, and seems to know more about The Old House than anyone else who works there.
There’s a lot to unpack in Control. As Jesse makes her way around The Old House, there are files and recordings to collect which run the gamut between interpersonal memos to classified research. Although these don’t seem to play any particular mechanical role in the game, they help flesh out the extremely odd setting. As the FBC is a government-funded paranormal research and containment organization, The Old House is one part office building, one part extra-dimensional madhouse where desk-jockeys and mad-scientist types mingle among such artifacts as a killer TV set, a haunted water bubbler, and a strangely powerful swan boat. Sometimes the sight of these artifacts elicits a chuckle, but overall the vibe of the game is tightly condensed tension. Control never veers into horror, and never relies on jump-scares to get its point across and thankfully never has to because the situations are so fantastic that the juxtaposition of the normal and the fantastic as “just another day at the office” is so effective.
Control is a relatively short game. I put 7.6 hours into it according to Steam, and that’s for just the main storyline. There are several side-missions in the game that can be tackled for upgrade materials, and there are two DLC packs available, Foundation and AWE, the first which continues immediately after the main story ends, and the second which Wikipedia tells me is connected to Remedy’s Alan Wake series (which I guess I now have to play, finally).
I absolutely loved this game for many reasons. The combat is fast and fair, for the most part. There are a few enemies which just really pissed me off, and at the end there are dozens upon dozens of “The Hiss’ Greatest Hits” NPCs thrown at you. Dodging, gunplay, and throwing stuff at enemies seems to be the best strategy when it works, but there were a few cases where baddies where impervious to such tactics. I will admit that I did complete the game courtesy of Remedy’s…accessibility settings…which allow you to adjust things like how quickly your weapon reloads, and whether or not you can die (death only sends you back to your nearest teleportation point, which might be nearby or not, but doesn’t end the game). Near the end I was getting a bit tired of the run-and-gun gameplay, so I turned on invincibility and, yes, occasionally the one-hit-kill for those really obnoxious battles. I wasn’t in the game for the accolades; I really love this kind of “everyday paranormal” setting, and wanted to see the game through to the end more than I cared about getting achievements (which still proc when using the cheat options) or for boasting rights.
Unlike Skyrim, which I dumped as soon as I completed the main story, I intend to go through all of the side missions and DLC content that Control has to offer. As with a lot of video games, I think that this setting would be a slam dunk for books, comics, animated series, or hell — another game entry in the series. I think there’s a lot of material around the periphery, and although I don’t yet know if the lingering threads sourced from the main story are tied up over the course of what’s left to finish, Control is an absolutely fantastic game regardless.