To the casual onlooker, Control from Remedy Entertainment may seem like yet another linear, narrative-focussed shooter in the Finnish developer’s line up. After all, it follows the likes of Quantum Break, Alan Wake, and the first two Max Payne games. However labelling it so would be obscenely reductive. Control is far more than that, packing in a surprising amount of depth that surpasses anything the studio’s ever worked on.
You don the role of Jesse Faden, a 20-something Black Widow lookalike who stumbles into The Oldest House, a nodescript shapeshifting building in the middle of New York that serves as the headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Control or FBC as it’s known. Think of it as the Men in Black but for paranormal activity. Before you know it you find yourself as the Director of the FBC tasked with ridding The Oldest House of The Hiss, a demonic force that’s taking over the organisation.
On the surface this might make for a simple, casual affair that you could blast through in a few hours but Control is deceptive in this regard, as you’d expect from a developer like Remedy.
You’ll gain new weapons and powers, discover allies, and traverse through the shifting corridors of The Oldest House all in an attempt to unravel a mystery littered with monstrous foes, clever puzzles, and expertly crafted environments.
As you make your way through Control you’ll notice several areas are cordoned off to you - either you lack the right abilities or a keycard to go to these locations. This should come as no surprise as Remedy has been going on about how Control is its take on the Metroidvania genre, though its spin on it is a lot more fun than expected.
Progress through the main storyline and side-quests grants you the needed items or powers to get to them. While it might sound like busywork, it’s ridiculously entertaining thanks to how missions play out.
From taking on a Dark Souls-esque arachnid on an astral plane that’s been residing in a fridge to squaring off against your doppelgänger in a mirror universe, Control isn’t afraid to weave a weird, otherwordly tone on its sleeve and it’s all the better for it.
The game is layered with responsive controls and a small arsenal of weapons and powers that keep things fresh.
While the guns of Control may look unique, they play close to the familiar set of pistols, shotguns, rocket launchers, and sniper rifles we all know from most shooters, though they can be modified to increase damage, grant you health on a kill and so on. Although this is par for the course, when combined with the set of abilities at your disposal make Control shine.
You’ll levitate, possess enemies, lift and throw objects many times your weight, and dodge your way out of trouble.
Soon enough, Control settles into a welcome rhythm of exploring the diverse locales within The Oldest House, using your weapons and powers to take out The Hiss in your way, upgrading your guns and stats like health, and solving the many mysteries left behind by those before you.
It helps that there’s a unique tone that shines through all elements from item descriptions about an enchanted thermos to kooky radio shows and live action cut-scenes.
Without spoiling much, Control ends up being a game whose world you want to spend time in despite not being a true open-world due to how fascinating its lore is and how it draws you in with these story beats.
Even when you’re done with the main story that’s about 15 to 20 hours, you’ll come back for the optional missions that have you clearing up sections of The Oldest House. With enemies ranging from demonic soldiers to invisible, teleporting hellspawn, there’s enough variety that it doesn’t get stale.
And while Control’s plot and gameplay are superlative, there are some technical concerns. On the Xbox One X, pausing and resuming the game results in slow down for a few seconds, which is fatal during Control’s busier moments. This persisted even after a 5GB update for the game.
Furthermore, there were instances where in-game objects like tables and chairs would stick to Jesse as you move through an area. At times, subtitles wouldn’t load either, forcing us to restart the game.
These issues are minor but immersion-breaking and are more evident with the rest of the game being as good as it is. Hopefully these get rectified soon enough.
Technical issues notwithstanding, Control is without a doubt Remedy’s best game to date. Superlative gameplay, an endearing world, and a satisfying sense of progression and accomplishment made our time in The Oldest House some of the most fun we’ve had in gaming this year.
Score (out of 10): 9.5