Remedy has been an important studio when it comes to interactive storytelling and gameplay spectacle. They have been the front runners when it comes to integrating intense and visceral gameplay mechanics in emotionally complex and film-like narratives. Control was their latest outing but they have done so well with the likes of Max Payne and Alan Wake.
Max Payne was a dark and gripping noir that infused the action-packed nature of a John Woo film. Alan Wake was a surreal and exciting homage to the likes of Stephen King and in general American Horror stories. But with added gunplay that was more survival horror than action. Quantum Break we can kindly forget about.
Not a bad game but one that was bloated with overly complex ideas and infused meaningless choices and gameplay mechanics. Still, as mentioned Control was their latest game and it had received rave reviews and even nodded for Game of year awards. Is it truly worth this acclaim? This is our Control review:
Controlling your fate
Control tells the tale of Jessie Faden, a young woman who’s been called by the FBOC or the Federal Bureau of control. She is their new Director and as the newly appointed director, it’s up to her to tackle a supernatural invasion by an entity known as the Hiss. That’s quite a tall order for the first day eh?
Well, she’s here on other business, namely to find her brother who went missing when they were very young. But things only get worse and Jessie is racing against the clock to find her brother, stop the Hiss and make sure she saves the Bureau of Control before it’s too late.
Story-wise I personally feel is this the weakest in regards to a plot. It’s your standard paint by numbers plot where you go here, go there and do stuff. Max Payne, Alan Wake, and even Quantum Break felt like they had a meaningful journey. Where all the cogs in the story would line up and deliver a campaign that has interesting twists and revelations. You can call every plot point out as you go along. Many you could probably even guess by reading the synopsis I have written.
The writing doesn’t surpass Payne to the Max!
It’s not bad but rather a little uneventful or original. Alan Wake at least had the kidnapping, the attack on the town, being hunted by the dark forces while being struck with amnesia. It was all compelling and constantly upped the stakes as you went on.
Here, it’s very one-note and it’s not helped by Jessie being slightly bland as a character. Most of her supporting cast are fine and would at least deliver some emotional response in a dramatic scene. Jessie appears to be playing “cool as a cucumber” a little too much. Max had a dry wit, very thoughtful and cunning while being funny when needed.
I still love the “Frankie the Bat Niagara” scene in the original Max Payne. But the world itself saves the plot from being outright dull as the “Oldest Building in New York” and the FBOC are absolutely fascinating. Everything inside their HQ, from the objects of Interest to the studies and research conducted, was captivating. I wanted to know more and sought to find all intelligence and documents that would tell me more.
Method to the madness
I thought the world design of Control was absolutely brilliant. Personally, I’m a massive fan of the 50’s/60’s era décor in offices and the Oldest Building was absolutely fascinating in terms of its presentation. Everything looks oddly lawful and clean-cut but at its heart, the place is built on the abnormal. The uptight and sleek manner to the offices was a complete contrast to the nature of the world and that’s what worked well.
Other aspects I loved were the use of color, the overall design of the building and the excessive nature to certain areas, mainly in the underground sections. Plus the building shifts and twists, making it feel strangely alive and unpredictable. It was unnerving to think about what this building could offer next and how it would react with me exploring.
So, Control is an interesting twist on what Remedy normally creates. Not only is it incorporating a bigger, more complex world but rather the game structure is grander. It represents something close to a Metroidvania game. You have a complex world with layers and multiple paths, which you can explore further by obtaining new gadgets and skills. All the while you fight minions and bosses. Simple yet effective and Control does most of this right.
John Woo-ing it up!
The gunplay and spectacle are the main draws in Control. Gunplay is simple but delivers a punch with every shot. Each weapon feels meaningful and you’ll most likely change between them to experiment with their effectiveness and damage capabilities.
I will say that Control does feel very limited with what you can alterations to can implement with your weapons or how many you can carry. You will get slots to add certain perks on your weapons and these can greatly improve their effectiveness.
But I found that Control didn’t offer enough slots compared to the overwhelming number of perks you pick up. Every other enemy drops a perk and it’s usually worthless. Meaning you’ll end up going into your inventory and destroying 95% of what you’ve collected to make room and get some spare resources.
Why not offer less but have better perks? Or perks which have more impact than just extra +10% to your health. You’ll only be able to carry two weapons as well which needlessly constrictive. More guns at one time mean more experimentation and a greater sense of destruction and chaos. Granted I believe this is a way to encourage you to not use guns all the time but, why have guns in the first place?
More substance in throwing stuff!
Personally, I found the whole John Woo aesthetic to the combat a little out of place. I would rather have seen Remedy explore the powers more as there are some pretty good ones. Throwing items, floating through the air, using a shield made of the environment and taking control of your enemies to be a more enriching combat experience.
The interaction with your environment has more purpose with your powers rather than using a gun. You can shoot an explosive which is fine but being able to pick up an enemy or a forklift truck and crash everything around you was immense and just so much more satisfying.
Hiss or miss
The worse thing is the AI which is unimaginative and predictable. If the AI was the same level as say a game like F.E.A.R, then it would’ve warranted the use of guns more and given these encounters a higher intensity. There’s a nice selection of enemies thankfully, but overall it’s not until you gain more powers and guns do they become fun to fight against. The first couple of hours are slow as the exciting experience relies heavily on the more you have in your arsenal.
Now bosses are really hit or miss here. Some are boring, tedious and so ineffective you’re more likely to die from time itself. But then some bosses are the complete opposite and are bloody amazing. Massive spectacles that combine lateral elements, skilled-based maneuvers and good timing with a mix of powers and gunplay. The Mirror and the Anchor are absolutely fantastic but the Fridge is immensely brilliant. It is by far one of the best bosses in this decade of gaming. How can Remedy get it so right and so wrong in the same game?
Explore this crazy world
Outside of combat is an exploration angle which is by far the strongest gameplay field here. While I leveled up and gained new abilities, the first thing I did was explore all over again. Remedy has done a great job of making a visually interesting world that has depth and great lore.
Somewhere, you want to keep exploring and find those hidden secrets and loot. A game world that has multiple layers, each one worth discovering when you get a new ability that allows you to pass through poisoned fill rooms, or jump to a higher ledge and so on.
Overall exploration is great as there will be areas you won’t be guided too and will come across them just by looking around. I found some great encounters this way, such as the Mirror, the Fridge and the area filled with clocks by simply wandering around. It reminded me of 2017’s Prey and how well they executed a natural sense of exploration and discovery with risk and reward. I only wished there was more to discover!
Control Review Conclusion
Control is a funny game overall, containing both brilliance and dated troupes. It has a plot that’s predictable and a leading character which lacks personality compared to Max Payne. But the lore, history, and events happening are just wonderfully interesting.
The gunplay is fine but doesn’t fit in this world or situation with AI that is poor. But the powers, the explosive nature to the environment and how it changes were mind-bending and enthralling. I do highly recommend Control, so much over Quantum Break. But I wish it could’ve been so much more. Maybe less on gunplay, more intelligent AI and a better leading lady would’ve pushed this to one of the best this generation.