Remedy Entertainment unleashed what is arguably its best game to date this year. Control is a succinct and surrealist experience that didn't just capture our attention – it demanded it. The studio is known for delivering narrative-driven action spectacles in the likes of Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break, but Control took it one step further. With its blend of tight gunplay and destructive psychic powers, Jesse Faden was an absolute delight to control all throughout the Oldest House – the shifting setting that seems to evolve in tandem with your understanding of the rules and rituals that govern it – as she rallied against the Hiss, a force of evil from some far off dimension.
Control was awarded the GamesRadar+ GOTY as part of our best games of 2019 rankings and it was also crowned one of the 100 best games of the decade. That should tell you everything you need to know about the impact this supernatural adventure has had on the GR crew. Given all of that, we had a quick chat with Control game director Mikael Kasurinen to talk through development and what new weird ideas may be on the horizon.
Mikael, when you and I sat down back in early 2018 to discuss P7, you told me that you wanted Control "to represent the ultimate Remedy experience". Do you believe that the team delivered on that creative vision?
Mikael Kasurinen: In spades! I hope everyone can see the inspiration we've taken from Remedy highlights over the years: Max Payne's aggressive combat, Alan Wake's exploration, and Quantum Break's tech. And it helps to see familiar faces as well!
The crucial new thing being that we present a rich and complex world to explore – a Remedy Universe, if you will – filled with more stories and mysteries than just the main plot. I can't tell you how proud I am of the team. I'm sure everyone who has played the game can sense how we put our hearts and minds into this experience. We created something exceptional, which we're all proud of.
What do you think it is about Control that has made it resonate so strongly with players?
Kasurinen: There's a purity to the experience. A sense of no compromises being made. We had an idea of what we wanted to achieve and just went for it, putting all unnecessary hesitations aside. And the tone is restrained in the right away; there's enough for things to be compelling, but not too much so it'll keep haunting you.
It is a good balance of elements that click well together: there's supernatural phenomena, a strange yet compelling plot, fun combat, plenty of agency and exploration, and quite a bit of humor as well. It's a good package.
Development of Alan Wake and Quantum Break took five and seven years, respectively, to complete, while Control moved through production in just three. Do you think Control benefited from a tighter production schedule?
Kasurinen: I actually think it did. It added extra pressure that sped up decision making and gave us a rhythm where we got things done. It wasn't easy though and we learnt a lot, I think in the future we'll be even more efficient in how we use our time.
Do you remember when Control clicked into place for the first time for you?
Kasurinen: I think the very, very first moment was once we got our first prototype up and running with telekinetic combat. At that time we didn't have a finished idea of the plot or even of the main character, but we did have some core ideas for combat. And when I started playing and used Launch for the first time, there was this voice inside me saying 'Yes!'. Actually I think I said it out loud as well.
At that time our art director, Janne Pulkkinen, worked on a visual target, and that's when we established the red pulsating glow and the logo featuring a striking clean typography. And everything fell in place. It was great, we had something new.
There was a later moment before E3 2018, when we were working on the mission that we wanted to show and started to get our first lighting tests into place. We also had a new visual effect adding this liquid, smoky, flair to the combat, and it just looked unique and bold. That's when I knew we had something special.
I think Control went from 'this is amazing' to 'holy shit, this is amazing' around the time I got inside of the Ashtray Maze. How difficult was it to pull that section together and do you have any fun anecdotes about its development?
Kasurinen: We had a lot of fun doing that mission. It wasn't actually technically that hard, but our clever designers and artists managed to create a sense of infinite complexity in the experience, and once the music started the whole experience elevated into something unique.
Initially we were thinking of using the tango song but then changed our minds, the metal song from Old Gods of Asgard worked better in every way. I have got to say though, the people working on that mission for almost a year probably won't have that song in their playlists for a while!
What was your favourite of the many Easter Eggs to be hidden away inside of Control? And are there any that players are yet to find?
Kasurinen: It is the rubber duck, that angry quack gets me every time. It's been crazy how quickly people figured many of them out. Having said that, there are still some that people haven't found yet, though some secrets have a longer tail, and extend into the expansions as well.
Don't you think it's a bit of a coincidence that the final piece of Control DLC, scheduled to launch mid-2020, could collide with the tenth anniversary of a game that just so happened to launch mid-2010. A game that Remedy recently acquired the publishing rights to? Be honest with me, Mikael; is that Alan Wake in the AWE artwork?
Kasurinen: It indeed is quite a coincidence! Maybe that gum you like is going to come back in style.
Thanks so much for your time! Anything you'd like to say to our readers before I let you go?
Kasurinen: I've felt for a long while that many games don't take enough chances, including us! We should trust the players, that they will be able to figure weirder things out, and that they're ready to embrace unconventional experiences. We don't need to hold their hands.
As long as we keep doing a good job and push for the best possible gameplay experiences out there, people will be ready to take it on. And I'm beyond glad to see that it happened with Control.