Control feels like a misnomer. You might be the newly appointed director of the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC, for short), but Remedy's latest game isn't about feeling like you're on top of things. In fact, the whole reason you've found yourself at The Oldest House, the FBC headquarters, is that everything has gone – to put it bluntly – to shit.
With Control, it feels like you've been dropped straight in the middle of a thrilling TV show. You know that things have happened, and there is more drama yet to come, but you're somewhere in the centre of it all, the pieces of the story floating around you like the eerily suspended corpses that haunt the hallways of the Oldest House. It's just a case of figuring out how best to bring them all together.
Release date: August 27, 2019
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, and PC
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: 505 Games
You play as Jesse Faden, a woman who's clearly not had the easiest life so far, but has managed to stumble across the FBC with a little help. She walks into the FBC's lobby off the streets of New York as you would with any other building. As the automated glass doors slide shut behind her, you can see the people of New York living their daily lives; a yellow taxi drives by as a couple of pedestrians wait for a bus, huddled together under the stop to take shelter from the rain. That's pretty much the last time you see anything normal in Control. Yes, there are still some unaffected members of staff that can be found hiding in rooms across The Oldest House but, as Jesse says as she walks into the mouth of the FBC, "the room is not the world. The world is much bigger, and much stranger."
You rarely get a game setting so intriguing as The Oldest House. The lobby may look straightforward enough, akin to so many official buildings with its imposing front desk and stately lettering, but beyond that lies a twisting, turning beast that moves of its own accord. It's fighting against the invasion of a corruptive entity known as The Hiss, which is taking over the Oldest House's inhabitants and slowly infecting its concrete, Brutalist architecture and blocky, yet beautiful Bachelardian corridors. The Hiss’ presence is marked by swathes of red hues that colour both the regularly levitating, always glowing human enemies and the pulsating blocks that emerge through doorways. It's a space that's moving, changing and constantly surprising you, not to mention one that would never look out of place in an M.C Escher painting. It has a way of always drawing you back in for those ever compelling 'what's around the next corner' moments.
That doesn't make it the easiest place to navigate, though, meaning you'll have to rely heavily on Control’s unhelpful in-game map - which merely shows you the general locale of your destination - or the physical signs plastered on the walls inside the building itself. There's not a waypoint in sight in Control, which only serves to add to the sense of delirious unpredictability that threads through the entire experience. Of course, that means it does come with a healthy dose of frustration, as just getting from A to B may have you retreading ground over and over again to find that one door you've missed.
Regardless of its accessibility issues, The Old House makes for a truly captivating setting, acting as much as the main character of Control as Jesse is. She's your navigator, your connection to this place, but you only go where the Oldest House allows you to - you only see what it thinks you're ready to see. And even now, some 20 hours spent submerged in Control's world, I am still surprised by what I find lurking in tiny offices and behind previously locked doors – even if I am being driven slowly insane by the portion of the containment sector that I've yet to find a way into. Maybe that's exactly what The Oldest House wants.
But navigating the house is only part of Control's appeal. This is a Remedy game after all, and you wouldn't be here if you weren't utterly intrigued by Control's story. And, oh boy, you're going to want to strap yourself in. It'll sound like a cliché by now, but Control is best experienced going in blind. Just know that my emotions while playing it ranged from ‘well this is weird and cool’ through to 'what the heck is happening', until a point where I literally had to stop, put down the controller and text my boyfriend to tell him this game is utterly bonkers. Beautiful, but bonkers. Remedy really wasn't messing about when it said Control was allowing it to get strange.
Building mystery and intrigue is just part of Remedy's DNA, and Control feels like the studio operating at its very best. It manages to create a surreal narrative that's capable of making even the ordinary feel extraordinary, turning your standard handgun into a shapeshifting omnitool, and managing to inject life into an everyday office block. It does all that, and casually gives you one of the best gameplay experiences at the same time. Losing control is part of it, but as Jesse gains more abilities drawn from the Objects of Power, you begin to gain superhero-like status, levitating your way through The Oldest House and pulling slabs of concrete from the walls only to launch them straight into Hiss agents with the force of a freight train. Mastering all of the various abilities is an exhilarating power trip, adding to the already sky-high appeal of Control.
Whether it's the tension that's expertly drawn taught across the entire length of the game, or the constant surprises you're thrown as you navigate The Oldest House, it's clear that Control is going to leave a lasting legacy on video game history. Like Alan Wake, its ability to evoke the best trippy TV shows - flowing seamlessly between combat exploration, and story - is a sight to behold, making every minute a fraught joy. It's exceptionally polished (playing on PC with an Nvidia RTX graphics card and ray-tracing is out of this world), packed with suspense, and never stops feeding you clues and hints to the bigger picture.
And that's even without touching on the characters that Jesse meets throughout her gauntlet, those who have managed to survive the events occurring in The Oldest House, From the insanely hyper-intelligent Emily Pope of the research department, or the 'janitor' who clearly knows more than he's letting on, the heights of the production value will have you inspecting every line on Jesse's face as she talks, and marvelling at Pope's seriously long eyelashes. Control’s narratives, and its characters, are complex, morally ambiguous, and sometimes downright odd, and I'm on board with every one of them.
The only criticism I have is that Control feels unfinished, like a sentence left dangling with a missing clause. There are some questions I still have after finishing that I love are left unanswered, but the ending came more quickly and abruptly than I would have liked. Remedy has always struggled to finish its stories, and Control is yet another victim in this regard.
But, make up your own mind, because no matter what you think of the ending, a game like this is a glorious rarity. Don't do yourself a disservice by reading any more into Control. Go in unaware, revel in its madness, and never take a corridor at face value. That's the best way to serve up - and regaining - Control.
Reviewed on PC, using an RTX 2070 Super provided by Nvidia.