Control Review

After somewhat disappointing Quantum Break, the deal between Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment and Microsoft ended. It seemed like the creative madness that characterized Remedy’s previous games had diluted during the years spent under Redmond giant’s watching eye. In a surprise move, they chose a budget label 505 Games to publish their next game Control, hot on Quantum Break’s heels. Being freed from a big company backing them up has let Remedy rediscover their trademark style and innovation. Control is a sort of homecoming for the developer as it has a hint of Max Payne, a touch of Alan Wake and a dose of Quantum Break, all coming together into a game only Remedy can make.

Remedy’s creative director and writer Sam Lake has always explored a collective perception of America. Max Payne illustrated a broken detective’s search for justice in a dream-like, wintery New York. Alan Wake took players into mythic Northern American forests and quaint small towns that hid a terrible secret under their sleepy facades. Quantum Break was a collage of breaking boundaries of science taking place in a high-tech campus. In Control, we are introduced to a collective conception of a secretive governmental agency, Federal Bureau of Control, established sometime during the Cold War inside the mysterious Oldest House. With its peculiar laws, old-fashioned technology (anything beyond radio waves doesn’t work there, apparently), strange events, and an impossible architecture that knows no boundaries of time and space, the Oldest House is something that can only exist in a head of a warped mind yet there it is, hidden in the plain sight in New York.

Enter Jesse Faden (performed by lovely Courtney Hope) who arrives at the Oldest House after a long time searching for it. She believes that the bureau captured her little brother 17 years ago when the Faden siblings found an Object of Power, a paranormal slide projector that made every adult in their hometown disappear. Things move fast as in no time Jesse finds herself being the new director of FBC. Despite how such a split-second promotion defies any logic, the staff is more than happy to help Jesse in her search for her brother. Aside from hiding shady secrets, the Oldest House has other problems, too. An interdimensional leak has let in a conquering force Jesse names Hiss that has possessed most of the personnel of the house and turned them into grotesque enemies for our heroine to repel in her journey towards the truth of herself, her brother and the bureau practices. Much of the world building relies heavily on collectibles, like documents, reel films, and recordings, and there’s a lot of them to be found, either through story locations where they rest nicely on tables or while exploring the house on your own account.

The Oldest House acts as an indoors open world that expands in a true Metroidvania fashion as Jesse’s psi-powers increase by completing story and side missions. Skills, such as Launch to telekinetically hurl objects at adversaries and Dash to quickly cover a short distance to avoid enemy attacks and projectiles, are upgraded by ability points, gained from completing missions, and further enhanced by craftable personal mods. Jesse’s health pool and the energy used for her powers can also be leveled up and upgraded. She wields the bureau’s shape-shifting Service Weapon that when upgraded, can take different forms from a shotgun to a submachine gun. I stuck with the default Grip for most of the time, though, a quick-firing and powerful pistol that was often the best choice to thin out Hiss forces. Weapon forms can also be enhanced with mods that add reloading speed, fire power, shot spread, increased zoom and such to them.

Fast travel is made available between unlockable Control Points, scattered at key locations in different levels and departments for a quick tour through the Oldest House. Most of the game takes place there, save a few trips to the Astral Plane the bureau houses to cleanse paranormally loaded Objects of Power whenever new skills are about to be obtained or the story beats dictate so to gain more insight about the agency’s inner workings. The action in Control is a playground of destruction for whatever you do, dash here and there, launch things at enemies or shoot all around, result in zillion particle effects when the elaborate sets break down from all the havoc. If there’s nothing else to hurl at enemies, Jesse can pull off debris from walls and floors. When the dust settles and the up-tempo music fades to mark a cleared enemy encounter, once shiny offices and laboratories are reduced to smoldering smithereens. It’s all very satisfying as you really feel you have the power – and the talent. I have a recurring nightmare where I levitate uncontrollably higher and higher, trying desperately to grasp onto something, like treetops and flagpoles, to stop myself ascending. When Jesse finally acquires her Levitate skill, it’s just like from my dreams, only she’s in more control that transfers into easy to grasp gameplay, like everything else she can do.

The third-person gameplay may seem to tread a familiar ground at first but it’s a part of the whole that is impossibly creative, unexpected, unconventional and absolutely personal. It’s entirely its own thing and that’s where Control makes a difference to other games in its alleged genre. I have long pondered why Finnish developers have dropped the ball what comes to making big games. Nowadays, Finns are mostly known for mobile titles that make huge profit by exploiting hordes of gullible casual players. Luckily, Remedy is back in form and creates something no one else could do. Everyone is crying after a sequel to Alan Wake, me included, but Control, despite its vastly different setting, is a perfect spiritual successor to Remedy’s much-loved horror adventure. It’s just as characteristically weird from the get-go but instead of wandering around misty woods, you roam about inside an absurd concrete colossus. For all I know, Control could as well be a mystery novel written by Alan Wake!

Remedy has really let it rip after being freed from Microsoft’s leash. In many ways, Control is a Remedy all-star game. Max Payne’s voice actor James McCaffrey and Alan Wake’s vocal performer Matthew Porretta play important supporting roles with their own faces in the several real-life video segments. The game is like a box of chocolates that is crammed chock-full of Easter Eggs to Remedy’s repertoire. Only things that are missing are Sam Lake’s features adorning some character’s face and actor Ilkka Villi who lent his handsome looks to Alan Wake. But there are plenty of new things, too, that Remedy will no doubt refer to in their following games. I must give a special shout-out to the bureau’s Finnish janitor Ahti, deliciously performed by a legendary Finnish character actor Martti Suosalo. Ahti speaks English with a heavy Finnish accent and likes to insert Finnish phrases into his delivery, only he translates them literally to English that makes them gibberish to anyone not initiated with the joke. When Ahti sings a tango song in Finnish about Alan Wake late in the game, we are treasuring something so awesome not everyone can fully comprehend.

Control has the same mischievousness that Remedy showed in the beginning of the millennium. Sometimes, though, it translates into prolonged events that aren’t as funny anymore when they have to be repeated due to failing in often challenging enemy set-pieces that wearisomely only increase towards the end. Luckily, a few boss encounters Jesse fights through are nowhere as arduous as the final boss in Quantum Break (that’s the overall consensus, though, as I beat him on my second go after learning from my mistakes!). But you got to love a game that constantly presents some bizarre and unprecedented, be them story revelations, absurd events, crazy secrets or constantly shifting The Oldest House itself, sealing in multiple dimensions for some more weird and wonderful escapades for Jesse who’s not perplexed at all but more likely calmly adaptive. For an amusing effect, during conversations with other characters she often says one thing but thinks another as the camera zooms in for an extreme close-up. After an abrupt fake ending and a garbled credits roll, the game has one more mission to complete towards the supposed climax. In the very end, though, I was a tad disappointed because all those (mad) theories I had cooked up about the game’s impossible world turned out be wrong. So, the age-old truth that the journey is more important than destination holds true here, too. As is customary in open world games, you can return to the Oldest House post-game to deal with any unfinished business and collect secrets you didn’t initially find.

Remedy loves to render explosions, gorgeous effects and hundreds of particles, and there’s lots of them to see all around Control. They aren’t for an empty show-off but serve their important purpose in creating the game’s organic event theater. Because the effects aren’t compromised in any platform, console versions have some troubles keeping up with everything that’s happening on the screen. Despite some frame rate issues (which will be dealt with in the future patches), the gameplay remains delightfully loose, flexible and fast-paced, easily the best Remedy has ever done in depicting character action. Even though on PC Control can boast with sublime RTX-rendered lighting and reflections, the console versions look really handsome, too, with a grandiose architecture, a cinematic lighting and the effects galore creating a beautiful playground to romp through. I love Courtney Hope, she’s amazing (I have even forced myself to watch The Bold and The Beautiful now and then where she plays the new Sally Spectra) and Control proofs that even in a digital form she has talent and charisma for a leading role. Her features are painstakingly copied to give Jesse her looks and soul. She doesn’t have a burden of dozens of video game roles (she appeared previously in Quantum Break), so her performance is fresh and genuine, and really enigmatic. Like in excellent Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, there are no action cutscenes in Control as all the action is handled by the player. Instead the narrative is mostly made up from conversation scenes and Jesse’s thoughts during the gameplay. That’s something for developers suffering from a cutscene edema to take notice!

Control has bucketloads of what Remedy can do best; a characteristic world, an intriguing mystery building and a quirky story that’s not even meant to be fully understood. The game realizes itself through entirely by its gameplay whereas many story-driven titles these days feature forced and mediocre playing parts that have to be endured through to see lavish and stupefying long cutscenes because all the production costs were spent on making them. Control marks a new and glorious beginning for Remedy and hopefully there are more wonderful things to come. Despite a few pacing issues here and there and some exhausting late-game shoot-outs, I gladly award the game a perfect score. Am I biased doing so as a Finn myself? Maybe, but Control is a game that today's dull, unimaginative and opportunistic gaming climate doesn't deserve, but I’m happy it exists.

Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.