There’s space for a lot more mystery in mainstream games – for fewer precise map-markers and arrow-straight narratives. Remedy’s Control seems to be fighting that tide of conventions, for as much as it’s also a conventionally impressive third-person shooter.
You play Jesse Faden, a mysterious young woman arriving at the equally mysterious Federal Bureau of Control in central New York after a long search for the elusive building. She finds abandonment and chaos, along with the corpse of the Bureau’s former Director.
An otherworldly presence declares Jesse the new Director, and one by one bestows strange astral powers on her, from aggressive telekinesis to a shape-shifting firearm with multiple forms. It soon becomes clear that she must purge the Oldest House (the excellently-named world of the building’s corridors and basements) of a bizarre contamination.
Some alien force, nicknamed the Hiss, has invaded, possessing some people and murdering most. These bodies are left suspended creepily in mid-air, peppering huge halls and offices with eery, innocent bystanders. It serves as a good example of what Control really excels at – its tone.
The Oldest House has a decaying semi-horror feel to it. Its echoing chambers and sprawling layout is full of eerie noises, clanking surprises and those hanging bodies. Only in the very late stages of the game will you feel familiar enough to no longer get unnerved by what the next corner might spring on you.
Mostly, those surprises are enemies. Jesse must face a range of possessed baddies, armed with their pre-Hiss guns and armaments, as well as a smaller selection of cross-dimensional nasties. These encounters are fun, tense and kinetic. Your powers are violently essential, principally Launch, which lets you pick up nearby objects and chuck them at targets for smashing impacts.
Those objects are myriad – the mundanity of office stationery is represented in full alongside baffling alien artefacts and shapes. Remedy has done a thrilling job of creating a space that feels real and lived-in, even if that density of items causes chugging frame rates at busy times and during larger fights.
These battles are only occasionally overwhelming, and rarely get frustrating, because the range of movement and options on offer is wide enough that you can continually experiment with new approaches. That said, in Control‘s latest stages there were points when ceasefires would have been welcome.
Meanwhile, as Jesse explores more of the Oldest House’s insane geometry and yawning depths, Control spins a modest story of abandonment and invasion nicely. It doesn’t overplay its hand, and reveals an enigmatic enough package that subsequent sequels will have further ground to explore into.
Remedy have also liberally sprinkled the map with notes and audio tapes that flesh out the story in the most “post-2000 videogame” manner. Laudably, they’re worth reading. The writing is wry and dry, and the clarification of otherwise confusing plot points isn’t so buried as to become a pointless challenge of its own.
There are moments here that will stick in the memory – as Jesse explores she finds Control Points, otherwise known as checkpoints, where she can save, fast travel and recuperate. These act as waypoints but also unlock the space around you by shifting the makeup of rooms from bizarre bricked constructions into navigable spaces. These Diagon Alley-esque animations are superb and resonant.
Jesse also frequently comes across “Objects of Power”, bizarre possessed items that transport her to other dimensions, or affect the apparently corporeal ones diversely. These episodes are mind-bending and visually inventive, as are repeated trips through a nightmarish, purgatorial motel that acts as a portal of sorts.
In all, Control is an ideal morsel – a serious, impressively made high-budget game that doesn’t outstay its welcome, and offers an enjoyably odd journey which keeps itself fresh as long as needed.