Remedy Entertainment, the developers behind the infamous Alan Wake and Max Payne series’, are back with a brand new title which is, in my opinion, one of the best games they’ve ever created. Combining sci-fi with the supernatural, Control is a game which absorbs you into its lore and reality in a way that only a Sam Lake creation would. Leave your thoughts on physics and real-life at the door as you won’t need them where you’re going, The Oldest House doesn’t exactly play by the rules…
Containing gameplay elements from all of the developer’s previous games, including Quantum Break, Control is something special, almost a masterpiece with its level design and narrative storytelling. However, did the game live up to the hype which has been around the game since it was first announced, and what does it feel like to finally play a Remedy Entertainment game on the PlayStation again?! Let’s find out…
Control is a story which changes it’s narrative several times as you play through it, offering up new goals and objectives for you to work towards. As I don’t want to spoil any of the main plot points (be careful if you’re watching videos beforehand as there may be spoilers in those), I’ll touch on the initial story and what happens in the first hour or so.
Our protagonist is Jesse Faden, a curious individual who has managed to track down the people who kidnapped her brother when she was a child. The organisation behind this tragic event are situated within ‘The Oldest House’, a building located in New York which can only be found in the real world if IT wants you to find it. However, upon arriving, Jesse discovers the building is currently on lockdown as there has been a breach of security and the entire place has been overrun by an otherworldly threat which she christens the ‘Hiss’.
Seeking answers, she immediately makes her way to the director’s office, only to find he had taken his own life via the use of a special firearm. Just like in Judge Dredd, the gun can only be used by one person as it binds itself to them – thankfully, it chooses Jesse as its new owner thus officially appointing her as the new Director – what a turn of events! So, with almost full-reign of the building, Jesse sets out to find any survivors, discover the truth behind what’s going on, and find her brother before it’s too late. However, things aren’t going to be that easy as the Hiss has taken over and will stop at nothing to ensure nobody gets out of the building alive.
The main narrative is presented as missions which you work your way through (all of which can be replayed once you complete the game but it will revert your game back to that point if you do – so be careful). There are also timed missions which act as priority events one you get to a certain point in the story and a bunch of rotating missions which revolve around killing a number of enemies in a certain place with a certain attack/weapon. Basically, aside from the main story to concentrate on, there are a lot of side-missions to unlock as well as the random events and challenges to try and complete – there’s a lot to do in the world of Control.
Control is extremely satisfying when it comes to the actual mechanics and gameplay side. Initially, you’ll only have access to your special gun (which has four modes – again, just like Judge Dredd’s gun) and your power-palm attack. However, as you progress throughout the game you’ll begin to learn new special abilities via the help of another dimension, abilities such a creating a shield of debris around yourself then throwing it at enemies, floating and gliding through the air, performing a ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ guided slam whilst in the air, turning enemies into allies, and the most fun mechanic of all, telekinetically throwing things around!
In order to survive this horrific threat which has invaded this magnificent building, you must utilise all of your powers above as well as invest a lot of time and resources into upgrading all of the passive abilities within your skill tree and pimp out your loadout with the best gear possible. Although the gun and your fist are the only ‘weapons’ you have (aside from throwing things around like a Boss), you find and can craft many, many different upgrade cards which can be attached to each version of the gun and your person, cards such as increasing the damage by X%, using telekinesis uses less of your energy, you reload faster by X%, and lots more. This allows you to remain in control of your loadout and fully customise it, even though you still only technically have one actual weapon with four modes.
I have to say though, there’s nothing more satisfying than becoming Darth Vader from The Force Unleased as you gracefully pick up almost any item you can see (including dead bodies, forklift trucks, and massive photocopiers – when you’ve upgraded your ability) and then launching them into the face of an enemy and watching them squirm. Some enemies require you to do this, those with shields require a thrown item in order to lower their shields so you can blast them to hell, but I found it so enjoyable that I would throw things at everyone! What I found really fascinating was, if there’s nothing around you to grab – mainly in the early stages when you can’t lift heavy items – Jesse will literally rip the wall or floor apart and throw a chunk of that at the enemy instead. Seriously, you won’t understand how satisfying it is until you’ve tried it!
How do the Physics impact the game?
I think I’m right in saying that Control displays the most advanced and realistic use of physics-based objects I’ve seen in an action game this generation. Do you remember the Crackdown 3 reveal back in 2015 where the developer showed the character cutting through a wall by using the power of the cloud (something which never actually appeared in the final game)? Well, Control has nailed it – without the cloud! Using your gun, palm, or any object or person lying nearby, any matter of destruction brings with it a lot of physics. Punch the nearby wall and watch folders and papers fly out and scatter all over as they float through the air, bash into a stone wall and watch it crack or fall apart, hit a wooden structure or wall and watch it begin to fall apart in a realistic fashion – even glass smashes as it would in real life.
I was simply left in awe as I played the game on my PS4 Pro as, for the most part, the game didn’t suffer any major slowdown or frame drops due to all these physics-based interactions… Well, at least not until I reached the final sprint of the game. Even on the PS4 Pro, there’s a lot of slow down in Control – not enough to put me off wanting to play the game, but it does happen. Especially when the combat begins to get rather frantic with loads of enemies throwing bombs, environmental pieces flying all over the place, and the screen lighting up like a firework show! I’m hoping that there will be a patch out soon with resolves this for new players as it was a bit off-putting when it first happened, but it’s not the end of the world – dips don’t last too long and I never felt I was cheated and killed because of the performance issues.
Touching on the performance issues once more (again, I really hope these are fixed as I have emailed my contact), when you pause the game and then unpause, there’s about five seconds of ‘lag’ and slowdown which is pretty bad – I’d say almost single digit frames. Also, bringing up the map places the map overlay as a transparent image whilst the action still happens behind it – great idea but the framerate drops to about 20fps when you have the map open. I didn’t really notice this happening until I’d reached the middle of the game though, so it’s probably just a bug.
Metroidvania and the punishment of death!
I wouldn’t officially class Control as a Metroidvania game, but it does share similar traits with the genre. There are six levels of access throughout the game, funnily enough becoming the director didn’t actually grant you with any level as you start at zero. As such, you’ll come across doors and gates whilst exploring, each with a number on them which require a certain passkey. Basically, you need to remember where these doors are and return once you have the correct access so that you can gain entry and grab the ability points and whatever goodies lie within. What I really loved was that there are a few doors which are locked and you can’t get in without the right key, but you can sometimes use your powers to smash the nearby window and just take the back way in!
There are other areas with environmental obstacles, such as poisonous mould which requires you to return once you have the ability to pass unharmed. It’s a good way of keeping people out of areas they shouldn’t be exploring until the game wants you too.
Now, I’ve played games like this before which return you to the nearest activated teleport pad once you die, stripping you of all the things you’ve collected and experience you earnt since you last passed a pad. However, Control is much more forgiving – you’ll instantly fail any open timed mission you had in your to-do list, but you’ll keep everything you had. This makes retrying much easier – as long as you don’t fall into insanity and try the same thing over and over again and hope for a different outcome. Use your death to take notes, change your approach, swap out what cards you have assigned to your weapons and body, then give it another go.
Old-School in The Oldest House
If you think you’re in for an easy ride with Control (as you’ve seen the trophies and you think it sounds like an easy list with not much challenge), think again. The game operates like old-school games in that you’re given a mission as you progress throughout the game (either a side mission or the main mission) and it’ll tell you what section (floor) you need to be on and sometimes a room name. That’s it. There are no waypoints, no guidance arrows on the screen, no mini-map, no highlighted objects to blatantly tell you “THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT”, nothing. Once you’ve got to the area the missions hints at, it’s up to you to work out where the item is and, in some cases, how to operate it or pick it up.
This is why I became aware of the slowdown with using the map, I was reliant on it more and more towards the tail-end of the game as I had to uncover all the secret areas and new locations I hadn’t been to yet. Thankfully the map is simple, push up on the D-Pad, it even lets you still move and the “You are Here” icon moves as you do, so you can get your bearings easier, but the lack of a mini-map did throw me a little at first. After completing the game (I got the platinum last week), I really like the fact that Remedy went with this approach, it made me think about what I was doing every step of the journey and had me concentrate on the game as I had to recall where I’d seen things and what I’d noticed previously which may help me now – such as the location of the Rubber Ducky!
Another key aspect, which will throw a lot of people, is the lack of regenerative health – not only whilst in combat, everywhere! The only way to get your health back is to damage/kill enemies and pick up the tiny amounts of health they drop or return to a warp-point and activate it, that’ll refill all of your health (Energy for throwing and your ammo DO auto-regen). Other than that, you just have to try and survive – and it’s not easy, especially against the end-game bosses (Probably some of the hardest battles I’ve ever been in). I’m hoping the developers won’t back down and add an easy mode with regenerative health, just like how Gunfire Games added the original combat mode to Darksiders III because people found it too hard, but I guess if a lot of people struggle with the health pick-ups, it could be an option they ‘may’ implement for accessibility?
How many collectables?
One of the trophies for Control was to collect 120 collectables. I thought to myself “damn, that’s going to be really hard, especially playing it now, before the general public has it to create any guides” – I was wrong. The game literally shoves collectables down your throat and into your pants as you walk into rooms and take people out. Basically, I just checked – I have almost 250 collectables within my inventory – don’t worry about needing any sort of guide, just pick up everything you see. Actually, don’t use any kind of guide for any aspect of the game – just play it for yourself, discover everything for yourself and enjoy the satisfaction of getting the platinum without any outside help. One bit of advice, open every door and explore every nook and cranny as you’ll need the exploration points for all your abilities!
Returning to the things you pick up, Remedy‘s games are well known for providing you with many smaller stories within their main narrative, Control is no different. Remember the Rubber Duck I mentioned earlier? Well, The Oldest House isn’t just a government building, it’s a storage and research facility for strange, unusual, and possessed objects – Ducky being one of them. You’ll initially see the duck and that’s it, but then you’ll find a report telling you about it and why it’s here, then you’ll find an audiotape of a researcher experimenting with it as well as other follow up materials. The duck may even be part of a side mission later on into the game…
The notes and research you find give life to Control and The Oldest House, it creates a backstory far beyond what a few cutscenes would have done, it opens your eyes to the world you’re slowly being absorbed into. These are purely all optional and the trophy only requires you to pick them up, but I strongly advise you to read/listen to them all. Also, there are old-school projectors around the building which project videos and video logs for you to watch. Seeing these adds them to your inventory. However, what I found bloody marvellous about these is the fact you can pick up the projector with your powers and the film will continue to be shown on whatever surface you point it at, in a realistic fashion – it’s so cool!
A Visual Masterpiece?
Control is freaking beautiful. The level design within the tower is fantastic, from a clinically-white research laboratory to an underground quarry, this building is like the TARDIS – it’s so much bigger on the inside than you’d ever imagine on the outside (although we never see the outside, I imagine it’s not as big as the floor space makes out). Everything has a photo-realism to it and the entire game is so surreal in that you sometimes feel like you’re watching a movie rather than playing a game. Then I realised, certain aspects of the game are actually live-action videos merged with the CG – something which isn’t new for Remedy (just look at Quantum Break), but it’s pulled off in such a magnificent way within Control.
For example, throughout the game the deceased director will talk to Jesse through her mind, this causes an overlay of the ex-director to appear on the screen. This is all FMV and not CG. You’ll also see a few videos of Jesse succumbing to the powers she’s been granted, they are also sometimes an FMV overlay over a CG image – it works perfectly and you may even miss the fact that it is the real actors at this point. This is the advantage of using the likenesses of the voice actors within the game! What I love though are the video reels from Dr. Darling – especially his musical tribute to our protagonist later on in the game (these are, once again, all FMV with a real actor rather than CGI).
One thing which may upset people is that the game is 30fps on consoles and there’s no HDR implemented – I’m unsure on resolution numbers but I’m sure Digital Foundry will have you covered within a few hours of the embargo lifting. Based on the performance issues I’ve encountered on the Pro (which will most certainly also be on the base PS4 and Xbox consoles), leaving out HDR may have been a design choice in order to limit the impact of the physics on the overall performance? I know people say HDR doesn’t impact framerates but there have been studies which shows a 10-25% decrease in performance on PC when playing a game with or without HDR, so I don’t know. Personally, I played the game on a 1080p TV which doesn’t support HDR anyway, and it looked great.
In terms of the audio quality, Control absolutely nails it. The game contained both original tracks and official music throughout – there’s even a toggle in the options menu to disable all copyrighted music if you’re streaming or recording videos, this way you know you shouldn’t get flagged or lose monetisation over it. This option should be in every game as you never actually know what music was created for the game and which was licenced for use within the game. I’ve tested it both with and without the toggle on and I’ve noticed certain tracks refuse to play with it on, such as a secret music experiment in a building which looks like the Men in Black hallway, yet Dr. Darlings lovely song still plays (so that shouldn’t be an issue for showing on Youtube).
The voices within Control are second to none – as we all expected. All the actors did a great job at portraying their characters with Jesse being perfectly represented by Courtney Hope as a strong, yet troubled female protagonist who wants to find out the truth no matter what she has to overcome to unlock that information. I also particularly enjoyed the Janitor, he was rather creepy and disturbing yet there’s something about him that made me want to trust him – maybe he had a kind face?
The game itself is filled with dialogue, from walking around your ‘base’ and listening to the various NPCs talking about events happening throughout the building (indirectly giving you hints) to finding strange and wonderful people to interact with and take side missions off. Every single character which talks to you within Control has their own backstory and history, whether they tell you themselves or you find out about it via the many documents you pick up – the world is so rich in lore and information, you can get lost for hours just reading through everything. My one disappointment, I don’t recall seeing Sam Lake’s infamous face anywhere within the game! I was hoping there would have been a secret costume we could unlock which let us play as him in his Max Payne outfit (like we could in Max Payne 3) – but I guess it’s a new IP so that’s probably why!
Control is easily one of the most enjoyable and technologically advanced games I’ve played this year. Although Jesse may only have one thing in mind, find her brother and get out of there alive, upon being appointed the new director of The Oldest House, things change. Not only have you now been appointed with the responsibility of all of the employees who haven’t succumb to the Hiss, but you must also find the source of this evil and stop it with all of your might – something you never thought you’d be tasked with when you woke up this morning. Using multiple powers, upgraded weapons and abilities, and the help of loyal NPCs, you must take control of your destiny and show these evil intruders that they’re fired!
If you enjoyed Remedy‘s previous works, such as Quantum Break, Max Payne and Alan Wake, then you’ll love the weird and wacky world created within Control. At around thirteen hours to finish the main story, it’s not the longest game out there, but without using any guides or getting help off anyone, it took me around 30 hours to obtain the platinum on my own. My only issue was the performance dips when you bring up the map, pause or get into intense battles, but I’m hoping these are patched in the near future as the developer is aware of them.
**If you buy the game from Amazon (LINK), you get the soundtrack with the game as well!**
- - The physics in the game are amazing, from the environment breaking apart to throwing things around
- - The acting is perfect, both voice acting and real-life FMV
- - Challenging from the beginning until you learn to use all your abilities and upgrade to become a badass
- - Tonnes of backstory and lore to discover via collectables
- - Very interesting story with unique environments and characters
- - Performance issues later on and when you open the map or pause (should get resolved soon, hopefully)
- - Some people may not like the lack of hand-holding and guidance as there's no markers or waypoints
- - Some people may not like the lack of regenerative health
- - I wish the digital edition came with the soundtrack (like the physical one)