Intention at it's Finest, Weirdness at it's Best, and Performance at it's Most Taxing
The first time I loaded up "Control", Remedy’s latest release and first apart from longtime publisher Microsoft, I was immediately struck by how harsh and eerie The Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) was. It loomed before the protagonist, Jesse Faden, like an all knowing monolith out of Stanley Kubrik’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and brought with it all the haunting imagery and atmosphere that a creative work about the fragility of our world ought to.
Remedy has always taken an interest in exploring the “other” world. Whether it be the Horror Fiction landscape come to life through the mind of a potentially crazed writer in “Alan Wake”, the staggering complications of what would happen if time travel really was harnessed in “Quantum Break”, or even the meta narrative on society and narcissism in the original “Max Payne” games, Remedy has always strived to explore the unexplainable.
The thing that most impressively differentiates "Control" from Remedy’s other work, and the work of other 3rd-person action games as a whole, is that "Control" is incredibly effective at conveying the atmosphere it set out to create. I think it speaks volumes to the fact that this is Remedy’s first run at publishing a game on a smaller budget in favor of creative freedom because "Control" has a world and lore that so detailed, I feel like I spent half of my time playing just reading the case files and other hidden collectibles scattered around the crumbling and corrupted FBC. Plus, I actually enjoyed it!! Usually, when games go out of there way to world build and provide the player with more information, it gets shuffled into a forgotten codex or a clunky journal interface but "Control" puts so much importance, so much weight, on discovering the mystery of "The Hiss", the corrupting force that has turned the FBC from well oiled government machine into nightmarish hellscape with cool art deco, that I actually felt like reading the backstory directly influenced what Jesse would need to do to solve all of these out of this world mysteries.
So much of "Control" is intentional, so much of it exists just to tell the story of Jesse Faden's journey to find her brother, but when the game departs from this level of focus, it can feel a little jarring. I found that the randomly generated side-content that permeated the mid-game part of my time in the FBC started to feel a little too mundane. It certainly fits the world that small tasks like saving some trapped workers or eradicating The Hiss from a specific part of the FBC are necessary, but as the narrative went along and Jesse became more competent in her role a Director, these tasks felt a like a hell of a lot of busywork for the person who's supposed to be saving the whole world from collapsing into an unknown multi-universal apocalypse.
The architecture of the FBC, the motion capture of the actors, hell the soundtrack and even the design of the bathrooms all fit together to make an aesthetic masterpiece that you can run around in. The only issue is trying to run around at a consistent framerate. I played Control on a launch model PS4 so I can’t really be one to judge and I KNOW that the launch model PS4 is really the only iteration of either console (PS4 or Xbox One) that has such consistent performance issues. Unfortunately, I can’t really review a game on another system then the one I have and it’s so laggy at times that it became unplayable. I still beat it in less then a month (and later went back to 100% it as well) but there were definitely times where my game session ended early just because the PS4 couldn't keep going. It’s not a huge deal, but it breaks immersion and it’s hard to ignore, and while it might be better on 95% of everyone else’s newer systems, if you're gonna play it on a launch model PS4, it’s gonna be a little rough.
Overall, "Control" is really impressive. The writing is definitely the strongest in Remedy’s catalogue and has the most character and quirkiness as well. It’s a weird game with a wacky sense of humor that feels like it was ripped right out of an episode of "Twin Peaks", or "Stranger Things". This weirdness plays to the games strengths perfectly and kept me interested in the story no matter how many times I kept getting killed by the same flying hiss monster.
The combat is great too, though it does take some getting used to. Once you get the moves down and start to unlock powers, the flow really ramps up and, as long as you keep Jesse moving, it often feels like you're a true force to be feared, a freight train of power that can barrel through just about anything. The only weakness that the combat has is that there are some obviously OP powers and weapon configurations that stand out. For me it was levitation and the charge weapon configuration. If I wasn’t shooting rockets and flinging concrete at every enemy in sight then I was obviously doing something very wrong. While these powers were great, I could tell that I was having too easy of a time every once in a while and, as the game progressed, I abandoned most all of the other weapons and powers outside of that limited scope, even the new ones I discovered later.
Ultimately, "Control" is a smash hit and one that Remedy should wear as a badge of honor, seeing as it was a huge risk to step out of Microsoft wing that they had been under for over a decade. The story of Jesse Faden and the FBC is a high point for what Remedy can do for gaming and storytelling, and a high bar for 3rd person action as well.