By MooseyMcMan 5 Comments
There is an atmosphere to Control. Not literally. It has a mood that soaks out of almost every pore, a mood that at once kept me with a feeling of unease, yet made it hard for me to stop playing, or thinking about Control. Control is a game about a space, and a space that feels as alien as it does pedestrian. Stark concrete that shifts and moves, plain walls that go up farther than the eye can see, desks and paperwork beside a containment cell designed to hold a rubber duck with a life of its own. Ordinary life juxtaposed with the extraordinary in The Oldest House.
I love Control. It's got a few, fairly serious issues, but on the whole, I think it does what it sets out to do extremely well. This game has captivated me from the very first trailer, and the fact that it continues to do so not only after I finished it, but got the Platinum Trophy is remarkable. Granted I only had a single Trophy left after credits rolled, and that only took a few minutes to get, but still.
There is something about this game that has captured my imagination like few have in recent memory.
I could break down Control in ways that make it sound ordinary. It's an action game with a linear story and some side quests that usually involve returning to earlier areas, or to new locations adjacent to old ones. There's a lot of enemies with guns to be shot back at with a gun. There's some abilities to be upgraded, weapon/character mods to be equipped, and plenty of secrets to find. Lots of the world building is through redacted notes, audio recordings, or if you're lucky, full motion videos made with live action footage of real people.
But that would be selling the game short. Control is about a woman, Jesse, diving into an impossible place trying to find answers about an organization that "doesn't exist." It's a game about taking Control over her new powers, her new shapeshifting Service Weapon, her new life as Director of the Federal Bureau of Control. It's about fighting back against impossible odds, about fighting to get to the truth, and digging through no matter how many levels of paranatural bureaucratic BS is in the way to get there.
It helps that on top of the incredible mood and tone that permeates every little corner of the game, it's also a really fun action game. Yes, even with the performance issues on the PS4 Amateur version, which faithful readers will know is about the only thing I have to play games on. It gets rough, but they have patched it to improve it. It never ruined the game for me, but I have a high tolerance for this stuff, and it's definitely rough if I felt the need to mention it at all. But it's fine far more often than it's rough.
Part of both what makes Control so much fun, and so taxing to the hardware (I assume given there tends to be a correlation) is how much of the world feels like a part of the action. How much of it can be damaged during fights. Tables, desks, lamps, statues, forklifts, anything that isn't nailed down, and even large chunks of walls, floors, or pillars can be ripped and blown apart both by weapons, and more often: telekinesis.
Whipping objects at enemies, or enemies into objects is one of the most fun things I've done in a game in quite a while. It sounds so simple on paper, but there's just something satisfying about hurling a corpse with paranatural force and having it fly through four desks, tearing them apart, sending splinters and paperwork flying everything. So few games these days have this level of destruction in the environments, and the objects within them that it really stuck out to me. Not only does the destruction look good, but it just feels good, and sounds good too. The audio design in general is great, but the specific noise when holding something with telekinesis just sounds so good.
Plus, Jesse doesn't have to pull the object over to herself before launching it to an enemy. Once it's in the air, just let go of the button and it flies at the targeted enemy, and bopping them from behind was sometimes even more fun. It reminded me of recalling the Leviathan Axe in God of War, and having it kill enemies on the way back to Kratos, which is always a good thing to be reminded of.
One of the most brilliant things about this power is that while it highlights whatever object in the environment you'll pick up if you hit the button, if there's nothing in view to grab, it doesn't just whiff. Instead it tears a piece of concrete out of a wall, or a floor, and that gets thrown instead. It sounds so simple, but it goes so far to making this power feel useful literally all of the time, and to making the levels feel like they aren't just static level geometry, but a part of a world that reacts to everything you do.
Of course there's still limits, aside from a couple of explicitly breakable walls leading to secret rooms, damage to walls and floors is superficial. This isn't suddenly Minecraft. The Oldest House is resilient, after all, and while it accommodates the humans inside it, they are very much visitors within what is likely a living thing.
Or at least that's my brief, not spoiler-y take on it. When dealing with mysteries in fiction, there is something I've realized over the years, that isn't really that shocking. It's fairly rare when big mysteries actually have satisfying answers, and in some cases, it's maybe better to just leave things as mysterious. It's a tough line to walk, a tricky needle to thread, but I think Control does it well. It keeps things mysterious, has just enough answers, but ends with all the right mysteries still mysterious. It's left me wanting more in all the right ways.
As I think about it, it reminds me of Bloodborne, in a way. Another game with absolutely tremendous atmosphere, and tone, but very different in most respects. Especially in how the story was told, Control is much more like regular AAA level western games, whereas Bloodborne is FromSoftware's Dark Souls formula through and through. But both go on a journey of discovery, of trying to get to the truth, and in the end only getting some of the answers, even if that remaining mystery is part of what made it so compelling, made it stick with me.
At least with Bloodborne, I literally finished Control the day before I wrote this, and a few days before I got around to putting it up. I obviously can't know how this game will or won't stick with me over time, but I do know that I'm looking forward to the DLC, mostly with excitement, but also a little trepidation. Is it going to be as good as the main game? Is it going to continue the story, or just be side quests? Is it going to answer some of the questions I have left? Should it?
Like, I want to know more about The Board, but I don't know if I should. Would I like Control more if I knew the truth about that inverted pyramid that speaks through garbled modem sounds and subtitles? If they're really just [SPOILER-ISH STUFF] an entity/entities from the Astral Plane, why are they helping humans/The Oldest House in the first place? Are they the mind/intelligence of The Oldest House/game itself? And what about The Former? What was up with that? And The Hiss, and Hedron, and Darling? Is Darling actually dead, or just gone? What about The Oceanview Motel? What was Ahti's real role in all of this? What even is Ahti?
And where the heck does Alan Wake fit into any of this?!
They've got a tight line to walk. I want more, but I don't know if what I want is what they'll give, or what I really want out of Control. And I'd say it's possibly a bit suspect how much more we'll get, if Control hasn't sold well, which is the vibe I've gotten. Maybe the DLC will be the end of it, maybe there will be a Control II, or maybe Remedy will finally give Alan Wake the sequel/conclusion to his story that he deserves.
Maybe all/none of the above/below. Only time will tell, and until we get there, all I know is that Control is a really cool game, with some of the best atmosphere and tone that I've experienced in quite some time. It's also a game with still disappointing technical issues and some baffling decisions around checkpoints (why does this game have Dark Souls style Bonfires/Control Points but not the rest of that Souls style design? Why have this instead of regular checkpoints?).
But it's also a game with hidden puppet shows and live action videos of scientists.
You should play it.
And thank you for reading!