Remedy, the developer behind Control, are now famous for creating unique yet stylish third person shooters with the iconic Max Payne a great example of this. Following on from this, Remedy then brought us Alan Wake which, released in 2012, is still a fantastically visual and intriguing survival horror title.
Jump forward to the release of Quantum Break in 2016 and you can see Remedy’s style and gameplay evolving, which brings us to Control. In development for a number of years now and releasing on August 27th, Control can be seen as Remedy’s most mind-bending and visually stunning title to date. Is it all style over substance though? Read on in our full review below.
“Right from the get go, things get weird..”
The narrative of Control centres around a major mystery that you’re looking to solve so I’ll be sure not to cover anything that’s not been officially revealed about the game’s story so far. What we do know, from the released trailers and articles, is that you take control of Jesse Fayden as she searches for her missing brother Dylan in the mysterious ‘Oldest House’ building, the Federal Bureau of Control’s (FBC) headquarters in New York City.
We’ve also learned that both Jess and Dylan were present at an ‘Altered World Event’ (AWE) in their hometown of Ordinary many years ago as children which resulted in the FBC arriving on the scene. Now, as you arrive at the Oldest House, looking for your brother, the entire building has been put on lockdown due to the invasion of a strange other-worldly entity known internally as ‘The Hiss’.
Right from the get go, things get weird and the team at Remedy only dripfeed you updates on what’s actually going on as you make your way deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of a building that is the Oldest House.
Very quickly, you realise you’ve been chosen as the new Director of the FBC by the faceless board and you’re given the ‘Service Weapon’, a shapeshifting firearm that dictates the Bureau’s leadership and also an Object of Power (OoP). Your mission, which you have no option but to try and complete, is to clear the Oldest House of the Hiss infestation and find Dylan to understand what exactly is going on.
As I said at the start, Remedy has evolved their storytelling from previous titles to make Control one of their most clever (yet pretty confusing at times) titles to date. Sam Lake and his team have created an incredibly detailed world with themes of supernatural, superstition, luck and the unknown. It’s like a cross between The Matrix, Inception and The Shining.
“Watching your Service Weapon shapeshift right in front of you is a pretty cool sight.”
When it comes to gameplay, although it’s not as linear as previous Remedy titles, it’s not exactly an open-world game either. Thankfully, as you make your way around each of the different section inside the FBC’s HQ, there’s a freedom to where you go and how you can approach the multiple side missions. As you make your way through the first few missions of the game, the world starts to open up, allowing you to explore that bit more.
In a similar vein, as you progress through the various missions and develop your skills and abilities, you will find yourself backtracking to sections with areas that were once inaccessible due to your limited abilities. In terms of these abilities, with each new one you acquire, how you approach gunfights with The Hiss changes. It was only when I acquired the ability to levitate that I began noticing the sheer verticality of some of the areas which really helped me take on the possessed troopers from a completely different angle, quite literally!
The combat itself is probably the best part of the whole experience. It’s extremely satisfying being able to grab and launch all sorts of environmental objects at approaching enemies. This, paired with your ever evolving Service Weapon, makes you quite a formidable foe, once you’ve mastered how to control both to your advantage.
The fact that ammo is infinite but life if limited, you really have to think on your feet when it comes to staying alive. As your gun recharges, you’re on the hunt for dropped ‘life’ from your downed enemies in the form of bright blue light particles on the floor. You also have unlimited energy to control your various telekinesis abilities so again, you must be tactical in how you switch from gunfire to brain-powered attacks.
You are able to melee your opponents but once you get a feel for your Service Weapon and telekinetic powers, it really isn’t something you’re going to be using, only if it’s your last resort when you find yourself up close and personal with The Hiss.
The Service Weapon itself can be upgraded to allow it shift into various weapon forms. With a literal flick of your wrist, you can shift from a ‘Grip’ pistol style firearm to a ‘Shatter’ shotgun, ‘Spin’ sub-machine gun or even long distance ‘Pierce’ sniper rifle.
Watching your Service Weapon shapeshift right in front of you is a pretty cool sight and when you find the firearm form that pairs well with your play-style, you’re really onto a winner.
One thing I also want to point out, when you’re in the heat of a battle with enemies, bullets and everything else flying all around, the level of destructibility in the environment is truly impressive and the physics on show are some of the best I’ve seen in a third person shooter to date.
For your abilities, your usage of these is tied to an energy meter that depletes the more you use them. As I mentioned early, it does replenish itself over time but this is when you’re potentially open to attack and may have to switch back to your firearm or duck for cover.
The launch ability is the first one you unlock and it’s straight up ‘Jedi’ mind-control stuff that lets you fling basically anything you can see at the enemy.
Other abilities include quick dodge/evade, shield and the aforementioned levitation, all of which are well executed in terms of realistic character movement, psychics and overall look and feel.
“Vast concrete chasms are flooded with gorgeous atmospheric lighting…”
Visually, Control looks fantastic. Its oppressing yet beautifully intricate level design, colour palette and lighting make it an instantly recognisable title, something that’s a rare achievement in today’s gaming market. As I previously mentioned, Remedy can be seen to have gained inspiration from the likes of Christoper Nolan’s Inception, Fox’s sci-fi TV show, Fringe and even a bit of Stephen King’s The Shining.
The Oldest House’s harsh architecture is only softened by Remedy’s Northlight graphics engine and its fantastic lighting effects. Vast concrete chasms are flooded with gorgeous atmospheric lighting and Remedy’s heavy use of primary colours really helps certain scenes really pop. Character models are also incredibly detailed and both Jesse’s and The Hiss’s movements are fluid and life-like.
“Control is a mind-bending sci-fi rollercoaster…”
As the credits rolled on the final mission, I found myself being thankful for studios like Remedy. Their approach to narrative, gameplay, design and tone really is something quite unique.
As other studios fall into more predictable design and execution patterns, Remedy goes their own way and, in the process, create titles that stick in gamers’ memories much longer than other AAA blockbuster titles.
Control is a mind-bending sci-fi rollercoaster but thanks to its fantastic gameplay and striking visuals, it was one I was happy to go on again, and again and again.