Control Review: A Game that Stays With You, Long After You Defeat Your Demons
Remedy Entertainment’s Control is a beautiful game that haunts you, charms you and keeps you thinking about it, despite being achingly frustrating at times.
A still of telekinetic attack on The Hiss by Jesse, in Control. (Image: Remedy Entertainment/News18.com)
Every now and then, there comes a video game that remains etched in every gamer’s memory, ever. Think about Max Payne, Halo, Portal and the likes. I’m not entirely sure if Remedy Entertainment’s Control is already in the same league, but about a week since I finished the game, I haven’t managed to stop thinking about it. Coming from the same folks that also built Max Payne, that’s hardly surprising.
Before everything else, here’s the premise — you play as Jesse Faden, the protagonist of the game who’s accompanied by her feminine spirit friend, Polaris. Right from the onset, you learn a few basic things. You enter a nondescript-looking office that belongs to the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), who were involved in some incident that had happened years ago, in Jesse’s home town, Ordinary. That event linked her to Polaris, and simultaneously, also ended up causing the disappearance of Dylan Faden — Jesse’s brother.
Right from the onset, you get this eerie feeling that this game is hardly a straightforward search-and-rescue mission. As the game progresses, you start discovering the weird and hauntingly beautiful details of Control — a power-hungry director, a disconcertingly polite Head of Research, a seemingly normal research fellow, an unusually assertive janitor and countless bizarre encounters, as you go into the depths of the building.
The characters are only half the task done, for Control’s beauty lies in exploring its world in the entirety. The game’s world is one where paranatural powers exist, and regularly infiltrate our world in both good and bad shades — something that FBC exists to “control”. However, the event that linked Jesse, Dylan and the FBC together — referred to in the game as an “Altered World Event” (AWE), was unusual even by the Bureau’s standards, revealing hitherto unknown inter-dimensional entities. Of the latter, while one’s your friend (Polaris), the other is your enemy in chief, The Hiss.
You eventually encounter it as a wispy, omnipresent entity that can “infect” specialised objects (known here as Objects Of Power) to infect everyone. Depending on what it affects, the impact differs. Defeating the Hiss is your primary objective, something that you constantly work towards throughout the game. In order to reach it, you go through special challenges that see you take on other interdimensional entities such as the Former, which looks like an overgrown Tardigrade with limbs and a bullet-firing nozzle.
Control’s bizarre but incredible level design takes you through many highs and lows, and even flats. Your mission begins at the suicide of previous Director, Zachariah Trench. As you take over the service weapon, you also accept your role as the new Director of this massive, seemingly endless and secretive organisation. You encounter Ahti the Janitor — a character that is as enigmatic as weird, who also leads you along on a later level called the Ashtray Maze, which in my books is possibly the best level of any game that I have played in a long, long time. Interestingly, Ahti also appoints you as his assistant, giving you a two-pronged role that clarifies itself at the very end stages of the game.
The Hiss, which had appeared during the AWE in Ordinary, has been released across the FBC (you learn how later), and has taken over the building. Director Trench is dead, and his head of research, the seemingly strange but mostly non-hostile Casper Darling, has gone missing. The Hiss is everywhere in the building, having taken over people, the walls, the crevices, everything. In a last ditch attempt, Darling had distributed Hedron Resonance Amplifiers, a specialised apparatus, and only those who could get their hands on one are safe until now. Through all this, there is the presence of Jesse’s brother Dylan, whom you encounter at Control’s endgame.
In straightforward, oversimplified terms, the objective is to defeat the Hiss and find out the whereabouts of Dylan. However, the game is designed so beautifully that throughout the game, you come across research notes, video clips saved from Darling’s observations and cut-scenes that start when you stumble upon certain places. Through these, you learn about Remedy’s intricately crafted fantasy world that is frightening and incredible, inspiring a sense of awe and dread in equal portions. Case in point is the Oceanview Motel, which you learn to treat as a place of respite as well as inexplicable mystique.
What makes Control possibly one of the very best video games of all time is its storytelling, coupled with pace that can wildly fluctuate depending on levels. Jesse’s telekinetic powers are a joy to play with, letting you rip up pieces of your surroundings to protect yourself and take down foes. While some would disagree, I particularly love the game’s fighting mechanics, where combining levitation with strategic pace, accurate telekinetic firing and the momentary nature of taking cover all come together to keep you on your toes. What is also incredible is the arena of the gameplay — a massive, austere building with mysteriously diverse areas strewn in every nook and corner. The soundtrack further amplifies the impact that it has on you, climaxing at the Ashtray Maze with Take Control by Old Gods of Asgard — a side project of Poets of the Fall.
What I also like is how no bit of the game is diluted with trivial easter eggs, and how well each area is designed. The Astral Plane, which is the interdimensional area of traversing through in certain levels, is left open to interpretations, varying in nature of (dis)comfort depending on how you play through it. The building itself keeps shifting, showing its paranatural bearings and how it reacts to the Hiss. Add the Board’s creepy, inverted pyramid presence that seems to loom about in different corners of the building, and you will find it difficult to play Control for long hours.
It is this that, that brings me to Control’s shortcomings. For one, it can be frustratingly easy and frequent to die in Control, and the save game points (Control Points in the game), while being strategic, feel a bit shallow and insufficient. The service weapon’s shapeshifting style gives some firing power, but in most cases, this feels insufficient too, particularly when you are fighting against bosses or grenade-hurling Hiss marshalls. In some cases, Control needs you to simply apply brute force and speed (such as the recruit training arena in one of the game’s side missions), which simply feels like an insult to the game’s intelligence.
Despite these annoyances, Control makes you sit up, take notice, and after the first few strides, feel completely engrossed in finding out about each and every in-game element. The reading and collectible materials feel a bit overwhelming at times, but in terms of a well crafted world, there is no dearth of details. You feel a strange pull towards the Hiss, and while you fear the worst about Dylan, you can feel what is going through here, and Remedy’s comment upon human psyche, through Hiss, Dylan and the FBC. Darling’s video clips are more informative than you would imagine, and I found myself sitting and reading through hours of research material, listening to miles of recording tape and exploring all such collectibles — even if it held up my main gameplay.
Sure, the ending is a bit anticlimactic. But, that is only because Control itself sets lofty standards for itself. In the end, Control tells you explicitly that this is not the end. While the ending makes peace with your mind for now, Control tells you in clear terms that this is just the beginning, leaving you in fear of the future of The Hiss, the direction that the FBC would take, and the still unexplored areas of an endless office building that may hold far greater threats than the Slide Projector — the root OOP for which the game’s premise occurs.
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