Control – Ultimate Edition PC Review
Control is a Third-Person Shooter that just so happens to be a bit of a mix between two of my favourite things: the video game Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, whose fall into forgotten obscurity is nothing short of an indignity; and the TV show (but mostly world of) The Lost Room, a woefully underappreciated goldmine of curious creativity. See, much like The Lost Room, the story of Control is about paranormal events that somehow manifest or imbue everyday objects (and on the odd occasion entire places) with all manner of random, often dangerous abilities. For example, The Lost Room has a pair of glasses that inhibits combustion in a 20ft radius and a clock that can instantly sublimate brass. Control has an old floppy disk that can be used to move objects telekinetically and a thermos that turns any garbage into fresh and potent coffee. With just those examples it’s easy to see the connection but most importantly, the potential.
Jumping right in as Jesse Faden just as she first manages to gain entry to the Federal Bureau of Control is an excellent starting point. Why are we here? What the heck is this place? Where is everyone? Then it gets even weirder as Jesse is flung into the role of Director by unknown forces and must do what she can to protect the place she originally went to infiltrate. Everything is a mystery that seems to only generate more questions anytime any answers are finally in reach. However, many people will no doubt be turned off by the game when they learn that most of its storytelling is done through documents, audio logs, and live-action videos in the form of training material or company announcements. This format of world building can be incredibly tedious, sure – interrupting gameplay every thirty seconds to read a file or watch a video. I mean, it’s common knowledge that books can have wonderful and complex descriptions, movies can ‘show’ instead of ‘telling’, but video games are even more special – they can tell a story by interacting with the player.
Still, whilst it’s probably not the best approach, Control somehow makes it work by simply being interesting enough to keep the player invested. Although the few times where the gameplay and the world do tell a story, such as the constant whispered chatter, pictures on the wall changing, the journeys to the Astral Plane, and the awesome Ashtray Maze (no spoilers!) are easily the most memorable parts. The Hiss, on the other hand, is a generic evil force that takes over people and turns them against the Bureau for some reason. Their motives are completely unknown and they’re really just a faceless ‘bad-thing’ created with the sole purpose of giving Jesse something to fight. None of that matters, though, because any cons the storytelling has simply fade away when there’s another Dr. Darling video to watch. Seriously, the live-action training videos to learn about the history of the Bureau or whatever other crazy phenomena are made exponentially better by Dr. Darling – the FBCs head of research who is so full of character I’d go so far as saying he pretty much carries the plot from beginning to end, culminating in a fantastic and completely unexpected pay off.
Where the whole experience does slip is its combat. Remedy missed the mark quite badly by not at all combining the bizarre world and heaps of lore, that have been clearly lovingly crafted, with the gameplay. Instead of discovering an array of seemingly mundane objects with fantastical powers that can be used to evade, fight, or solve puzzles – Jesse gets the Service Weapon, a gun. A gun. It can morph into different types of guns, sure. And Jesse does unlock other abilities, to be fair, but they aren’t really connected to the story at all. She’s granted the ability to levitate and dash around but that’s just regular old action game stuff – there’s nothing fresh or unique about it. Unlike Psi-Ops, the different powers (especially the telekinesis) also grant no compelling combat choices or other utilities because of the player’s ironic lack of control. Items and bodies can be picked up and thrown but there’s nothing in between – there’s no way to manipulate them. In fact living enemies can’t be picked up at all, when there are no items to throw in the room Jesse will just rip a chunk of the wall off, and it auto-aims! It’s still mindless fun but way too simple: shoot that, press the telekinesis button to yeet a box at someone, repeat.
Together, the exploration to learn more about the Bureau and close in on discovering Jesse’s past mixed with the combat does manage to hold interest but it was definitely mostly the world that was driving me forward by the end. Especially because encounters become significantly easier as everything powers up. The different gun types that the Service Weapon can morph into (such as a charged shot and a machine pistol), modifiers for each of them as well as for Jesse herself, and the skill tree are satisfying and fun to fill up but outside of the main ability unlocks, upgrades never feel too impactful on their own. There’s also extra combat missions that can be done for small rewards and the building that continually opens up throughout the game ends up full to the brim of larger story-based side missions that can often be quite gripping. This includes finding and locking down Altered Items that have somehow escaped their captivity, as you learn more about each of the items and how they are secured, and fighting off Hiss attacks, if you ever want to just cool off and throw some stuff around.
On top of that, the Ultimate Edition comes packaged with both DLCs – The Foundation and AWE – which add whole new sections to explore and much more story to uncover, as well as include a very cool crossover with Alan Wake. They do mostly stick to the same formula, sadly, with AWE throwing in a couple of new light-based elements I would have liked to have seen more of, especially in combat(!), but once again both of them managed to compel me all the way through; mostly out of sheer curiosity and love of the world and its enigmas. I would really like to see more of this universe in the future and I think Remedy could get super creative with regards to upping the ante around the action. There’s the potential for a total game changer here and, after all, there are plenty more doors to discover in the Motel *wink wink*.