Control from Remedy is one of the strangest video games I have ever played. That can be interpreted in many different ways. The story is a delightfully odd mix of science fiction and David Lynch. The graphics are beautiful and atmospheric. The setting takes place in one location while taking the player on a wild ride. But what made Control so strange was it is one of the most enjoyable games I have played all year, yet it had me so unsettled I was almost too nervous to push forward.
Despite its paranormal activities and scary movie trappings, Control is not a horror game. The writing, level design, and tone just do such a great job of setting a tense mood. The player takes on the role of Jesse Faden. Jesse has gone to the Federal Bureau of Control who are headquartered at the creepily named Oldest House. Very quickly, the player sees there is something not quite right with Jesse.
This is not abnormal for video games. Sometimes it is more than a simple search for justice that drives the protagonist. Things are different in Control, however. Yes, there is a secret that motivates Jesse to learn more. However, before it is revealed, the game makes the player fear for Jesse. As Jesse explores and discovers more, she learns about the FBC and Oldest House. But that does not necessarily seem like a good thing. This is definitely a case where ignorance is bliss.
The Oldest House itself is a transforming maze that is exciting and disquieting to explore. The game has an almost minimalist design with lots of whites and sharp edges. When there is color, it is usually a dark red hue that signifies danger. Sometimes a blue silhouette fills the screen when Jesse hears a voice. The story is engaging and draws the player on. But there is a constant unease that makes each step filled with dread. Again, this is a great job of making a non horror story frightening.
Much like the setting, the sound design uses a little to go a long way. Players may get used to the floating bodies, but the constant murmuring remains uncomfortable the entire time. A droning sound fills an area Jesse is required to go to often called the Astral Plane. The voice acting is great. Aside from some instructional videos watched by Jesse, music is not a big part of the game. This is a wise decision as the ambient sounds are perfect for the tone.
Graphically, Control is hit and miss. Jesse looks great as does a Lynchian janitor. In particular, are scenes of Jesse that are done in extreme close up. During these moments, there is emotion and understanding in Jesse’s eyes. Most of the cutscenes stand out also. The Black Pyrmaid is appropriately ominous while the instructional videos are silly and worrisome.
Overall, the entire experience is beautiful to look at. That is why it is such a surprise to see how awful some of the other characters look. It is not many, but some characters will stand out for how bad they look. They have dead eyes and even misshapen heads which throws the gamer completely off. Clearly, much time was put in the game looking great so these moments are impossible to overlook.
That being said, the lack of visual refinement for some of the characters begs a question. Did Remedy Games intentionally do this? Control is a game that constantly tells the player to not trust what they see. Nothing is as it seems and everything from portraits on the walls to the House itself is constantly transforming. Would it be so strange if a game that is so beautiful made sure to add some ugliness? It sounds like a stretch, but it also makes complete sense in the context of the story.
Control is a game that is heavy on combat and rewards aggression. For example, the only way to regain health is to kill enemies. In order for this style of play to be effective, the controls have to be perfect. In this case, game mechanics are smooth and intuitive. Gunplay is easy to learn and feels very satisfying. Jesse is armed with a Service Weapon she is able to mod and she can learn powerful abilities. Combat requires a mix of both and it will not take long for players to get the hang of the game’s systems.
There is one glaring fault. I played the game on a vanilla PS4. Load screens are frustratingly long. Control also suffers from slow frame rates during large fights. There is also some very noticeable texture pop in. The game is good enough to overcome these problems, but it is important to note these issues are not just minor ones. For those who prioritize these things from their games, it is important to play using hardware that is more powerful than the base consoles.
Control is a fascinating game that will win most players over almost immediately. The game has a unique look and feel to it while the story will stay interesting the entire way. Combat is incredibly fun and the game itself looks beautiful. The atmosphere and mood do a wonderful job of simultaneously pushing the player on while making them apprehensive of what they are going to encounter next. Despite some performance issues, Control is one of the best games of this year.
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