Playing through Control is like playing through a fever dream - grounded in things you understand, but with everything slightly off-kilter, the edges of reality blurred, and with nothing quite making sense.
Yet, Remedy has somehow managed to balance the experience of a fever dream with the modicum the control necessary to make the experience empowering, instead of overwhelming.
Sure, you may be in a room whose walls ripple and change as hordes of mindless drones spill out of clouds of red haze. Thankfully, you are also able to hurl objects with your mind at those enemies, who then explode into luminescent vapour.
This is just one of the many flavours of weirdness you’ll experience in the roughly ten hours you’ll spend traversing the Bureau of Control – a building in New York where the US Government deposits all of the supernatural items that occur in the world.
Spurring your ascent is your character Jesse Faden’s drive to find her brother, who she believes was kidnapped by the Bureau ten years previously. Like the world itself, the story tries admirably hard to balance a somewhat grounded narrative with all of the warped stuff going on around it. Mostly it succeeds, but only if you set the right expectations for what the story is going to deliver.
With this kind of mysterious and bizarre story, it’s easy to think there will be some twist or explanation at some point that will make all of the things that don’t make sense come into focus. That’s not really the case with this story – sure, there are plenty of revelatory moments, but nothing is ever going to make everything explainable. Because, really, that is kind of the point of this whole whacky adventure; exploring the unexplainable.
My advice is to lean into the weirdness. The moments where I just let myself go limp and be swept up the strangeness of the story, environment, and lore, were the moments I enjoyed the most.
This is particularly true of the building’s environments – which despite being confined within a building are hugely diverse, and consistently striking and unique. The world design of this game is a true feat of creativity and ingenuity. Rooms layouts cascade and merge to form completely different designs around you. Other rooms are just visual triumphs, combining incredible lighting and design to create something striking to behold. Then, there are rooms where the fabric of time and space are warped into spectacular, and often disorientating, visual illusions. Of all the elements of this game, this world design is what makes Control an experience most worth having. You could strip out all the story, lore, and combat, and this would still be a world worth exploring because of it.
That said, the combat is also very satisfying. At the start of the game, you obtain the Special Service Gun – the only weapon you have in the game, but one that can also be transformed to resemble a shotgun, SMG, or rifle. It is totally serviceable but quickly becomes secondary to the combat abilities you accrue throughout the game. I don’t want to spoil what these are, so I will focus on the one showed off in the marketing. Early on in the game, you get the ability to pick up objects with your mind and hurl them through space. Satisfyingly, it has a similar weight and heft to the Leviathan Axe in last year’s God of War and is also far and away the most effective way to destroy enemies – so, it very quickly became my go-to combat method. This ability, combined with the others you gain, really tap into the kind of innate power fantasies humans seem to have, and so you end up feeling like a real badass as you use them all to dominate hordes of enemies.
Unfortunately, all of this was consistently, and sometimes severely undermined by technical instability. Playing on a standard PS4, I experienced dramatic framerate drops and stuttering throughout the game – especially when loading into new areas and against large groups of enemies. Hopefully, these issues can be ironed out with patches, but as the game currently exists, these technical limitations definitely detract from the experience.
The aforementioned technical issues are a shame because Remedy has created a wonderfully immersive and unique experience. One that takes many of the best elements of their past games – and may even tie-in to them, if you look closely enough – and combines them into a compelling and haunting adventure. Especially when they get the technical issues fixed, this will easily be one of the most memorable games of recent years.