This review of Control will contain spoilers, more specifically spoilers about bosses and side quests. So if you do not want to be spoiled on those, this is your warning. I will be placing this warning about the read more tag so you don’t see the whole post on the front page.
Control is the latest game from Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment. I am not overly familiar with Remedy’s games, the only game of theirs that I have played before this was Quantum Break. I have never played Alan Wake or the Max Payne games. So any comparisons to their previous games just means I am comparing to Quantum Break.
So with that out of the way, let’s get started. I will divide this review vaguely into aesthetic, mechanics and story categories.
The platform I played on is PC (Windows), copy purchased from the Epic Game Store. The game is also available on Xbox One and PS4.
All that concrete is brutal eh
Aesthetically this game is concrete and brutalism everywhere. The Oldest House, the location in which you spend the entirety of the game leans heavily into that sort of architecture. Yet, it does this without feeling particularly oppressive in its architecture, a lot of the spaces are fairly wide open perhaps to provide nice brutalist arenas to fight the real oppressive force in this game, The Hiss.
All of this is extremely gorgeous, the game’s use of typography is extremely on point, it’s use of colour and lighting matches the weird and horrifying mood perfectly. The game’s HUD is minimalist and exemplifies the careful UI and other visual design that was applied to the game.
I also like how Jesse’s (that’s the main character) civilian outfit which she wears for basically the entire game is completely out of place in this ostensibly very weird government building which fits how Jesse feels being around in the Oldest House, out of place. All of the other characters are in various formal forms of clothing and Jesse is just walking around in casual civilian outdoor clothes, its great.
Overall, its a very good looking game. I found myself wishing it had a photo mode so I could take more nice screenshots.
Charge it up and launch it
Yes, that subheading is a reference to Missy Elliot’s Work It. And just like Missy Elliot’s music, the basic combat loop in this game is a lot of fun. This is how it goes: use your energy to launch various objects at your enemy, when your energy runs out, use your Service Weapon to shoot at the enemies, when your ammo runs out, switch back to using Launch. That’s it, that’s the basic loop and it is very satisfying to execute, especially as you progress through the game and upgrade the damage from your Launch ability.
I enjoyed using the energy based abilities more than I did the various forms of the Service Weapon. The Service Weapon can change into various forms and they are all basic gun archetypes:
- Grip – your bog standard service pistol
- Spin – fully automatic, high rate of fire, not as accurate
- Shatter – shotgun, low rate of fire, low ammo charge, high damage close up
- Charge – rocket propelled grenade, low ammo charge, long range explosive damage
- Pierce – long range sniper, very low rate of fire and ammo charge, high damage to armoured targets
You can equip two modes of the Service Weapon at once and switch between them on the fly. Most of the time I found myself using the Grip mode with rare occasions where I would switch to using Pierce (usually for (mini)-boss fights).
You can find weapon mods for your Service Weapon which are specific to each mode as well which makes the various mods even further. What mods you choose depends on your play style but for me since I used the Grip most of the time, I ended up putting high level headshot damage mods on my Grip.
Speaking of mods, you also have personal mods which augment things like energy and health. I highly recommend usually a mod that augments your health especially at the beginning of the game where your maximum health is fairly low.
Speaking of health, getting health back in this game involves eliminating enemy mobs which then drop health which you can pick up which basically means you keep attacking and running around picking up health from dead enemies, this isn’t a cover shooter.
Overall, the game emphasizes moving around to avoid damage and gives you abilities that makes movement much more fun (Dodge, Levitate, Shield). As a fan of games that have good movement systems, I enjoyed Control a lot from a mechanical perspective.
You aren’t the boss of me
Now let me talk about my main criticism of the game and that is it’s boss fights. Control’s boss fights are honestly..not good. A single boss often has way too many boss gimmicks that make dealing with the boss more of an act of tedium rather than skill or engaging gameplay.
I will pick two examples which I think are particularly egregious, the first one is a boss called Former.
Here are the Former’s gimmicks:
- It fires these explosive black balls at you
- Every so often it does this massive damage attacks with its claws, the only way to avoid these is to use your Levitate power or use your Shield power (I recommend Levitate as it doesn’t use any energy)
- These massive claw attacks also leave holes in the boss area which if you accidentally fall through, you just die, there is no getting out of those.
I get that this boss is supposed to teach you how to use the newly acquired Levitate power but the gimmick where the boss leaves holes in the boss arena that cause instant death is massive overkill and extremely obnoxious when you are already dealing with the boss’s other gimmicks. And to make matters worse, you face Former *twice*, once when you cleanse the Fridge and the second time when you cleanse the Flamingo as part of the same quest line. And the second time the Former is even worse and the arena is even smaller! Ugh, absolutely obnoxious.
The second egregiously annoying boss is Mold-1, the culmination of a side quest line and oh boy this boss is somehow even worse than the Former.
Let’s list Mold-1’s gimmicks:
- Release poison gas around the bits of natural cover in the boss arena so you can never properly use cover
- Use its tentacles to do massive direct damage
- Release mold mobs which you can’t really fight easily
- Second stage of the fight increases its tentacle attack rate and also it now starts firing poison missiles at you
For the love of god, pick two or three gimmicks, not four and use them basically all at once. This boss took me a large amounts of tries and when I finally beat it its not because I improved mechanically at the game, its just that I got lucky and managed to avoid most of the damage. Really really obnoxious, at least this boss only appears once.
Overall I think the boss fights in this game are bad because they are designed in way counter to how the rest of the game is designed. Especially the health pickup system which is designed for basic mobs and not bosses which do massive amounts of direct damage. There is no way to slowly regenerate your health, you have to pick up health pickups, which in a boss fight can be risky for various reasons. In fact sometimes, if you go to get the health pickups you will just die because you ran into a massive attack from the boss.
Having a way to regenerate health on your own would alleviate a lot of the pain from these boss fights.
SCP, what’s that?
Control’s storytelling mostly eschews the live action model used in Quantum Break which is good because those were honestly not that great.
That said, the story is very…Remedy, if you have played Quantum Break you probably know what I mean. The story is full of references and homages to the SCP Foundation which if I am being honest not really familiar with. My lack of familiarity with SCP notwithstanding, I found the story intriguing and in some ways charming.
The game’s name refers to the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) which is a government agency that deals with weird shit (Objects of Power). The building which you spend the game in is called The Oldest House, and you spend the entire game talking with the mysterious Board through the Hotline. You traverse through the Astral Plane. Yeah, it gets really weird.
My most favourite character in the game is Ahti, the Finnish janitor that you meet at the very beginning of the game. As soon as he starts talking you /know/ he is more than just a ordinary janitor. Perkele, perkele.
But other than that, I found myself kinda ignoring the rest of the story and just enjoying the combat and environment. And there is a lot of lore, the game loves its collectible text and recordings, there are lot of those so if you are into reading a bunch of redacted government documents about mysterious entities, you are going to have a great time. I found myself ignoring most of that a few hours in, there is just so much of it.
Overall, I found Control to be a enjoyable game with a fun gameplay loop and very good environmental design and a weird story. It was also in many ways a refinement of Remedy’s style from their previous game Quantum Break. I am looking forward to what Remedy does next because I do enjoy their style of games.
Also Jesse is cute. That is all.