Picture that you walked into a federal building in the middle of New York City and were offered a job as an assistant custodian. An hour or so after accepting the offer, you are promoted directly to Director of the building, and things are not going well.
Such is the latest adventure of Control‘s Jesse Faden–sister to lost brother Dylan Faden. Finding Dylan, who was taken by the fictitious Federal Bureau of Control when he and Jesse were both children, has been Jesse’s mission since she was a child. Now Jesse finally vows to complete it.
I want to start my review of Control by exalting the developers and publishers for taking a chance on a relatively short, single-player, sci-fi game with a wacky storyline and female lead. Control was one of my favorite games of the past year, and I think that is largely due to the risks it takes. Casting a female as the main character in a sea of boring dude-marines. Weaving a narrative around a David Lynch-fueled fever dream. Asking more questions than answering. In a sea of straight-forward and male-dominated action stories, Control will stick with my memory for a long time to come.
The biggest compliment to give Control is that, having finished this game, I am a fan of this world. I would read a novel set in this universe. I would watch a Netflix series or movie. I would play sequels. Hell, I now want to play Alan Wake, the developer’s last game which is loosely connected and part of the greater universe crafted by Remedy.
You will know if you love or hate the tone of Control within the first hour of play. Between the dialogues with members of the Oldest House (the building you play in, and character in its own right), the ridiculous video recordings you find, and the concepts introduced, the game wears its “weird” on its sleeve.
Control does something very interesting in that it contextualizes its gameplay mechanics and systems with understandable concepts, while veiling the overarching story and characters in many layers of mystery and intrigue.
Control immediately reminded me of (forgive the pun) more controlled version of Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. In saying this, I mean to submit that the game is less about ammo counts and energy bars (though it has the latter) and more about how you combine supernatural powers and weapon options to get the job done.
Combat is more about the environments and enemy selections than it is about you.
The game nixes traditional weapons and weapon drops in favor of “The Service Weapon,” a multi-form gun with unlimited ammo and a lot of personality. You might use the pistol variant of the gun to take on weaker guards while switching to the shotgun variant when things get too close for comfort, etc., etc.
I found the game to be about perfect on the challenge too, which is an achievement in itself, since I usually find myself falling in the “too easy” or “rage-quit” camp. Typically if I died multiple times in an encounter, it was less about the enemy or my skill and more about equipping the right tools for the job and being patient.
Control technical performance
The biggest punishment for dying isn’t the small amount of resources Jesse Faden loses, but the load times you will have to endure to return to duty.
I will preface my discussion on Control‘s performance by noting that I am playing on a base Playstation 4, as opposed to a Playstation 4 Pro or beefy computer.
Performance is the only area where Control falters, and it falters pretty hard. It was never enough to spoil my experience (I gave the thing a 4.5 out of 5 after all), but it came close.
Load times are bad. Game performance is often choppy and downright dreadful when lots of debris is flying around. Jesse would sometimes shoot 100 feet ahead at random. There were times where my console was purring so loudly that I had to switch to headphones. Also–and again, I’m not sure if this is limited just to a base PS4 or not–don’t make the mistaking of pausing the game to take a break during combat. Un-pausing will result in a few seconds of 2 frame-per-second chaos where you try to get your bearings back and enemies strike you mercilessly.
As we see more half consoles (ie. PS4 Pro and Xbox One X) and cross-platform support in the future, do we blame consumers for not upgrading to the latest console, or do we blame developers for poorly optimizing their game for older but still supported consoles? I can guess where responsibility will ultimately fall, but in the meantime I’m suffering through some pretty bad lag.
How long is Control?
Thankfully, the game also doesn’t overstay or understay its welcome either. Remedy has packed plenty of content in a roughly 8-12 hour main play-through while hiding many optional side quests and secret content for those who really want to dig in to the world and lore.
The Oldest House lends itself perfectly to exploration and has a “Metroidvania” approach to player progression, so returning to old areas and stumbling into a strange room in the Oldest House is constantly rewarding. I never regretted going back to old locations and there is almost always something to find for your troubles.
I feel good recommending Control equally to those with limited game time as something attainable while simultaneously recommending it to players looking for more.
Jesse Faden’s reality is a strange one, but it is worth the investment to pay a visit to the Oldest House and take control.