I have always admired from afar what Remedy Entertainment has had to offer. Max Payne was such an ambitious game, and I loved where they wanted to take the story and gameplay back in 2001. Bullet time seemed like such a leap forward at the time. Alan Wake, another title that stepped away from the normal of the time and still holds a cult following to the day. Quantum Break was yet another step away from what everyone was producing, mixing a television series in with gameplay was a great idea that probably just missed the mark. No matter what game they release, it never is what you expect, but, it is always a fun new experience. Furthermore, Remedy is one of the few developers willing to take a risk and continue to create new games in a new world.
A Remedy game is generally a well-scripted, linear experience that focused on the story and gameplay together. Control still focuses on storytelling and gameplay, but the new Metroidvania aspect is the first significant change you will notice from the start. There are so many little areas that are just inaccessible around every corner. It was clear that the whole game would be in this building, the Oldest House. Requiring you to return to each area as you get more abilities.
You enter the world of Control through the eyes of Jesse, who is looking for answers in New York, at the Oldest House, the home of the Federal Bureau of Control. Things aren't right at the building, which is under lockdown, but you find a way in and then somehow become the director of the Bureau. Once you gain Control of Jesse, you quickly realise there is a profound and bizarre world that you want to explore, and this is the strength of the game from the start.
The story building Remedy uses to suck you into the world is at times, brilliant, at others immersion breaking. Be prepared to do a lot of reading if you want to understand what is going on in Control. Each room you enter usually has a case file or some lore document that I stopped reading quickly. To Remedy's credit, you don't need any of this to understand the game; it just adds to the experience. The character interactions and missions all do a great job of conveying the world to you.
There are parts of this world-building that pull you straight out of the game. Character interactions are stale and at some points, lifeless. When in a cutscene, characters are stationary, I understand this is probably a budget issue, but by the end of the game, you are yearning for more in-depth interactions between the characters. The one exception here is the Janitor, who you do need subtitles to understand. He is easily the most memorable character in the game and is a joy to deal with as he is as mad as the world you are exploring.
The user interface is clean and unobtrusive, making it an incredibly engaging world to explore. The exception to this is how Remedy chooses to point out case files and boxes with materials and mods in them. You know there is something to interact with by a white dot above the item, the issue I have with that is you can see these dots for a long way out. This distance has two main drawbacks. Firstly it is immersion breaking as I mentioned above. Secondly, it does not encourage exploration. Generally, I could walk into a room quickly, see no dots and leave. The standard mechanic to show an interactable item is to highlight it when it is close. In Control, launchable objects are highlighted instead, which resulted in some clunky experiences.
Control is as far from any shooter as it can be, the gunplay was limited to being a backup experience in my playthrough. I liked the fact that Remedy decided to focus the gameplay on abilities and interaction with the world. Of the five abilities that Jesse obtains on your playthrough; the launch was my favourite. The feeling I got from launching a pallet jack or a fire extinguisher at an enemy was so satisfying. Only topping this was levitation that I received way too late in the game. Combining these two abilities were stunning. Launching into the air, floating above the enemy, pulling a chunk of cement from the ground and sending it to destroy the enemy, called the Hess, was the best gameplay loop.
Other abilities missed the mark at times. The shield felt clunky to use as I used the environment as a more effective shield so I could be ready to attack when needed quickly. Evade was good, but felt like it didn't work when needed and was better used to navigate the map just a bit quicker. Seize allowed you to make an enemy fight alongside you. I found it to be hard to pull off and often left me too exposed. It would result in me taking too much damage to do successfully and leaving the new teammate an easy kill for the enemy.
All abilities got better as you levelled them up, but I found I could play the game well enough with just the two abilities.
Besides your skill level improving as you play the game, the sense of increased power comes from your skill tree and mod system. Both systems work well enough but lack the depth of a true RPG to get any real enjoyment out of the system. Playing through the main story of Control will see you unlock about half of the skill tree, side missions are the method to get the rest of the ability points. With half the abilities feeling lacklustre, there was no real drive for me to play the side missions. On my playthrough, I maxed out the skill tree for the character I wanted to play, so I just avoided them for now.
In Control, Remedy does an outstanding job of guiding you through the story and the world. The story advances at a good pace, and I knew where I had to go even without a waypoint or arrow guiding my way. Through exploration, you will find the hidden side missions around the Oldest House. There is a good chance you will not find them on your first playthrough, but you can continue your hunt after the story ends. Hiding the missions does reward players for exploring this intriguing world. It doesn't take a lot to find them, but you do need to walk off the beaten track and possibly solve a puzzle to find them.
The way Remedy mixes puzzles that do require a little bit of thinking with straight-out action gameplay is a great loop in the game. There wasn't any point that I felt bored with the gameplay as there was a different gameplay experience every few encounters. The puzzles we're always obvious when solved and there was never a time I got overly stuck in an area. Sometimes I did yearn for more in-depth puzzle mechanics. I do understand why Remedy decided against making more difficult ones as they can be potential roadblocks for players.
Consistently, I would get frustrated with the game over the death mechanic. When you die, you return to the last control point you visited. The result of this was two or more minute runs back to the boss before you could refight them on every death. I understand this is a significant part of the Metroidvania style Remedy has chosen for the game. The situation the mechanic caused lead to possible exit points for the game. There were multiple times I almost quit the game on death, especially towards the end. There were times I would die near the end of a long fight and not only have to start again but run to the battle. The death mechanic made getting control points even more critical but had me screaming at the screen more then I would like.
The missions themselves were just enough to keep me going through them, except for one. Most of the time, you would enter a room and fight waves of Hiss until they were all gone. Sometimes you would fight a large entity to cleanse an object of power, but other than that a lot of the battles felt very cookie cutter. My favourite encounter in just about any game came at the end when I entered the labyrinth. The level design, style and music all combined in this mission to blow me away. Gave me vibes of Doom at it's best and it stood out compared to the rest. After the Labyrinth, I could see the shortcomings of the other battles so much more.
The end of the game is another special moment in Control. I will not spoil it for you, as it is worth finding it for yourself. The way the game makes you feel out of place most of the game like you are not meant to be in the Oldest House, and you are way out of your depth is well done. It leads into the end well and makes the last mission land a lot better then it should have. There is a sense of power you feel in the final battle that is a significant change but is a gamble by Remedy. You almost feel like you don't deserve to finish as it was a bit too easy. Once you play it, you will understand, but for me, in reflection, it gets better the more I think about it.
Control is a magnificent effort once again from Remedy and proves they are the master of world-building and storytelling. The problem I have is it feels like a great game trapped in a good one from some brilliant developers. I get the feeling if Remedy was working with another team and had more money to put into the polish, things would be different. We would then see Control not just a cult classic, but a critically acclaimed game that finds a substantial audience. With so much to love about Control, there are only some points that hold it back.
Saying all of this, I feel that this is a game you need to play at some point. As I mentioned, Remedy knows how to craft a brilliant world and drag you into a strange story like no other. The sense of mystery Remedy presents to you at the start and how that unfolds towards the end is stunning. Remedy deserve your hard-earned money just for that aspect of the game. The second reason I believe it should be supported is that this is a fresh IP; this is hard to find outside of the indie scene. If we want to see more risks as Remedy has taken, we need to support that with our wallet. End of the day, these are the developers we need to see with better financial backing to help push the industry forward.