I want game developers to bring back the linear story experience. I know open-world game play is the hot sh*t right now, but there is something to be said for a handcrafted experience. It’s one of the reasons why Max Payne is still one of my most memorable game experiences. The game has a story to tell and how it’s going to tell that story. The developers left nothing to chance. With Control, Remedy opens the world for self-exploration and suffers for it.
Control is a third-person sci-fi thriller that puts you in control of Jesse Faden, the newly appointed Director of the Federal Bureau of Control. What are they controlling? Supernatural objects, events, and places of power. The Bureau is a more serious version of the Men in Black, and their headquarters is a living entity called the Oldest House. Or maybe it isn’t? One of the highlights of Control is that you never quite know what’s going on. It’s up to you to not only stop a supernatural force but unravel the mystery of the FBC. Jesse arrives at the FBC in search of her brother, not a job. But she takes the responsibility to further her personal goal. It’s how the game unravels this story that softens its impact.
Life In the Oldest House
Control, unlike previous Remedy games, is an open-world game with Metroidvania influences. You spend most of your time backtracking through specific areas of the Oldest House. The game wants the Oldest House to move the narrative forward through exploration but falls short on two fronts. The game’s lore spreads throughout the building in redacted files. At first, it’s a nice touch and adds to the mystery and atmosphere of the game. But there’s only so many files that you want to read before you become overwhelmed. At a certain point, I wondered why the game wouldn’t just tell me the story through game play or an NPC. It’s the same problem that Destiny has, where the lore sits behind cards that you have to read, but that reading is not central to the experience. The second issue has to do with the house itself. There are moments within the Oldest House that truly capture the experience the developers created. Looking for Ahti during his “vacation” and fighting your way through the Ashtray Maze are some of the game’s highlights. It’s during these sequences that you experience the best that the game has to offer. Outside of these experiences, you’re running through a lifeless house. Enemies do spawn to liven the place up, but when you’ve visited Central Research for the 5th time, you’ve seen all there is to see.
Fighting In The Oldest House
Luckily, the combat mechanics are there to help keep you from burning out. In Control, you gain powers through objects of power – ordinary objects imbued with para natural abilities. As the Director, you have the strength to use these powers against the Hiss, a living entity that has overrun the Bureau. As you gain skills, you combine them with your service weapon to outmaneuver the stronger and stronger enemies. And once you’ve become super-powered, the fun begins. Imagine flying in the air and throwing a satellite dish at a hiss agent, then taking control of their mind to fight for you and shooting another enemy all before dashing away behind cover. The environments where you do battle are also destructible. You could pull debris from a concrete column that was destroyed by gunfire. And if you’re on PC, not only will you see the rubble, but also the concrete dust from the column. My only gripe with the combat is that you never feel the need to use the other weapons. The original service pistol is the most versatile weapon and with the proper upgrades, the most powerful. I wish there more opportunities to min/max Jesse’s attributes for more niche styles of play.
I left the Oldest House with more questions than answers. Who exactly is Ahti, and what is his role in the Oldest House? Is the Oceanview Motel more than a way station between areas in the building? And what is the Board? We never understand their connection to the Astral Plane, but there is so much more to learn. Hopefully, the upcoming DLC and eventual sequel will delve deeper into the mysteries. I hope I don’t have to revisit Central Research to figure it out.