Control Review: Narrative Driven

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I must admit that when Hypertext was offered the chance to do review Control, little was known about the game apart from it coming from the mind of Sam Lake of Max Payne and Alan Wake fame.

I mention Lake as his style is all over this latest Remedy Entertainment title, with the Alan Wake series in particular being what I immediately starting thinking of while playing Control.

So can this new title match the success that those previous Sam Lake-led games resulted in?

Here’s my thoughts on Control, both good and bad.

Always playing catch up

There is very little explanation given at the beginning of Control, other than players taking up the role of Jesse Faden, who is the main protagonist in all of this. She also does quite a bit of internal monologuing throughout the game, which gives the curious feeling that she’s breaking the fourth wall at times. This as she communes with a mysterious force which is also linked to her “psychic” abilities.

For the majority of the game though, you feel in the dark as to what’s happening.

There are visually intense cut scenes, dark corridors, shadowy figures and redacted documents littered throughout the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) building that Jesse is exploring. While she seems to have an idea of what she is doing, there is very little explanation given to the player, and consequently you’re always playing catch up.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to keep players in the dark, but given how crucial the narrative is to the Control experience, making the player a larger part of how the storyline unfolds could have been better in my opinion.

As such I’d advise playing with the subtitles on to ensure you don’t miss a thing.

This is my gun, there aren’t many like it

Now let’s move onto the gameplay, which is a tad hit and miss. 

Like most games, Jesse’s powers and abilities are revealed the further she progresses into the bowels of the FBC, with enemies also getting progressively more numerous and difficult to defeat.

As for the powers themselves, there are really two main combat options – a gun or Jesse’s psychic abilities. The former is referred to as a Service Weapon, and while it looks like regular handgun for all intents and purposes, it is far from it.

The Service Weapon has the ability to transform into different ballistic form factors, and as Jesse describes it, “it’s alive”. Targeting and firing with this weapon is simple enough, with the Service Weapon not factoring in aspects like recoil or stability as you may find in a shooter game.

Some of the other interesting elements of the Service Weapon are the fact that it essentially has an infinite amount of ammo. There are certain things to worry about like the amount of ammo per clip depending on what the Service Weapon morphs into, as well as a cooldown period before a reload happens.

Force pushing… and throwing

The other type of fighting available to players is best described as something similar to the Star Wars: Force Unleashed games. To that end Jesse has a form of telekinesis that allows her to stun and damage enemies at close range, as well as pick up objects and debris to hurtle at targets further off. The latter is particularly satisfying, and never gets old.

One aspect we would have liked to see, is a better way to string together attacks, which would have certainly helped when taking on multiple enemies in a tight space. Added to my relatively short list of gameplay issues is the fact that there is very little elusiveness to fighting scenarios. To that end you can crouch behind objects for cover, but you cannot really peak around them to fire off shots from your Service Weapon for example.

As such it feels like there is a degree of fluidity that is missing for the fighting mechanics of Control, and it’s one areas where the developers really missed a trick.

A Visual Feast

Now that we’ve looked at Control’s gameplay, let’s talk about the visuals too.

Here Remedy have done a stellar job. I wasn’t able to explore the wonders of ray tracing, mainly as I didn’t play the game on PC, but regardless of this the environment that has been created is superb.

For your stock standard cement government building, the environment that Remedy brought to life is dripping with a menacing and foreboding aura. They’ve also done an expert job with light in the game, with it often setting the tone as to what happens in-game. Add to that the glorious way in which things explode, and it perfectly showcases the power that Jesse is able to wield.

Colour is also used effectively here, with the live-action cutscenes spliced in-between the action in often jarring and disturbing ways to match the state of Jesse as she uncovers more about the FBC and her connection to it.

Final verdict

Taking up to 15 hours, depending on your skill level to complete, Control feels very short. This especially given the vast narrative that Lake is trying to weave into the central gameplay. As such it feels like Control does not have a large enough canvas to support the ideas it aims to convey.

It’s a pity too, with so much to actually explore and dive deeper into for the game itself.

There’s also some interesting elements to the gameplay, which too shines and falls short in different ways. The telekinetic abilities that Jesse possesses are truly enjoyable to use while fighting, but the mechanics of melee encounters could use some refining.

Summing up then, Control serves up plenty of intriguing elements, but they are all fighting against a story and campaign that are simply far too short. Ultimately Control lacks that replay-ability to make it one of the more memorable titles in 2019 to date.


Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Editor of Hypertext. Covers smartphones, IoT, 5G, cloud computing and a few things in between. Also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games when not taking the hatchet to stories.