Not having had the luxury of being able to afford multiple consoles at the same time, I’ve always tended more toward PlayStation consoles than Xbox machines. That’s mostly because I love JRPGs, and am not a huge FPS shooter or PvP player. So it means I missed out on some of the more notable exclusives and developers on Microsoft’s platform, like Remedy, responsible for the unique, Stephen King-esque Alan Wake game.
Well, now I’ve finally played Control and understand what I’ve been missing this whole time.
Lovecraft Works For The M.I.B.
Jesse Faden is a woman with a lot of trauma in her past. She and her brother were caught up in a paranormal catastrophe that led to her brother going missing and Jesse herself drifting from one job to the next for years. Finally, she gets wind that her brother may be in New York, at a government agency known as the Bureau of Control. She somehow enters the building while it’s in the midst of a lockdown and what follows is not what she expected at all.
The Bureau is what might have happened if Fox Mulder had been allowed the budget to run his own government agency. It’s an official organization created to deal with the paranormal and then hush it up from normal people, encouraging them to embrace Internet conspiracy, or debunked theories. Or, conversely, if H.P. Lovecraft had been taken seriously and asked to put together a government run branch to navigate a world in which Elder Gods exist, and Cthulhoid artifacts fall into unsuspecting hands, then this is what that agency might have turned out like.
It’s a super intriguing premise for anyone with a love for cosmic horror and paranormal mysteries. But of course, this is a game, and it could all have fallen apart if it wasn’t fun to play.
Narrative Collides With Shooty-Shooty
However, narrative is only part of a video game. The game itself is usually the main event for people that play, and in that respect, Control manages to deliver. The best way to describe the gameplay is a psychic third person shooter. You’ve still got guns, ammo, reloading, and running around shooting at… things.
But on top of the gunplay, you’re also grabbing chairs, tables and potted plants, telekinetically hurling them at opponents in between reloads. You’re leaping off the ground and levitating in the air as you shoot people below you. And then on top of that, there’s an exploration component as you wander the halls of a vast and not dimensionally compliant office building with a disturbing history and some a wide variety of government employees who are trying to survive by maintaining bureaucracy, doing advanced meta-physical research, or just blowing holes in things with pseudo-psychic firearms and ammunition.
Throughout all of this, you’re constantly drip fed hints, text, audio and video logs that flesh out just how well developed this world and its conceit is. This is a deeply weird setting that’s been given a lot of thought, and it provokes the imagination with all the tantalizing hints of other cases and adventures this agency has gotten into.
This is one of those rare games that manages to balance a huge amount of world building with just the right amount of teasing, rather than giant blocks of exposition. And then it takes that world and wraps it up in tight responsive shooting mechanics, and coated with some pretty robust psychic powers. I took a while to get around to playing this game, so by the time I did, it was the better performing, more stable, all-bugs-patched-out PS5 version, and it was a solid technical experience as well.
If you want a shooter that controls well, is unusual in setting and mechanics, and has a massive air of mystery about it that draws you further into its twisted world, Control is a game I easily recommend. Not having ever owned a Microsoft console, I never got a chance to play Remedy’s other games, but Control is an excellent introduction to the studio.