Have you ever sat down and thought, “Hey! There aren’t enough games where you rescue your brother from an extra-dimensional skyscraper that’s haunted by household objects”? If so, Control might be the game for you.
The brainchild of Remedy, developers of Alan Wake, Control takes that game’s preoccupation with a protagonist beset by paranormal experiences and does a Spinal Tap with the volume dial. Want kaleidoscoping hallways? You got it. A corridor puzzle with recursive walls? Sorted. Sub-basement that’s basically the surface of the Moon? You’re covered.
Your avatar – Jesse – infiltrates the mysterious Federal Bureau of Control’s headquarters in search of her lost sibling. The game itself is a third-person actioner, with the bulk of it spent navigating TARDIS-proportioned offices, warehouse-sized power plants and storage facilities. Supernatural antics ensue as Jesse is immediately made Director of the bureau, discovers a shape-shifting gun and psychic powers, and is thrust into the guts of the place. Her task? Pretty much to work out what the hell is going on.
As you progress through the building’s open plan offices, you’ll start to encounter humanoid antagonists – called the HISS – who are agents of an extra-dimensional power. You battle these with your mutating pistol, which can take on different characteristics such as ranged fire, shotgun blasts and projectile launcher as the game progresses.
In addition, you have some spooky ESP shiz at your fingertips, and I was pleased to find that the limited psychic powers you’re gifted with at the start become exponentially more powerful and varied as you go on. Although the initial ‘push’ ability is good fun in and of itself, latter powers such as mind control and levitation give Control a much-needed boost just when back-and-forth navigation starts becoming a bit chore-some.
Control doesn’t really feature anything remarkable in its gameplay, and I’ve seen all the elements before. What I wasn’t prepared for was Remedy’s commitment to the bizarre atmosphere in the Bureau, and the arcane plot that drives your investigation. The way the pastel-hued and bland offices twist into unusual shapes; how ordinary objects are haunted and threatening; how reality suddenly feels plastic and malleable: everything feeds the mystery at its centre.
An easy touchstone for the writing would be The X-Files, but it really put me in mind of The Prisoner, Sapphire & Steel and John Wyndham’s Chocky. Strange for a US developer to dabble in the kind of sci-fi surrealism you associate with British authors, but there it is.
The game’s constant peculiarity isn’t nightmarish but can leave you on edge and a little woozy. I didn’t find it a troubling game as such, particularly as it’s not graphic or violent, but the ‘bad dream’ vibe can be a little disorientating. From an atmospheric perspective, it’s also worth mentioning that Control features the new RTX technology, on PC at least, which adds real-time ray tracing, reflections and volumetric lighting to every scene. If you have a powerful enough and modern enough PC to shift this graphical heft around, it adds a surprising amount to the experience.
Control stands out as the strangest major release of 2019. It actually has more in common, thematically, with experiential games like The Unfinished Swan and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture than – say – the Resident Evil 2 remake. If solid but slightly derivative gameplay mechanics stuffed into a unique, arresting and unsettling mini-verse sounds like your bag, check it out. One final caveat if you’re thinking about looking it up: for obvious reasons, Googling ‘Control’ is a right bugger!
Review Supplied by @Treble_Alpha