Control: Actual Paranormal Activity

What better way to start off the new year (and the new decade) then by writing a review for one of the best games of 2019? Introducing Control, developed by Remedy Entertainment, one of the more notable releases of last year. Control has been well-received by critics everywhere, receiving multiple nominations for coveted Game of the Year awards. I’ll admit I’ve been relatively under the radar regarding this game; I didn’t know it existed until I saw the nomination at the annual Game Awards show (TGA), so after hearing its nominations and the general positive feedback surrounding it I decided to give it a try. The premise is fairly simple; Jesse Faden (the character you play as) visits the building of the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) to try and find information about her past and her missing brother, but chaos ensues once she gets inside and now she has a ton of other things to deal with as well, including becoming the new director of the bureau and acquiring various powers.

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Jesse Faden: our telekinetic, redhead protagonist

Gameplay

Control’s gameplay is centered around two elements; the Service Weapon, which is Jesse’s main and only weapon, and Jesse’s telekinetic powers. The Service Weapon is a gun that can shape-shift into different firing modes to suit the situation, including a standard semi-automatic pistol, a shotgun, or even a charged blaster. Combining that with her powers is how you deal with the various enemies you encounter throughout the game, and as you unlock more abilities and upgrades, you can reach pretty absurd levels of power. To keep things challenging, the enemies in the game also acquire more abilities as you progress, and some of the late-game enemies are actually pretty tough if you get careless. To further enhance your combat abilities, you find various personal and weapon “mods” throughout the game that give you stat or skill bonuses. Mods are found dropped by enemies or can be crafted with materials, and weaker mods can also be scrapped for resources. The combat system is super fun because of all the different ways you can use your abilities to deal with threats, and the fights can get super hectic as Jesse is often very outnumbered in most combat scenarios to balance out her super powers. Despite that, I wouldn’t say the combat is super difficult, and most enemies can be easily taken out if you focus on one enemy at a time and take advantage of your powers as well as your surroundings. There were a few encounters in the game that I had to attempt more than once, but if you’re looking for a true gaming challenge you might be a tad disappointed.

The exploration side of the gameplay is somewhat Metroidvania-esque, and reminds me of Jedi: Fallen Order, having played it not too long ago. The areas you can initially explore are limited, but as the story progresses and you acquire more key items and abilities, you can return to previously unreachable areas and explore them. What this game does right that Fallen Order does not is that you can fast travel between checkpoints, or “control points” as defined by the game. This makes completing side quests much more enjoyable, as I don’t need to trek all over the map just because I decided to veer off the main storyline. I thought the side quests were generally really good, though there were definitely a few stinkers, including the various janitor-related quests where you clean mold. I despised those in particular because you’re supposed to destroy patches of mold, but they look similar to the rest of the environment so they’re difficult to distinguish and there are no markers/visual indicators telling you that those are the right targets to destroy.

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Yup, you can levitate in this game.

Writing

I thought Control’s writing was competent. The actual narrative/plot itself was serviceable, though in my opinion not particularly anything outstanding. The main storyline of Jesse trying to find out what happened to her brother sort of plays out how you would expect it to, with a few excellent twists that could’ve been so much stronger if it wasn’t for some deus ex machina bullshit that somehow makes everything flow the right way at the end of the day. Jesse herself is a likable protagonist who plays her part well, going from a confused, scared woman just trying to make sense of things into a confident individual who has embraced the role she was more or less forced into. I didn’t care as much about the other characters, however, and found most of them to be uninteresting except for the guy who manages the Panopticon and the janitor. The villain of the story, known as the “Hiss,” is a cool phenomenon and it is presented to you in a great way when you first see them/it, though they/it honestly didn’t really amount to anything more interesting besides being the enemies you have to fight.

Where Control’s writing excels, however, is in its world building. From the moment I entered the “Oldest House,” the building that houses the Federal Bureau of Control, I was fascinated by what happens in there and the amount of detail the developers put into creating it. The paranormal theme really comes into play as you progress through the building, and you can find various recordings and notes left by the workers that give more insight into the environment as well as what life would be like working for the FBC (before everything goes to hell at least). You learn about objects of power, altered items, things that alter our perception of reality, as well as how these items are handled by the workers. Even the way you explore the Oldest House also feels different, using paranormal methods of travel (in particular I liked the puzzles associated with the motel sequences). The better-designed side quests also flesh out more of the world, showing you more altered items/objects of power and how they change/interact with our “reality.” Overall, the atmosphere feels like a perfect blend of fascinating and creepy at the same time, and I had a blast exploring everything the game has to offer.

Ending Thoughts

Aside from a few poorly-designed side quests, I honestly do not have many negative things to say about this game. The gameplay, while not super difficult, is fun and it feels very satisfying to be a telekinetic superhuman that can throw desks at enemies or levitate through the air. The story is passable and the world building is excellent, and on top of that the game looks very aesthetically pleasing, perfectly fitting its paranormal theme. If you’re looking to play through some of the best that 2019 had to offer, Control should definitely be an option to consider.

Rating: I think this game’s excellent, and deserves its retail price tag, if one is okay with it currently being an Epic Games Store exclusive.

Software engineer and gaming enthusiast, writing reviews to share quality media; check out my personal site at www.edmondwu.dev

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