“This is going to be weirder than usual,” says the lead character of Control, the latest offering by Remedy Entertainment. And she’s not wrong.
The Finnish company has constantly centred weird story and dark plots in its third-person action games and CONTROL is no different. Or rather, it is, but… Look, this is, as the leader character says, a weird one. It’s a game about fridges that you can’t look away from or they’ll consume you; floating corporate workers chanting the same mysterious mantras — sometimes in unison, sometimes not; a Board of Directors that is at once an upside down pyramid hanging in an infinite void of eternal white and your touchy employer.
CONTROL sees you in the shoes of Jessie Faden, a woman who took her wardrobe from the Jessica Jones’ line of clothing. She arrives at the mysterious Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) to find answers about her brother. To say more would ruin the experience of the game, which takes place entirely in Every Big Corporate Building you’ve been in.
This is a game that wants to explain every weird and creepy event that has ever occurred in human history within its made-up science. It also wants to provide a shady Government conspiracy story, but flipped: See, Jessie soon takes charge of the very organisation that’s been hunting her. Why? How? Well, see, that’s part of the weirdness. Part of what you need to experience.
Lights, Camera, Action
The game is surprisingly filled with action, as Jessie takes on possessed enemy soldiers: from the average cannon fodder to larger bruters. But aside from standard military types, be prepared for floating psychic enemies who have bags over their heads, divebombing demons, and faceless wizard types who rip the ground to create protective shields.
The signature item in the game is the so-called Service Weapon, a gun that changes shape according to Jessie’s will and elements she collects throughout the game. It beautifully pulses and beats, even when Jessie is idle. Upgrading it is essential to survival and it packs an incredible punch – it’s one of the most satisfying guns I’ve used.
But this is also a superhero origin story, alongside a creepy corporate ghost story. Jessie gradually unlocks a series of incredible powers to take on the menacing enemies. By the end of the game, you’ll feel like an Omega-Level X-Men character, godlike in her destruction and her abilities. But don’t worry: this is one of the toughest games, despite Jessie’s incredible powers.
Remedy’s games’ combat has always been excellent, which is unusual for a team that has always focused so much on story. While combat is secondary to me, I was often in genuine awe at the outcome of battles. The incredible physics and stunning graphics made it feel raw and alive, it forces you through trial and tribulation to learn your powers correctly.
There’s no cover system, but that seems to be a deliberate choice given your godlike powers. Like From Software’s Bloodborne, the absence of a previous combat mechanic (shields in that case) forces players to engage in a particular way. Also like Bloodborne, enemies respawn – or rather, they often do. But, as I said, given how good the combat feels, you won’t be frustrated. They’re furious puzzles you solve with bullets and chunks of wall.
Boss battles can, however, be very frustrating, sometimes to the point of unfairness, coupled with poorly placed waypoints and long load times (on PS4). Thankfully a lot of the more difficult battles are optional sidequests. One boss battle — a ship’s anchor that creates clocks (I’m not joking) — was so difficult to defeat I had not beaten it by the time of this review: The waypoint involves circling through a combat zone, Jessie repeating the same line of dialogue and dying because of some simple navigational issues. It’s a trial that was not worth the effort, which is saddening in a game that is more often fulfilling and incredible in its performance.
Also the map is the most useless one I’ve ever used: It indicates several floors in the section you’re in, without telling you which floor you’re on. Thank goodness the game has Fast Travel.
Heroes and villains and others
Jessie herself perfectly fits the Remedy protagonist: eloquent, damaged and personal, with a weird sense of humour. Courtney Hope, who was perhaps the best performer in in Quantum Break, is superb as the cold, detached but determined Jessie.
She is an expert combat specialist and, as I said, superhero. The game doesn’t explain why she’s so talented, but thankfully there’s no reason it has to. (No doubt there’s going to be someone whining about Mary Sues and whatnot, but what a boring conversation.) It’s also wonderful Remedy have broken their chain of having a protagonist who’s a white guy (Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Jack Joyce from Quantum Break). In terms of gameplay, the character is responsive and a joy to play as. I hardly even had issues with the camera, but did often experience slow-downs due to the volume of action on screen. I also experienced textures taking ages to load very, very frequently on my standard PS4.
Speaking of past Remedy performers, it was wonderful to hear the velvet voiced James McCaffrey (the voice of Max Payne) make an appearance as a major character, with all his whiskey soaked pathos. And it was a surprise to see Matthew Porretta, the voice of Alan Wake, make a live action appearance as a boastful scientist you see throughout the game.
All the characters are excellent performed, save for the mysterious janitor Ahti. I highly, highly recommend turning on subtitles when you know there’s a scene with him: I’m not sure if it was deliberate, but his lines are completely incomprehensible – and even when you read them, they don’t make much sense. It does add to his weirdness, yes, but he seems so important and the lines could’ve been clearer.
Story and stories
You may have noticed, I’ve explained very little about the story. I really feel like I can’t: I can’t tell you who the villain is, can’t tell you why Jessie gets powers, and so on. You are really better off not reading anything prior. I’d rather tell you about the smaller stories: There are several side-missions requiring you to capture what amount to magic items and “cleanse” them of possession.
One of these was a traffic light.
Look, just go with it…
As you approach, you can hear it going through its motions, making a noise each time it switched colours: Green, Yellow, Red. When the light is red, and you enter its domain, you are thrown out the room. OK, I think, I’ll wait for green. So I did and run toward it, but then as soon as the light changed to red, I was back out. Damn! So I figure, maybe I need to hide from it? I run toward it when the light goes green and hide. Then I moved in the shadows and it tossed me out.
What was happening?
Then it hit me: Green means go, red means stop. So you can move when it’s green but must stop when the light is red. You eventually get within grabbing distance and capture your prize.
There are so many of these stories: Mirrors, anchors, letters and so on. Remedy managed to make every day items haunted, justifying it with pseudoscience and having Jessie act as master exorcist. It’s the most ridiculous fun and so, so weird.
Environmental storytelling also does wonders: I came across an office covered in yellow post-its, just stuck everywhere: the ceiling, floors, desks, computers, etc. You find a note indicating the officer had to leave because the post-its kept duplicating for no reason.
I love the dark comedy in this: I can see a whole show like The Office meets Welcome to Night Vale, where ordinary board office workers have to navigate irritating supernatural weird events: Oh my post-it notes are duplicating, Oh my office is now in another dimension and upside down, Oh the boss is possessed and floating against the ceiling, Oh the pen keeps writing my colleague’s thoughts whenever they’re upset with me, etc. Notes left behind convey a bunch of these scenarios, where bored office workers are more interested in getting to their lunch than the terror of endless clocks drowning entire wings.
In keeping with the creepy themes, be on the lookout for TV’s: You’ll experience tiny videos that seem straight out of the Dharma Initiative from Lost and a creepy kid’s show, which is something out of Channel Zero.
Remedy has crafted an excellent third-person action adventure, that is just so much more. There are puzzles, exploration, crafting, creepiness; there’s a section where Jessie gets to put on headphones and listen to hardcore rock while kicking ass; the visuals are breath-taking – the animators in particular did a superb job – the sound design incredible.
To put it bluntly, I love this game. I want to live in this creepy, messed up world that Remedy has created: It’s fascinating, weird, hilarious, and so dark. It has no right to be such an excellent action game with such a bizarrely satisfying story, especially as it’s one that never provides any or even easy answers.