Control: review

If you think your first day at work felt strange and unfamiliar, you ain’t got nothin’ on Jesse Faden. Arriving at a building that initially appears deserted, she’s instantly promoted from Janitor’s Assistant to Boss Of Literally Everything when she discovers the corpse of the Director, and takes the gun that he killed himself with (which would of course be the natural reaction of us all). A few hours later, she’s already killed hordes of possessed employees, and has acquired the ability to throw chunks of scenery around with her mind. We can only assume that the Health and Safety officer was one of the first to fall.

Her new employer is the Federal Bureau of Control. Think of the place Mulder and Scully would go to get their photocopying done, or where the super-secret US government department of Stranger Things has its toilets, and you’re thinking along the right lines. Except that this building – known to those who work there as The Oldest House – defies the laws of time and space. In gameplay terms, this means that the environment warps and shifts, and leads to unexpected places… sort of.

While the hype seemed to promise an environment that would mould itself into all sorts of unpredictable twists and turns as you play, what this generally translates to is walls and passageways unfolding to open up a new route once you’ve killed all enemies in an area, and claimed a new Control Point. You’ll then (usually) wander along very ordinary corridors and offices until the next one.

That’s not to say that the environments are bog standard. Far from it. Even the prosaic areas are very well designed, and there are some enormously inventive areas and sequences. We’ve no desire to explain (and therefore ruin) the Oceanview Motel or the Ashtray Maze for you, for example; but the rarity and brevity of such delights only serve to highlight the many hours of overly familiar gameplay.

In a somewhat lazy move, the mysterious janitor’s Finnish nationality is heavily emphasised for a sense of “otherness” rather than in the name of exploring his personality or culture.

Trading in so-called “New Weird”, it’s not just the environments that defy convention. Jesse does, too. The gun that she nicks from her predecessor, for example, is a shapeshifting one. Each form must be unlocked, upgraded, and modded. Jesse herself can also be upgraded, including with psychic powers unlocked both through the story and through optional side quests. Things certainly pick up once you have telekinesis, and again when you’re gifted the power of levitation.

The enemies… are derivative and boring, and contribute greatly to the tiresome nature of combat. Most of them look and act like enemies in a hundred other games, just with glowy orange bits. There’s The Grunt, The One With Explosives, The Tank With A Minigun, The Sniper, The One That Rushes Toward You Then Explodes, The Bullet Sponge Miniboss… zzzzzz. Despite the fact that there are rare exceptions to this rule, fights very quickly become nothing more than an irritating roadblock to progress, and some of them go on for far too long (especially in the final leg of the game).

And yet. Yet yet yet yet. Control’s story is a gripping one – though truth be told, the telling is far stronger than the tale. The cornerstone is the masterful integration of live action footage, which never threatens to appear out of place. When Jesse discovers a new area, silhouettes of the previous Director dominate the display, as he talks to her in broken speech. There are also on occasion brief, artfully shot supercuts of Jesse to illustrate her inner turmoil.

Jesse is the only one doing any real work, with most other employees just hanging around.

Moreover, there are many videos to be found throughout the FBC – including a handful featuring freaky puppets – which help flesh out the story of previous events, and the people involved in them. Indeed, the attention to detail in this game is wonderful. Not only are there videos to watch, documents to find and read, and audio recordings to listen to, there are all sorts of easily-missed details (mainly in the office areas) to be found when you have a chance to stop and closely examine your surroundings. This is a world created with love, and it shows.

From the first few moments up until when the credits roll, and further still when you go back for side content, the atmosphere is thick and crafted by experts. Outside of combat, an otherworldly susurrus follows you around everywhere you go. During the story, Jesse intermittently questions her perception of the situation, meaning you have to as well. Later, if you engage in optional conversations with a certain character, possibilities and half-truths are peppered in amongst mostly nonsensical dialogue, leaving questions lingering in your mind long after everything has supposedly been resolved. Also – although we imagine this probably wasn’t intentional – the uncanny valley faces, which often seem out of place on the character models (think LA Noire, but less pronounced), lend things another layer of oddness.

It’s a little buggy (we had to reload a few checkpoints), there are a few pacing issues (primarily a head-scratcher of a puzzle that belongs in an entirely different game), combat just gets in the way of everything else, and we’re really not sold on the wisdom of including loot-shooter style drops and customisation. Nonetheless, it’s fair to say that, overall, Control offers an experience unlike anything you’ve played before. If you want an enjoyable interactive New Weird story, you’ve come to the right place. OR HAVE YOU???

Yes. Yes, you have.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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