On Black Friday 2019 I purchased a PS4 and a stack of games. I had been playing almost entirely indie games for the past ten years with several exceptions: Blizzard games, a few Nintendo games, Tomb Raider, Mass Effect 3, and Fallout 4. Many modern AAA franchises never interested me, or lost my interest when I heard about how long, repetitive, and/or homogeneous they often were. Still, I knew I had missed some great games over the years, so my goal now is to play through some recent AAA games that interest me and to write about each of them. Assume there are spoilers and enjoy!
What makes Control stand out for me is its identity. So much of AAA gaming has always appeared, to me at least, to lack identity - games are often reboots, sequels, or remixes of an existing game or genre. While Control definitely gets inspiration from the 90s era of Twin Peaks and X-Files (and features some great stylized music from that time) it succeeds in creating its own unique world throughout. The game takes a risk on doing something new and it pays off big time, even if it’s not a radical step forward.
From the start the world of Control is defined by The Federal Bureau Of Control building. This building controls everything in the game - it is the protagonist and antagonist, the map and world you play in, the mystery and the guide, the plot and the themes. Remedy did an incredible job creating the FBC and filling it to the brim with character. Never in a big game have I been excited each and every time to read or watch whatever I could get my hands on. The amusing memos between coworkers, the fun descriptions of AWEs (altered world events) and AIs (altered items) to the cheesy/creepy live videos - it’s all there in all its flaws and glory. Even the mediocre entries feel purposefully average to add depth to the joke of working a boring office job at a corporate building between dimensions. Everything is somehow related to working in this building - which, again, is the entire world of the game. Even the introduction of each new area with MASSIVE block text is such a small but brilliant design decision. It’s the care and thought that went into the FBC that makes Control so great.
This obsession games have with killing X number of enemies or using an item/attack X number of times has got to stop. The ONLY truly bad parts of Control is this extra crap. The combat in Control is pretty good, but it is decidedly not the focus of the game. The combat is the method by which you traverse the world and story, it is inherently secondary to that, even if it is extremely cool. The strongest example of an overemphasis on combat is the godawful bureau alerts. Their spawn timing is either far too frequent or not frequent enough, their RNG will lead you to suddenly fail upon entering a room, and they’re often too hard and annoying. The side quests that focus around killing X people are all uninteresting and the randomized board countermeasures are totally pointless and poorly designed. While I’m not against the idea of extra combat stuff in Control, and I plan on checking out the free DLC they added to see if it’s any good, putting so much emphasis on combat related things just...doesn’t work and feels like a constant intrusion.
The quests that all add to the creepy/fun feeling of the game world are the best ones. Exploring the mold area kinda fails out of this category because it’s frustrating and its boss is annoying, but besides that - the mirror quest (fuck yes, Essej) and the quest to find escaped altered items adds to the depth of what is inside the FBC building. Special shoutout to that traffic light!!! I mean, come on, so simple, so brilliant - it was easily one of my favorite parts of the game.
Between those side quests and some of the main quests through areas like the Astray Maze, the Black Rock Quarry or the Oceanview Hotel, the quests do an incredible job of leading you through Control’s gorgeous and bizarre world.
The feeling of telekinetically vacuuming (fffffffWOOP) an object to you and blasting it towards an enemy is fantastic. The bumbling movements of someone who has just learned to fly are great. That absolutely gorgeous rock shield is a testament to the game’s graphical quality. Your service weapon (even with all its unnecessary upgrades) is a solid, well designed backup to your powers.
However, all the action is, ultimately, secondary to the character of the game - and that’s as it should be for Control. The plot of Control is pretty straight forward - you’re on a search to rescue your brother and along the way get sucked into an inter-dimensional war that ends up being rooted in the origin of that very search. What makes the writing so great is how much they commit to this plot and the world of the FBC. As I played the game I tore through Hiss in an intense mix of superhero telekinesis, flying, and gunplay. Throughout these battles my focus wasn’t on the action, it was on getting past my enemies to read the next inter-office memo or explore the next area.
Control commits FULLY to itself - every readable log, every character, every good quest, is tied directly to the FBC. Given how often AAA games tend to veer off course, I’ve realize just how defining a characteristic this is. Everything drew me deeper into the world and left me wanting more Control and made me so glad there are still big budget games out there willing to do their own thing. What a fuckin’ blast of a game.