Control Reviews

AuthorReview
NoHeroes94
506,343 (340,715)
NoHeroes94
TA Score for this game: 1,438
Posted on 04 September 19 at 09:56, Edited on 08 September 19 at 13:56
This review has 22 positive votes and 1 negative vote. Please log in to vote.
Developer – Remedy Entertainment
Publisher – 505 Games
Reviewed on – Xbox One X
Play Time - 30 Hours
Introduction
Welcome to my review of Control. This is my first review, so feedback is encouraged as long as it’s constructive. This is quite a detailed review where I break the game down into categories, provide a commentary of each section, and tie it together at the end. All gamers prioritize different things when considering their next game, and I believe reviews should try to sufficiently cover as many of these areas as possible. The final review score is an aggregate of section scores.

Narrative & Content
Control takes place exclusively within the “The Oldest House”, the facility of the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) who are secret government agency tasked with investigating paranormal Altered World Events. The game follows protagonist Jesse Faden, the newly appointed Director of the FBC, as she uncovers the truth behind life-changing events in her home-town of Ordinary, all whilst guided by an omniscient supernatural force. Throughout the story, Jesse becomes more and more powerful by acquiring new paranormal abilities, as well as becoming increasingly ambivalent towards the FBC.

For the most part, I found that the main narrative was engaging and well-delivered. The missions in themselves aren’t overly unique in their structure, but Jesse’s juxtaposed perspective provides a very interesting narrative constant that is empathetic and unreliable in equal measure. The thematic concepts and pacing of the game are astutely crafted and well-delivered, doing a good job at developing Jesse’s character amidst an array of varied (if somewhat underdeveloped) supporting characters. The game suffers from a noticeable mid-game lull in terms of narrative, but this is somewhat compensated for with increasingly complex gameplay and world-design (more on that later). More negatively, the conclusion of the game is anti-climactic. I was expecting more.

As was the case with Remedy’s previous game Quantum Break, Control’s background lore is very well supported with its collectibles. I wish more games put as much thought into collectibles, with the multi-media pickups being a pseudo-replacement of Quantum Break’s intermission real-life episodes. Control also offers an array of side-missions that offer more world-building and extra abilities. Fetch quests do exist, but do not dominate the side-mission offering, and for the most part provide unique, fun battle opportunities and contextual depth to the narrative. Bureau Alerts also provide a fresh injection of action every now and then, with timed segments where you need to get to a certain area and complete an objective for bonuses. If any readers played God of War on PlayStation 4, Control’s side-content is similar.

The story is strange, refined, and unique. However, the game isn’t pretentious or overly ambivalent in its weirdness, and although ambiguous to a fault in its opening scenes, Control doesn’t abuse ambiguity to create false mystique. Instead, Remedy has created an avant-garde narrative dripping in mystery.

Section Score: 4/5

World Design
The main allure in exploring the Oldest House is that its design emphases quality and depth over quantity. The game isn’t overly large, but makes each of the Oldest House’s 4 different sectors (Executive, Maintenance, Research, and Containment) unique with its own design aesthetic, unique layouts, and sub-areas soft-locked behind ability progression similar to that of a Metroidvania Some may consider certain aspects of the world design a little bit similar, but as the environment is centred on the same facility I think the game does a remarkable job at keeping thematic continuity whilst also bringing variety.

Although you get to all sectors by the mid-point of the game, Control continuously re-invents the Oldest House through the limitations of your acquirable abilities and often requires you to return to sectors only to access new, diversified sub-areas based on abilities you didn’t have access to on your last visit. What I liked was that (bar one instance in the main story), it doesn’t rely on “the princess is in another castle” cliché as the foundation to this exploration, but instead ties it to the narrative. As such, Control manages to naturally create a lot of Eureka moments where you return to an area from 3 main missions ago from a totally new perspective or arrive back at the starting area after finding a Dark Souls-Esque shortcut route (this won't be the first time you'll see this comparison, Control actually has quite a lot of elements not dissimilar to FromSoftware games without being so stringent in its player expectations).

There are caveats to the world design, although all are very minor nitpicks I won't use to score down in this area. Firstly, I think that the “Astral Plane”, an autonomous tutorial area shares none of the above strengths and is a repetitive area. It somewhat works and is narratively contextualized, but I would have rather ability tutorials be contextualized within the actual Oldest House environment. I also think that the game’s opening area, the Executive Sector, is by far the weakest. Remedy could have done a better job in my opinion of creating a more interesting opening environment.

Section Score: 5/5

Gameplay
Although the game is in part a shooter, Control’s gameplay is defined by its abilities. There are various abilities available, most coming through story progression, and others through side-content (as a tip, I recommend you do the side-missions “A Good Defense”, “A Merry Chase”, and “A Captive Audience” early as these 3 abilities are practically essential). You can throw things, you shield yourself, you can capture weak enemies, and you can even float in the air for extended periods of time.

Through its abilities, Remedy make each battle area a playground. The further you go, the more options you have in disposing of your enemies through your abilities, to the point where your weapon actually becomes a secondary tool in certain instances. This is refreshing in the modern action-adventure market, where cliché abilities take a back-seat to bog-standard weapon types. Jesse’s abilities also keep combat fresh, as most enemy types have more than one way of defeating them (although some require extremely specific steps to beat which can get repetitive). Abilities prioritize movement both in and out of combat, supporting the Metroidvania design of the game when traversing the Oldest House and navigating most combat arenas.

Control’s gunplay is comparatively weaker but does a good job in supporting ability functionality. Jesse only has a single weapon (called the “service” weapon) at her disposal through the entire game; however, the weapon has various “forms” that imitate more conventional weapon types (Shatter = Shotgun, Pierce = Magnum Revolver, Spin = SMG, etc.) Like abilities, different weapon types have different benefits, making combat varied and fun. Weapon forms are customizable with weapon mod perks that provide benefits such as reload speed, heightened damage when low on health, etc., but could have been a bit more creative.

There are plenty of standard enemy types in the game to support the nuanced combat system and variety of options aforementioned. However, most impressive were the boss fights which elevated parts of this game, especially the side-content bosses. Most are tough and can have some cheap final phases, but provide more extensive tests of your skills than the main-story offers. Each boss encounter is tense and well-sustained experience that tries to push your command of Jesse's abilities. I was especially happy to see this, as I thought the end-boss in Quantum Break was one of the worst boss encounters I’ve ever played. I did find the bosses were quite formulaic (most had three phases, with the third being by far the hardest), and the one at the end of Self-Reflection side-quest was pretty cheap.

The gameplay does suffer a reasonable set back through Control’s checkpoint system. It functions in a similar manner to Souls games, where players “cleanse” control points. Through these control points can also upgrade abilities, enhance weapons forms, create mods, etc. All of this is fine but becomes difficult as a replacement checkpoint system. If you die in Control, you return to the most recently cleansed/visited control point, which quite often pretty far back. As Control isn’t Dark Souls, your progress through a puzzle or an area carries over, but Jesse’s starting point does not. As such, you will enter a familiar cycle on difficult bosses or enemy waves (of which there are several) – you die, you return to a control point a fair way back, and you run for a minute through now empty corridors just to get back to the same encounter. This gets boring, very quickly, and seems pointless (especially within main missions). I would have preferred a standard checkpoint system or failing that committal to an easier version of Dark Souls’ area respawn mechanic.

Section Score: 4/5

Visual & Sound Design
Control is a gorgeous looking game that uses its visual design to support the acute style of the game’s narrative and premise. The game’s environment looks is alluring, but also possesses an intangible Orwellian vibe of clinical oppression in each of its 4 sectors. Destruction physics are intensely satisfying, and its UI is minimalist serving its purpose, looking pretty and informing you of what you need to know without dominating the screen. Character models look great for the most part, although there is a visible lack of facial animations, where mouth movements are quite stilted.

My main takeaway from Control’s design is its use of cinematic effects. It’s fundamentally committed to its very bold, unique aesthetic with dynamic contrast between red-hue glares, monochromatic minimalism, and clinical architecture making Oldest House feel like a very unique place. The game continues this through weird subtle cinematic mannerisms – Wes Anderson-Esque area introductions in overly dominating text, a retreated field of view, and artistic cut-aways to swirls of beautiful red ink or alternate camera shots of Jesse’s eye movements to punctuate salient points within its many conversation scenes.

On paper, Control’s cinematography may seem pretentious or overly artsy, but in practice, it supports the game’s atmosphere and creates a wonderful visual experience. Supporting its visual strengths, Control’s noticeable absence of music aside from industrial ambiance (and a Finnish janitor’s banging tunes) compliments the artistry of its visual design. This side of the review is probably going to be quite divisive, but for me is a selling point of Control.

Section Score: 5/5

Performance and Bugs
Unfortunately, we end on Control’s biggest (although fixable) issue. Naturally, I can only comment on performance issues around the time of launch; however, at the time of writing (1 week after release), Control’s technical performance on Xbox One X is pretty poor. I’m not usually a massive proponent of ultra-high performance on consoles, and can usually ignore minor performance problems. However, considering how well polished the majority of the game is otherwise, Control’s performance problems are incredibly frustrating. Remedy has acknowledged the issues, but have not committed to any sort of time-frame in rectifying these issues.

Within game-play performance isn’t terrible – there are infrequent frame-rate drops, delays in environmental spawns, in-game detail blurring, and a couple of minor screen tears. Personally, I never found any of these performance issues to ruin or compromise my experience.

Nevertheless, significant performance issues do persist. Whenever I paused the game, I experienced 3 – 4 seconds of abysmal frame rate (practically freezes) whilst the game still runs in real-time. If you pause during an enemy encounter, this presents significant issues as it renders you powerless whilst enemies attack you. I often died before the frame-rate resettled (5 – 10 occasions), which is utterly ridiculous. This wasn’t a one-off either, it happened every single time I paused over 30 hours of play-time. Weirdly, I fewer issues when unofficially “pausing” through the in-game weapons/missions/collectibles menu.

Another area of baffling performance is the map. In of itself, the in-game map is incredibly useful and I would like more games to implement an overlay map as opposed to a map within a pause menu. However, within Control there is a 50/50 chance the map will work. When it doesn’t every area is blacked out. With my 30 hours with the game, I couldn’t consistently find a reason or fix. As this game is a Metroidvania at heart, the map is pretty important so this is a significant problem.

Update 05/09/19 - I have 2 post-review updates on performance which I've put in Spoiler tags to keep the review tidy. They don't affect the below score in any way, but to keep readers updated as I would have included them if I knew at the time of publication.

*** Spoiler - click to reveal ***


Section Score: 2/5

Achievement Review
This section will not reflect on the review score in any way, just to inform achievement hunters. Overall, Control is a very straightforward completion, and is mainly related to content completion. Nothing is missable, as there is post-game free roam. However, I would recommend doing any achievements related to combat, kills, or upgrades before Mission 9 as enemy spawn rates decrease dramatically once the story is completed. There is a buggy achievement called "Non-Standard Issue", although there is a workaround.

The completion can be broken down as follows:
- 13 achievements are earned automatically for completing all story missions and getting mandatory abilities.
- 11 achievements are related to side missions, either for X number of completed side-missions, killing a side-boss, or earning a side-mission ability. To avoid "Non-Standard Issue" glitching, do not start the side missions "Fridge Duty", "Mr. Tommasi", "The Enemy Within", "Old Growth" or "Self-Reflection" before upgrading a Weapon Form to Level 2 (see Non-Standard Issue Bugged).
- 3 achievements are related to collectibles Don't worry about this, the game holds your hand with collectibles and you don't need a guide. You are rewarded with many automatic collectibles throughout the main/side content. To speed up the process, search areas you encounter during the main story/side missions and collect any collectibles you see (red files, audio recorders, TV's, etc.) You should get all 3 well before the end of the game.
- 3 achievements are related to cleaning Control Points. These are practically unmissable, as all are in the direct path of main/side mission objectives.
- 6 achievements are related to abilities and upgrades. You earn most ability points from completing main/side missions, but not quite enough. For the rest you'll need to mop-up by finding around half of the game's Hidden Areas. Personal mods become automatic when getting 100% ability upgrades. For weapon upgrades, see above note on "Non-Standard Issue", which is the buggiest achievement in the game.
-2 achievements are related to Bureau Countermeasures. These are kill-related tracking objectives you activate through Control Points, and are mostly easy. You can work on 3 at a time, and must cash them in at a Control Point before accepting others. You need to do 25 in total. You can re-complete ones you've already done, they count.
-2 achievements are related to Bureau Alerts. These are random timed missions that appear as you play the game (after Mission 3). The appear over and over, and are generally tougher than most of the content. You only need to keep 5, I failed every other and had this done around mid-game.
-6 achievements are Kill Related. These are easy misc. achievements relating to kills with certain abilities, killing 1000 enemies, and collecting 100000 source (in-game currency). Nothing to stress about here.

Summary
Control is an aggressively ambitious game that delivers a gripping narrative, an engaging world, and well-designed ability system that ensured the game did not overstay its welcome in the 25 – 30 hours it took me to complete it. Performance issues, a noticeable mid-game narrative stall, and a weak checkpoint system limits the game from being a true GOTY contender, but overall Control is a very decent action-adventure title that largely fulfils its potential.
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