Control had been on my list for quite some time and finally I played it. I had zero context: I never played any game from Remedy, didn't know what SCP Foundation was and didn't see even a minute of Alan Wake's gameplay. I even managed to avoid all spoilers about Control, that's what I'm really proud of. Good job, me!
Spoiler Warning - there will be no story spoilers. In this post I just want to discuss what Control does well (or not so well) in my opinion, and what parts of the game left a lasing impression on me.
In Control you'll spend 60% of your time throwing various objects at your enemies. At first, it would seem that you need to learn how to aim with your gun but no; as soon as you get telekinesis, you gun will be your secondary weapon either for fun or for finishing off your enemies while your Energy charges back up. While in combat, you will be constantly throwing chairs, tables, fire extinguishers, pulling loose parts of the walls and bending reinforcement bars. It's a lot of fun, and it feels awesome because Remedy took care of the process and removed every single hurdle. You can aim and pick up an object of your choice but you don't have to. Something will always fly into your hand, even if you're not aiming and not looking; even if there are no suitable objects, Jesse will just yank a chunk of the wall or the floor, and that's amazing. If I had to aim every single time while in combat, the game would be unbearable; in a tense fight with a bunch of enemies you have much more important things to do than pondering whether you want to pick up a table or a chair will suffice. I think, this mechanic was (rightfully) at the center of Remedy's attention when developing the combat system. You don't need to be a genius to know that as soon as you give the player the power to lift any object and THROW IT, their mind will immediately go blank on the fact that they have a gun available at all times.
Telekinesis has awesome audio design, this bouncy whistle as the object cuts through the air, almost too high-pitched. It also has a very nice visual effect, when the item gets closer to you at a scary speed but then kind of rebounds from you as if it met a magnet of the same polarity in your hand. Then it just floats near you - not idly, but visibly keeping the impulse within, ready to dart wherever you send it. You can walk around with lifted items, the physics allow it. Moreover, telekinesis being in use creates a magnetic field around Jesse and makes small non-targetable items like coffee cups, notebooks and pens levitate as you get closer. Looks very cool.
Control was my first title that I completed with full RTX setup. The game looks awesome, light and reflections are 11/10. In some places the textures are a little grainy but I was looking for it so it almost doesn't count. The character models are great and they have good lip sync, but the eyelashes! The eyelashes! :D For some reason, all women have super long eyelashes that look kind of unnatural in a funny way. I wonder if it was an artistic decision or some kind of compromise with hairworks.
The one thing that did not bring me any joy was the dark corners. In this game the light can be blinding, and the darkness is just pitch black. It's just black. I played around with the settings, with dynamic contrast, but all was in vain. Dark corners in Control are just the embodiment of abyss, you can't see jack in there. I read somewhere that it was an artistic choice, you're supposed to find something to shine the light into those corners because there can be secrets. Mmmeh, I'd better go throw a couch at someone.
Control has an astonishing number of documents: endless case files, correspondence, research materials, audio recordings,
stupid Threshold Kids cartoon - dozens upon dozens of items. Yes, they are short but you are gathering them all the time. It makes the onboarding process quite difficult: you've just started the game, can't really say what's happening yet, where you are, what your objective is, what kind of setting you've been thrown into - and suddenly you get showered with a whole bunch of notes that do not seem to be related to one another. I think, this is the main issue with the whole concept of worldbuilding through notes in Control: the balance between overwhelming the player and providing them with enough information is hard to strike. At the start you get one document from almost every possible thread of narrative and they all have too little in common for you to remember or become really interested. Yes, later you'll find their respective continuations and connect the little threads but when you start, it's just a bunch of unrelated notes mostly talking about crazy stuff or stuff you can't understand yet. It created kind of buzzing anxiety in the back of my mind, like "I don't understand what's happening but I probably need to remember all of this".
I read that Remedy wanted to leave all notes for players to explore at their own pace. You don't have to read every single thing immediately when you picked it up (which is true, otherwise you'll never move along the questline), just collect things and then read them whenever you like. I think, this cannot be entirely true - in most cases the document is relevant to the place where you found it. Even more that that, sometimes you can reconstruct the full picture of the events only if you're reading the document where you found it, and in the context of all the other notes you discovered in that same place. I usually collected about 4-5 notes and then read them all at once.
At the beginning, while you're not yet sold on the whole idea of the Federal Bureau of Control, all these documents piling up from all directions might come across as really annoying and unnecessary (in this quantity anyway). But when you get sucked in by the story, you anticipate every single piece of correspondence, every single case file like a revelation because they stop being random and become hugely relevant.
Apart from things you can read or listen to, there are also video presentations that you can watch. They are superbly done, Matthew Porretta is absolutely incredible as Dr. Darling. I found myself just glued to the screen every single time he made an appearance. Control has an awesome cast in general, many actors played parts in previous Remedy games, so if you're a fan you'll find many familiar faces and hear many familiar voices.
The concept of "place as a character" is not exactly new but it's one of the harder ones to pull off in the narrative. In Control, "the Oldest House as a character" was one of the more interesting themes to explore for me.
You'll spend the whole game in a place called the Oldest House. The House is the HQ of the FBC bureaucratic goliath, and at the same time it's an ancient sentient anomaly that the people who work for the Bureau have to co-exist with every single day. This bizarre symbiosis is probably the most interesting part of Control's story. Endless rows of offices and standard open spaces that you've seen hundreds of times and probably even worked in one, they almost make you too bored. But then you hear stories about Building Shifts where whole departments unexpectedly shifted up or down, or gods know where never to be found again. With the employees. Less stable parts of the House are closed, employees transferred to somewhere where their chance to go for a cup of coffee and return in one piece would hopefully be higher. It's an incredible story of how people work with the supernatural, with the wildest anomalies following strict bureaucratic protocols they've created - while sitting in the heart of the biggest anomaly ever discovered; the anomaly they can neither control, nor categorize. All the formalities of the FBC exist inside the chaotic frame of the Oldest House. This antithesis was so fascinating to me, and funny at the same time. Can you really talk about any sort of "control" when a whole floor with all the people on it can just zipzap in any direction?
Since the nature of the Oldest House is unclear and its behavior is so unpredictable it can only be documented post factum, you're always in the middle between comfort and discomfort, and the pendulum swings - sometimes very heavily - to either side. The Oldest House is a place where people have been working for decades. There are maps, documentation, water coolers, coffee machines, miscellaneous little things on the office desks. It's cozy, and it's safe. At the same time, the Oldest House is full of places that you can't explain; it's tied to the Astral Plane and the mysterious Board that oversees the Bureau's work together with its human Director. Building Shifts happen where rooms can get warped or moved someplace else, with no prior warning. Is this House safe? Well, it's not like you or other Bureau people have any choice. The Oldest House has always been the HQ of the FBC, and you're going to live with that.
As you play the game, you quickly become accustomed to the works of the Bureau, and the House becomes a welcoming comfortable place that sometimes can throw a tantrum, but it's alright, you can handle it. Very soon you start treating it like seasoned Bureau employees. A room got warped, a perspective got broken, items started duplicating, well, what can you do. It's part of the job. It's just the House, it is how it is. And this feeling of.... kinship, almost, this precious attachment to the Oldest House that you treat not as just "a favorite area" but as a character that you're truly fond of, is probably the most unusual and curious aspect of Control for me. The Oldest House is still scary. But you return to it like it's home.
Shetani's always talking about pacing, you know. Control has a decent pacing almost all the time: the game starts in a very linear fashion, you have access to a couple of sectors and a single storyline. Then you get optional quests, new floors open up so you get the ability to choose what you want to do next. Well, there is one short window where EVERY SINGLE NPC suddenly thinks it's their holy duty to give you a new questline, and your journal becomes choke full of quest in less than an hour. Oops, that was awkward.
Control blooms beautifully into a net of connected areas that house various questlines; there is quite a number of stories for you to explore, and not all of them end up in your questlog, some things are more environmental or rely on notes. The more you progress, the higher access level you get, consequently more doors are now open for you. Fortunately, you don't need to go back and scout every floor as soon as you get a new clearance level; you can just do little daily quests and in the process you will most definitely stumble upon some doors that you can now open. Going back in Control is a pleasure, not a chore, finding new things and story bits in places that you thought you vacuumed up clean is too.
Multi-stage boss fights are also well-paced. There is just a few of them, and the game, thankfully, saves your progress quite often. If after 5 minutes of fighting you died, you won't have to start from scratch. You will be able to return into the room from your last checkpoint and continue from where you left off.
The game also has very detailed assist settings where you can enable one-shot kills or immortality and manipulate your health and energy regeneration rate. If you find the fighting too challenging or not all that interesting, you can turn on a few of those options and just devour the story, there is nothing wrong with it. I enabled immortality in a couple of places during AWE DLC and I regret nothing.
The first DLC to Control, The Foundation almost feels like Control 1.5. It has a new area and a plotline that serves as a direct continuation of the main story about Jesse, Bureau and the Oldest House. A few exploration episodes were slightly tiring for me because of how lengthy they were to get through; I can say the same for some fights, but overall, especially from the narrative standpoint, I really liked it. The Foundation exploits the main terror mechanic in Control in a very smart way: why bother telling the player all the details if they can flesh them out themselves and get even more scared?..
Mmeh. AWE is a Control/Alan Wake crossover, and I didn't like it all that much. I have to admit, I haven't played Alan Wake at all, that's why all the references and namedropping had precisely zero effect on me. Maybe, if I were a fan, or even had general knowledge about the game, it would've been different, so don't take my word for it. Of course, the DLC gives you enough information about Alan Wake and his story, you don't need to go back to 2010 to comprehend what's happening in AWE. However, I'm still lukewarm about the whole thing and I'll tell you why, in a nutshell.
The new area isn't unique. Every sector of the Oldest House is very different from every other sector, you can't mix up Research and Maintenance. The new sector introduced in AWE reuses parts of Panopticon and more generic parts of other sectors. I wasn't really all that excited to explore the area, because there were many things I've already seen elsewhere.
I am generally not a fan of darkness and an unknown immortal (?) Boogeyman who's trying to eat me alive while I'm running around trying to screw in all the lightbulbs to banish it. I feel like AWE relies too heavily on this sequence and uses it way too much. Not a fan.
The sweetest part will be the last. I told you that the Oldest House as a character was one of my favorite parts of Control. Want to know what my most favorite thing was?
Oceanview Motel & Casino as an example of a slowburn terror.
Let's talk about the difference between Terror and Horror. Terror is about waiting for something scary to happen. You are frightened, although you can't say by what exactly. You're uncomfortable but can't really explain the reason. It's a smoldering feeling that only grows stronger. It's not instantaneous but continuous. It's a premonition of something horrible that hasn't happened yet. Horror, on the other hand, is something you experience when you come face to face with the event itself, when you've heard, seen or felt something horrible. Ann Radcliffe was the first to describe the difference between these two things, she is one of the founders of Gothic fiction. I won't go into much detail here (yet) but I will quote Devendra Varma who was an expert on Gothic literature. In 1966, in his book "The Gothic Flame" he wrote the following:
The difference between Terror and Horror is the difference between awful apprehension and sickening realization: between the smell of death and stumbling against a corpse.
Oceanview Motel & Casino is an unusually comfortable hub-location. You get there several times as you play through Control; during your first visits Oceanview Motel & Casino always wins when juxtaposed to the Oldest House. The House is enormous, complicated, full of the dangerous unknown. The Motel is small and cozy, you can see it all from the point of entrance; it's full of sunlight and light-hearted music. You can't use a weapon, it means there are no enemies. Yes, there are closed doors, some of them with black symbols but so what. You go into one of the rooms, take the key, open the door with the inverted pyramid - and voilà, you're back in the House. Cool. Initially, Motel serves as a place to catch your breath, it's your chance to touch something almost normal, everyday, on the contrast with the Oldest House.
When I first felt the welcoming spirit of the Motel, I thought, "Oh. Oh no. This place is SO EASY to turn into the most horrifying and uncomfortable place in the whole game, it's incredible."
Oceanview Motel & Casino always stays this breath-freezing terror of doors in the best traditions of Ann Radcliffe's "The Mysteries of Udolpho". I'd love to do a big research where I'd take a closer look at Oceanview Motel & Casino as a literary trope. And the concept of doors, too. I've already started a little page in OneNote, so you can say I'm halfway there.
Control in general is exceptionally good at throwing shadows on something you have already determined as comfortable and safe. It's not only places I'm talking about; also items and phenomena that you don't even encounter directly during the game but read about them in the notes and documents.
You can't use a weapon, it means there are no enemies.
Control is great, would recommend. As you can see, it's okay to go in with zero context, no Alan Wake knowledge, no nothing. You can just dive right it. You don't even have to have RTX! But it'd be great if you do :D
This game constantly surprises you to the point where you just stop expecting anything, and I like it a lot. It surprises you with stories, both big and small, visual presentation, fascinating episodes, both action ones and non-action ones. The game has a great timing, it's not longer or shorter than it needs to be, it's just right. It's open enough for you to have choices, and tight-knit enough for everything you do to expand your knowledge about the world and the story.
Random quiz because I thought it'd be funny:
Favorite character - Former
Least favorite character - Alberto Tommasi (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
Favorite literary trope - Oceanview Motel & Casino
Favorite part - Ashtray Maze
Least favorite part - AWE: AWE Loading Bay
Favorite quote - "The law of 3 applies"
Least favorite quote - "Push the fingers through the surface into the wet"
See you in the next post.
Playtime - ~32hrs