REVIEW: Control - An Abstract Third-Person Shooter Unlike Any Other

September 22, 2019
REVIEW: Control - An Abstract Third-Person Shooter Unlike Any Other

You're probably wondering what business tactics are the best for a mid-size development team. Do they release games year after year until they grow bigger and start making colossally big games like Assassin's Creed Odyssey? Or maybe focus on telling a weird, bizarre, and ultimately almost perfect story with the introduction of brand new mechanics and release new titles every five or more years?

Since we live in a time of hyper-production, this even gets passed on to players, and they are served a triple-A half-product that takes up to a few hours to chew it up and spit it out, until next year the sequel pops up that's identical to last year's title. Not every company can boast about a small but highly influential portfolio like Remedy Entertainment. A studio that introduced itself with Death Rally but later perfected the sub-genre of third-person shooters with the always-innovative mechanics that were mindblowing at the time of their release.

Remember Max Payne and Bullet Time? Not only it was a breath of fresh air back in 2001, but many major studios tried to copy it, and they weren't as successful as Max Payne. Alan Wake brought a completely different combat mechanics with the use of light against enemies, making way to his goal solely by light. Quantum Break has made the bridge between TV show-like storytelling and in-game animation with the perfect cast. But that's not the only thing that defined this game, there are also innovations in the gameplay mechanics where you could manipulate time and everything around you.

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As much as these games introduced something new to the genre, that necessary freshness into an already boring industry, one thing kept them miles away from the rest of the titles - storytelling that adorned absolutely every title that came out of this studio. With Sam Lake at the head of creative work, we are used to always getting bizarre, phenomenal stories that make us shiver. That brilliant way of writing, storytelling, or rather using the game as a medium for spreading your twisted creations, is already something that defines Remedy Entertainment, and with their new title, Control, they have raised the bar even higher.

At first, Control seemed like any other third-person shooter, as if everything was created in a rush. Nothing is explained in the beginning except the things that are literally in front of you. You assume the role of Jesse Faden, a girl who apparently wandered into a mysterious building of Federal Bureau of Control in the middle of New York.

The problem for Jesse is that she doesn't know what she's doing in this building, why is she special and what is her mission. She is brought here by her own, let's call it intuition for now, which she communicates with from time to time. After a few minutes, you find out Jesse's ultimate motive for wandering around an unknown, odd New York building - a search for her lost brother. Since an incident happened in a town called Ordinary, Jesse was trying to find out what happened to her brother and why he was taken away from their family. A strange, almost inexplicable set of circumstances changed the life of every resident of Ordinary and marked Jesse for the rest of her life.

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Her monologues will not initially be encouraging to players who choose to embark on this adventure. Tics, uttering, talking to herself (as it may seem at first), it all gives the impression that Jesse has some serious issues. The events and the ambiance she's in gives the impression that maybe everything that's happening is in her head, that it is just a fragment of her imagination and everything she has heard before. The best thing about all this is that Jesse is not the only one to have that feeling. Seconds before Jesse says anything, you as a player have the feeling it's something you would think yourself.

The thing that brings a whole new dimension to the protagonist is her constant questioning in her head, what is she doing, why is she doing it, why is she here, is she supposed to be here... From the first minutes of the game, the personal story, as well as the main character's background, is totally confusing. The confusion at every step initially causes Jesse to ask herself if she is in a good mental state, she herself is not absolutely sure about all the things that are going on in front of her.

Although there are segments in the game that are shot with the real actors, what brings life to each character, most of all Jesse, are the mimics and confused look on her face, at least in the first third of the game. If you look closely, you will notice that she is not aware of what needs to be said next during the dialogue, she doesn't know what kind of consequences will her words have on the whole story and the people she's talking to. The whole mystery she found herself in is transferred to the player through the fantastic face animations, something that is rarely done in video games.

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These things define Jesse as a totally unusual main character. She's not too certain, she doesn't have any capabilities or possesses anything special regarding her character as is the case in almost every game. She has something within herself and is absolutely unaware of how significant it is for her and her survival throughout the game.

As Jesse gets to know herself, her abilities, her mission, and the reason for her existence, you become familiar with it as well. The best thing about all this is that every detail, dialogue, place, and reactions are suitable for a person that found themselves in a similar position - reckless and risky. Jesse is the projection of any person that would find themselves in a situation like hers, in a building that shouldn't exist, surrounded by supernatural things that no one can explain.

The best moments in the game are the ones when you and Jesse have the same opinions, like when you see something new, strange, unexpected, and paranormal. While having her monologues, it seems as if she's channeling your thoughts and surprise about the things she's seeing. It doesn't matter if it's an enemy, a document, an event, or some of her conclusions. Everything is almost perfectly transferred to the player at absolutely every moment of the game. As you progress through the story, you might even get goosebumps if you are so overwhelmed by everything you're finding and saying, you might feel as if you're a part of that disturbed, twisted world that Sam Lake has created for you.

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The story might not be clear at first because of too many confusing things that some players would say are simply thrown in. However, minute by minute the pieces would fall together, hour after hour the story would unfold, and eventually, that twisted circle of one of the most bizarre stories in the games that came out this year will come to an end.

Just like any other game that comes from Remedy Entertainment, you'll find a bunch of documents and reports of unexplained events that give the story more meaning. How it all began, what did a group of people decide to do to stop these events - they bound them to the building that was practically a living thing. It reacts, changes, shows emotions, all in relation to the situation it's in. All these documents are providing a better understanding of the twisted situation that Jesse is currently in. They are not mandatory, of course, but it would be a shame to ignore them since this game hides an incredibly deep and complex story.

Another great thing to mention is that all the games that came from Remedy are happening in the same universe, so you will have the opportunity to find documents on some of the events you survived in previous games. The biggest emphasis, of course, is on Alan Wake, which has a few relations to this game in terms of mechanics. Keeping everything in one universe is an absolutely fantastic decision, and the documents and lore shown in Control are sufficient for a couple of games to come. Still, a mysterious question remains, how much of this would be transferred to the next title, and what else are we going to see from Control since there are two more expansions to come over the next six months.

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Now let's get back to the gameplay. It's not easy to be separated from the generally accepted third-person shooter pattern. It's rare for a game to leave that particular mark that makes it recognizable. We've already mentioned that Remedy is striving for innovation in its presentation and never accepts being identified with something that's already done in the industry.

What distinguishes this game's mechanics from the others is definitely the need for constant movement across levels. Although they are neither wide nor large, they still provide enough room for maneuvering and stunts that Jesse performs. Gameplay mechanics are a mix of everything presented in Quantum Break, but with a lot of improvements that change the dynamics of each fight. You'll also have some abilities in the game that will be upgraded over time. Depending on your playstyle, you will use the ones that you think are most effective in destroying enemies. In combination with the only weapon that you'll have in the game, you can experiment with different playstyles.

Your weapon has six firing modes, and each is effective against a different type of enemies. You can use the gun in its original form, but the game becomes fun only when you start combining it with everything you come across. Surely there will be players who won't change their playstyle throughout the game, but at some point, it will be challenging to beat certain opponents. What is great about Control is that it gives you the tools to create your own fun, and only those who are less creative might think this game is boring.

There are two other things we need to cover, graphics and sound. Since we played the game on Xbox One X, we won't talk about the techniques that are simply shining on the PC platform. This game has already become a benchmark for RTX cards, and it also has the best use of all the advanced techniques and effects in any game so far.

Control has a Metroidvania-like performance, only in 3D, which means you'll have to backtrack better and return to the parts of Federal Bureau of Control you've already visited in order to complete some missions. What makes the game interesting is the aforementioned dynamics in gameplay mechanics of certain levels. Everything on that part of the map is susceptible to destruction, whether it's papers and folders on a desk, radios, TVs, chairs or exhibits in the cabinets.

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Absolutely anything can turn into a deadly weapon if you wish. The simplistic design of the environment becomes a real spectacle when you decide to do so. What used to be monochromatic turns into colorful explosions and perfect particle effects. From a peaceful and sterile environment, uncontrollable and beautiful chaos will be born, which is a pure "eye candy" for every hardcore gamer.

Another thing we've already mentioned, the more imaginative and creative you get, the more you will enjoy the metamorphosis of a particular room. As simple as the game looks at first, it hides complexity at every corner of each level. Still, what fascinates me the most are the details you can see on posters, tables, walls, floors and so on. Just pay attention to them.

On the other hand, the sound is something that adds to the already perfect mysterious atmosphere. Initially, you'll have the feeling that the game would be something like a horror story unfolding, just because of the creepy noises that were coming from the corners of every room you've explored. Later, you'd realize that these creepy sounds, their existence, and positioning contributed to lifting an already great atmosphere.

When we draw the line, Control is the perfect combination of everything there is. A story that is confusing but meaningful enough to hold you till the end, and gameplay that simply never gets boring if you know how to enjoy the games, makes this game stand out from the 99% of the titles that came out this year. After everything we've seen in the game and read in the reports, the desire to play something alike has never been greater. Sam Lake has simply given us too much material we can only fantasize about turning into their next game, but what is gaming, if not a brilliant, creative, interactive fantasy.