Review: Control’s Creative Visuals and Genre Nods Make a Trippy but Solid Shooter
Control is a game that enjoyed some early good buzz and review scores—it was probably the most popular video game released in August. When Control was originally announced, the trailer was so cryptic, I didn’t really know what to expect beyond telekinetic powers and striking but trippy visuals. While it is indeed that, Control ends up being something familiar, yet unique.
Control is a third person shooter, with a little bit of survival horror thrown in—and while it has heavy Resident Evil and Evil Within vibes, it also has the DNA of developer Remedy’s other games: Max Payne, Alan Wake, Quantum Break, etc. My point is that Control is comprised of a bunch of ideas you’ve probably seen before, held together by a compelling premise, and its amalgamation of these familiar parts ends up making Control feel pretty unique—mostly.
In Control you play as Jesse Faden—a woman looking for her brother who has been held by a secretive government agency called the Federal Bureau of Control. Control takes place entirely inside of a creepy, vast government building with supernatural properties. Hidden in plain sight, smack dab in the middle of New York City, people can’t see it unless they know it’s there. Control has some heavy SCP vibes—a user made wiki of internet “creepy pasta.” Even the formatting for the supernatural item containment files almost exactly match that of the SCP wiki—an obvious homage. There are also heavy X-Files, Fringe and loads of other shadow-agency-story vibes.
Despite these homages and other comparisons, Control manages to have its own unique take on things, and interesting lore. There was no shortage of intrigue, from Jesse looking for her brother Dylan, to the bodies of the office workers suspended in the air—victim of some catastrophe that has engulfed the entirety of the Federal Bureau of Control.
Control is a third person shooter that leans pretty heavily on the action-shooter part. Jesse, soon upon her arrival, is made the new Director (because of course she would be) of the Federal Bureau of Control after their last director died in an apparent suicide. You get his gun—an “Object of Power” that shifts itself into multiple different firearm types—from shotgun to railgun, the archetypes all exist within Jesse’s new shifty gun. You can also upgrade Jesse’s gun with modifiers that up damage, reduce charge times, etc.
Jesse will also pick up several new abilities, thanks to the various altered objects she runs across. These objects are linked to the astral plane, and Jesse can draw power from them, giving her the ability to throw objects telekinetically, levitate, dodge, and seize other enemies. She also has an incredibly impressive melee attack that throws particles in all directions—with chunks of office wall and debris flying constantly. Control’s combat is exceptionally visceral, and satisfying without a hint of gore. Firefights throw debris like confetti into the air, and tear the façade off of walls and pillars as bullets and objects fly. It’s too bad the enemies aren’t as interesting as the fights they take place in.
The Federal Bureau of Control has been overrun by a “resonance” called The Hiss. It’s a terrible name, but an interesting, if cliché, concept. The Hiss has taken over the bodies of office workers, security officers, etc. and are hell bent on spreading across our world. Being trapped in The Last House is the only thing stopping them from wiping out humanity. And it gives you lots of opportunities to do combat with them.
Most enemy types are soldiers with guns—albeit with cool visual effects. Some enemies share similar telekinetic abilities as Jesse—such as the ability to shield, throw objects, etc. Unfortunately, The Hiss ends up being a series of combat encounters, and never feels like the malevolent force that it is. There are a few boss fights thrown into the mix, but they are too few.
Control has had a lot of thought given to its setting. The Last House is certainly an interesting one, and I found myself intrigued by the concept of the setting as much as what was happening inside of it. The whole game takes place within a massive labyrinthine building that breaks physical limitations. It has an impossibly massive interior compared to its exterior—and an interior that is constantly changing, thanks in part to the Hiss, but also as a natural function of the building.
What Control does really well is presentation. It has a great atmosphere and premise. Unfortunately, most of what excited me about Control’s story and premise was relegated to window dressing—like the various altered objects, which sit behind glass. You can get some great context to the world and the goings on in the bureau, but that’s all in various bits of information you can pick up while exploring offices, etc. Control manages to have some interesting characters, even if everyone seems a little…off. I had a hard time trusting the people I met, but surprisingly, there is no social deception. They find out you’re their new director, and strangely, accept you with no question.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen actual video used in a video game so extensively, and never this seamlessly. Well, it’s not exactly seamless, but it fits the theme and tone so well, I never once thought it was out of place. This video overlays scenes, and shows off one of my favorite characters, the infectiously happy and curious Dr. Darling—who himself feels like someone directly out of the SCP wiki.
For as visually exciting as Control is, it really doesn’t do much with its premise. It’s just a third person shooter with some neat abilities. Its atmosphere and lore elevate it to being a really good single player game, instead of a “just okay” one. The story is great, the powers and the combat are visceral, and fun. Control is a solid single player experience with a decent amount of life after you finish up with the story.
Control is available now on the Epic Game Store, Xbox one, and PlayStation 4
If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. Patreon.com/3CR