Control – Supernatural Lockdown

Cold, oppressive, stern, blunt, and quiet. The properties of concrete. If you stare intently enough, it can also be much more than that. Bare concrete is an empty canvas for human expression. There’s nothing better than a blank wall to empty the contents of your mind.

As you walk into the Federal Bureau of Control, the walls notice you. Pulsing and throbbing, you can feel the building breathing. It feels hostile, almost. It’s suddenly much harder to gather your thoughts. A living organism made out of concrete now controls your life.

You play as Jesse who witnessed an extraordinary event in her home town of Ordinary. She’s been looking for answers for years, and finally found this building where a secret organisation called the Federal Bureau of Control investigates paranormal items and events. As soon as she walks in, weird things start happening and the building goes into lockdown.

The story is as blunt and obtuse as the graphical style, as it doesn’t really explain itself. Walls start shifting, people get possessed, nothing makes sense. You aren’t even sure what time period it is, with a mix of new technology and typewriters on desks. It’s one of those games where you have to slowly unravel plot points by exploring and talking to other Bureau members. The documents you find lying around are often entertaining, with a good mix of scientific lore and workplace humour.

While Control is heavily story-driven, it also has a large emphasis on shooting with a creative combat system. The “hiss” that echoes throughout the building has corrupted Bureau staff and made them go hostile and insane.

“Always keep moving to avoid being overwhelmed.”

Combat tip, Control’s loading screen.

This combat advice struck me as something you can apply to mental health and life in general. Don’t give in to the hiss. The combat starts off as basic cover shooting with your standard gun, but with your supernatural abilities it soon becomes a creative ballet of destruction and survival. You can pick up any object and throw it at an enemy with your mind (also known as the R button). A desk, chair, plant, lamp, almost anything that’s around, even another enemy’s corpse. A small white silhouette will outline anything you can grab, so it feels quite natural doing extraordinary things. The ease of picking things up is a great feeling and huge accomplishment of this game’s visual design.

It’s not all about throwing stuff and making a mess, as you can also use objects as shields, and Jesse can also dash and hover around in mid-air. You can even combine different things like hovering while shooting to feel like a badass superhero. My only complaint with the combat would be that it gets repetitive when enemies endlessly respawn. If you haven’t visited a room in half an hour or so, you have to do the exact same fight again and again. Things do evolve throughout the game but not enough to stop the feeling of repetition in certain combat scenarios.

The building is split up into different floors but encourages non-linear exploration at the same time. Backtracking to recent areas can trigger new events or reveal new information, so the game almost has that Metroid feel of large-scale progression. New abilities and keycards will uncover more things in previous areas. A fast-travel system makes all of this quite easy to do, if you can bear the load times. I’ve never felt so much freedom in a lockdown.

The Bureau is full of experiments that link real world events to “Objects of Power” which could be anything from a swing set to a traffic light malfunctioning. You’ll find documents that detail how the Bureau covered these up with bullshit explanations in the real world. Oh the traffic light didn’t teleport people, it was just swamp gas? Seems legit.

With all the conspiracy misinformation going on in the world right now, I found it sobering and refreshing to find conspiracies in this game that were actually fun and interesting. A magic anchor that pulls around a boat? A fridge that demands your attention? A rubber duck that quacks and teleports? More believable than Bill Gates putting a 5G microchip in your vaccine. It’s better you discover these for yourself, but I uploaded some funny conspiracies in the game here and here if you want a taste.

I love this game but it has its flaws. While the combat is great fun, Control has an upgrade system that frankly I wish didn’t exist. Guns have slots where you can put in mods to increase damage by 7% or use abilities slightly faster. It’s so insignificant that it’s barely worth the laggy menu time, yet this stuff is lying around everywhere. Every hour or so your mods will be full and you’ll have to do a lot of menuing to throw stuff away. It doesn’t kill the game but just feels out of place in a game that sparks the imagination with immersion. Not every game needs to have the exploitative loot model.

It’s just a mess, none of this stuff is useful. This problem is made worse by the extremely long load times on the base Xbox One version that I played. It also crashed about 7 times, I’m not joking. That might be a record for me in any game. Some of the crashes just froze the system with a high-pitch sound glitch, and others quietly closed the game with some kind of video error message. I’ve looked online and nobody can explain it, it’s just a buggy game it seems. It’s a testament to how much I liked it, that I could overlook something so big and still beat the game.

The game almost feels ahead of its time, too powerful for current systems even. The graphics are a real showcase. I played on the vanilla Xbox One which is probably the worst looking version of the game, but was still blown away by the image quality and the physics. It might not be super apparent at first, but when you start getting your powers and upgrades in the game, suddenly you can interact with every object. Chairs will swivel, concrete rips off the walls, papers fly around, and picking up a light projector will actually allow you to project that light where you want. The lighting is some of the most advanced I’ve ever seen.

The downside to this however is a huge amount of lag on the base Xbox One console and lower end PCs (my assumption). The framerate would drop almost any time there was an action scene, sometimes to a slideshow. Since you can lock on to targets while throwing, I found it didn’t really affect the gameplay too much. There were lots of disorienting moments, I have to admit. For some reason opening the menu and closing it causes the engine to completely malfunction for a few seconds. Your inputs would count but you wouldn’t see the graphics update for a while. Maybe just a supernatural effect of the game? Honestly I was so immersed that I’ll swallow this pill.

Another bad element of this game was the map, it sucked. You can bring it up at any time by pressing up on the dpad, but there is a huge amount of lag. The outline itself is not even that useful as it barely distinguishes between elevation levels, and sometimes the outline is just plain wrong. It encourages you to use the actual signs in the building, which is a much more fun experience and makes you feel like you’re actually there. When the map is this bad it should have just been removed entirely. It’s a fun building to get lost in without the map, thankfully.

I have to give props to Remedy for a late patch that added customisable difficulty options. It took me 2 years to beat this game because it was so grindy with the enemy respawns. After starting from scratch, I took advantage of the new difficulty slider to make the backtracking less annoying. While the combat is tactical, strategic and challenging in a good way, it’s extremely easy to die and very obnoxious seeing a 30-40 second loading screen over and over. The new difficulty options really streamline the experience and make it more enjoyable to explore, because you can just adjust it back when you want to continue on with the story. Purists will disagree, but the important thing is that it’s optional, as the vanilla game launched with no difficulty setting whatsoever.

Overall Control was an amazing experience with fun combat, a haunting scenario and interesting storyline with huge depth. Even though you’re locked in this FBC building for the whole game, you get a large sense of scope as altered items and events are linked to the real world, and even other government agencies. I got so immersed in this game I started to see throbbing walls in my house. The lights outside at midnight looked like red hiss sirens. I started talking to my plants. It’s really a fantastic game that made a big impact on me, mainly because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever played before. The developer Remedy have always pushed the boundaries of story telling and innovation in their games. If you want more then check out my writeups of their previous games Alan Wake and Quantum Break.

There were two paid DLC packs for Control that came out after release, and I’ve just played those as well. These documents are still classified but I can leak a little bit. The Foundation I honestly didn’t like that much, it felt like a chore going through endless generic caves, with no good plot. AWE however, the second one, is amazing. For now my experience is classified, but stayed tuned for a full report on that in the coming days. (Update: AWE Report Submitted.)

I highly recommend Control if you would like to play a very modern, graphically intense cover shooter in a new, creative way. The story is such an incredible ride, and a great treat for any science buff, writer, conspiracy nut, or anyone who wishes their workplace was more interesting.

Whatever you do, just don’t fall victim to the hiss. Stay in Control.

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