Control (PlayStation 4) Review

By Justin Prinsloo 26.08.2019

Review for Control on PlayStation 4

Control is Remedy Entertainment's latest creation and is without a doubt the studio's most ambitious title to date. Straying away from the linear mission structure that brought Max Payne and Alan Wake to life has allowed Remedy to craft something never before seen from the veteran developers. The sci-fi stitching that held the divisive Quantum Break together is present here as well, and as was the case with that title, Control tries something new. Where this game lives and dies is not in the crisp combat that we have come to expect from Remedy but in the cohesion of the new elements that the studio has tacked onto this weird and intriguing paranormal tale.

Contrary to its own title, Control is an often-chaotic experience. Some truly unique combat and an uncanny but compelling story combine to form an experience that is not to be missed for fans of the stranger side of science-fiction and magical realism. The third-person combat is a delightful power fantasy thanks to some awesome abilities, and the metroidvania-inspired mission structure does a great job of investing the player in the world and its characters.

You control Jesse Faden; a woman who has been searching for her missing brother ever since a strange childhood incident exposed them to a supernatural force and caused them to become separated. Jesse's search leads her to the 'Oldest House' - the austere, windowless headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control (think FBI but for paranormal occurrences). Within moments of entering the Oldest House, Jesse unconventionally becomes the new Director of the FBC and must shelve her search for her brother in order to stop the more imminent threat of the Hiss, a 'paranatural' alien force that has invaded the Oldest House and taken possession of most of the FBC's employees.

Screenshot for Control on PlayStation 4

Nothing about the story or world of Control/i] is orthodox, and this type of tale can so easily become contrived without careful world-building and a suitable tone. To its credit, Remedy has excelled at crafting a visceral paranormal world full of mystery and intrigue that feels a lot like [i]Stranger Things on speed. The tone is weird and eerie but endlessly compelling, catalysed brilliantly by a suitable soundtrack that compounds the weirdness and heightens the action sequences. The stellar voice acting and cast of mostly interesting characters do a swell job of bringing the Oldest House to life, in particular the former FBC Director Zachariah Trench (voiced by Max Payne himself, James McCaffrey) and the mysterious Finnish janitor Ahti, who acts as a guide as Jesse traverses the Oldest House. It's a shame that Ahti doesn't get more involved in the story than he does, but his mysterious persona is nevertheless riveting and will hopefully be explored in future content.

The brief story missions fly by much too quickly, though, and the experience is let down by its abrupt ending. The final moments of the campaign are quite anticlimactic but Control prides itself on being something that continues beyond its story, and it can't be faulted on this front. The petering out of the last couple of main missions is therefore forgivable, as the experience stutteringly finds purpose again after the credits have rolled and the player is left to explore the Oldest House once more - along with a handful of new side missions and content sprinkled in to incentivise re-exploring every nook and cranny of the FBC's headquarters in search of secrets and expositional FBI-style reports that paint a picture of Control's world.

Aiding Jesse on her journey is her Service Weapon, a gun that can morph into various weapon forms on the fly. This is an exciting and fresh take on gunplay, as rather than carry multiple guns everywhere, Jesse carries one that serves as a pistol, SMG and shotgun, to name a few. New weapon forms can be unlocked and upgraded to increase damage and the amount of mod slots on each form. In typical Remedy fashion, the combat has been augmented to be as exciting as possible, going beyond mere gunplay to include a host of paranatural powers.

Screenshot for Control on PlayStation 4

Jesse can levitate, perform a Force-like melee blast and dodge, summon a shield comprised of debris, take control of enemies and launch objects in the environment at them. All of these powers are animated fantastically and are tons of fun to use. Combat never becomes stale thanks to dynamic enemy encounters, but even if the enemy appearances were telegraphed, the combat is too good to become boring fast, perhaps due to some decent variety in enemy type. For the purists, there is the option to reach the end without acquiring most of the powers, which adds another dimension to the difficulty and the way Control plays.

There is just one difficulty level in Control, which actually works fine. This is a challenging game that requires a tactical approach to combat - the Service Weapon's rechargeable ammo can be depleted and the powers are tied to an energy bar, so these must be used in tandem to avoid one or the other emptying completely and leaving Jesse exposed. Health pickups that fall from damaged enemies are an incentive to always be on the move and plan a route on the fly. It's really great game design and results in some absorbing combat encounters.

As progression is made in Control, previously inaccessible areas open up and new side missions become available. As if the fantastic design work in the environments wasn't enough of an incentive to revisit each area, this provides another reason to search high and low for the many secrets the Oldest House has to offer. There is so much personality in every twisting hallway and retro laboratory; the lighting in particular is breath-taking in certain areas, as are the lifelike textures and the believable, weighty physics when using Jesse's powers - the joy of floating around with the Levitate ability or throwing a desk chair at an enemy never gets old. Most striking is the fantastic level of environmental damage - concrete chunks will chip off a pillar if Jesse dashes past it, while throwing an object into a bookshelf will cause the shelves to collapse and a sheaf of papers to erupt around the area of impact. It's simply stellar stuff from Remedy and it is great to see what the PS4 is capable of this far into its life cycle.

Screenshot for Control on PlayStation 4

It isn't always a pretty picture, unfortunately. The experience is often marred by technical issues - nothing game-breaking, but there are certainly a few areas that could use a quality-of-life tweak. The frame-rate can dip drastically in the more open areas when there's a lot of action going on and texture pop-in is very common, as are some clipping issues. The game will even inexplicably freeze for a few seconds after every main mission is completed, at least on the legacy PS4. Control's menus, while sleek, can be unresponsive at times, and certain screens can take an unacceptably long time to load. These are the sort of issues that can be patched out but it's always a shame to see a game launch with them.

While these hiccups do cause the experience as a whole to falter, they don't quite trip it up thanks to the strength of its core design. Overall, Control is a fascinating sci-fi romp. The great graphics and well-designed combat are stifled by technical issues which crop up far too often and break the immersion. This is a real shame, because 'immersive' is exactly the right word for this wacky paranormal tale. With a patch or two Control could conceivably become one of the year's greats, but it has a few weeds that need uprooting first.

Screenshot for Control on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Control is in turns silly, satirical and solemn, combining an underlying existential dread with a triumph through heroism in a way that no other superhuman tale ever has. Everything about this title is unique in a good way, from its eerie tone to its vibrant combat to its mysterious story. The design work is fantastic, even though the main thing holding the experience back is the lack of optimisation. This will most likely be fixed in the coming weeks but it's these stutters in Control's step that hold it back from being truly seamless. Nevertheless, this is a very, very good game, and a must play for sci-fi enthusiasts and fans of Remedy's past works.

Developer

Remedy Entertainment

Publisher

505 Games

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date 27.08.2019   North America release date 27.08.2019   Japan release date 27.08.2019   Australian release date 27.08.2019   

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