• This review contains spoilers.

Premise

Control is a third-person action/shooter set in a building in New York called the Old House. The Old House is A government building for a secret organization called the Federal Bureau of Control. As you progress through the game, you slowly uncover secrets about the bureau but also secrets about the protagonist, Jesse. 

Story

The game’s opening is going to stick with me for a long time. It’s one of the best intros to a video game that I have seen or played. The game starts out and you’re standing on the street in front of the Old House. You only have one option and that’s to walk into the government but as you do there is no one in the lobby which is bizarre since it’s a government building. Eventually, after a few minutes of walking around, you run into the janitor who says some weird stuff and then directs you where to go next. You follow his direction and find yourself in a room with a gun (this is the main weapon of the game) and the gun is kind of sentient and kind of starts talking to you or at least I think it was talking to you. I don’t know, it was weird and a little confusing. 

This all happens within the first 15 minutes and it just sets the tone for the rest of the game as it just keeps getting weirder and weirder. This is what leads me to be a little conflicted on how I feel about the story. I just didn’t understand it. I think I liked the story but I’m not sure.

Favorite Character

There isn’t a character in the game that really stood out to me. I liked Jesse. She is an interesting character and most of the character development is done through an inner monologue. But there were a lot of moments where the character felt flat. The characters are not the strength of this game. One moment that stands out to me, there are collectibles all over the world and in the 2nd half of the game, you find an audio recording. It’s a conversation between Jesse and a therapist right before Jesse left for New York. After listening to the conversation, Jesse had no reaction to it. If I was in a government building and I found a recording between myself and a therapist I would be freaking out. Not programming a reaction that and treating it as just another collectible, rubbed me the wrong way.

Gameplay

Now it’s time to get into the crux of why I enjoyed this game so much and that’s the combat. I love a good third-person shooter and this is a solid one of those but the character abilities take this game’s combat to the next level.

Guns

Starting off with the shooting, it’s all limited to 1 gun with different permutations. Since that is very unique (I can’t think of any other games that have done this) what that means is, the gun can transform into different gun types. There is a pistol mode, shotgun, sniper, machine gun and rocket launcher. Mechanically its no different than having multiple guns in your inventory and swapping between them but at least narratively it does shake thing up. Then its the shooting itself and it feels alright, the various permutations all feel different and satisfying.

One minor knock I have on the gunplay was, once I found a loadout I liked, there is never a reason to switch it up. I primarily stuck with the first permutation the standard pistol because it was the most balanced of the options. I found it to be accurate but still packed a punch and then also effective at short and long-range. It was the perfect, jack of all trades gun. Where the machine gun never felt like it did enough damage, the shotgun was terrible at long range which I never wanted to get too close to the enemies. Then the rocket launch and sniper rifle were too slow between rounds so I never used them.

To move onto the abilities, most you unlock through the main story but there is 1 you gain as a side mission. So I would recommend doing as side missions since they can be very rewarding. 

Melee

The melee attack is a close range, explosion. I used it a little bit early on but once I unlocked the Launch Ability, this ability became meaningless to me.

Launch

My favorite ability you unlock is the launch ability. This is the telekinetic power where you can pick up items in the world and launch the item at the enemy to do damage. It’s extremely satisfying and my favorite thing to do in the game. I love the fact that, if you’re in a situation where there are no objects around you just grab a slab of concrete from the ground and launch that the enemy. As long as you have energy, you can use this power.

Seize

As you’re fighting enemies, you widdle down their health an option will pop up where instead of killing the enemy, you can convert them to your side temporarily. The spell lasts maybe around 10 seconds and once the time has expired, the enemy dies. So it’s always worth going for. 

Evade

Simply put, evade is just a quick dash. I love a good dash in a video game and this game has one. 

Levitate

It’s not a flight ability but you can hover in the air for a little while. There are moments in the game where you have to use this ability, other than those moments I didn’t use this too often. When this game got tough, the last thing I wanted to do was be out in the open. 

One aspect that I haven’t discussed yet is the light RPG element of the game. It’s not like a traditional RPG where every enemy you kill, you gain experience and eventually level up. At the end of story missions and some side missions, your reward is often skill points which can then be used in the skill tree for basic upgrades. Just because of the type of player I am, as I gained skill points I was dumping my skill points into 2 categories. More health and upgrading the launch ability to make it more powerful. 

Puzzles

The puzzles are nothing aspect of this game that I feel torn on. Conceptually they are fascinating and weird but mechanically they’re not interesting. They kind of remind me of Uncharted puzzles where they’re not difficult but what you’re doing is at least interesting. Now substitute interesting with weird and that’s what the puzzles are in this game. 

Bosses

The game has a few bosses but unfortunately, they’re all forgettable. I remember some combat arena’s but individual bosses were all fairly forgettable.

Mission/Level/World Design

The world design is the most divisive aspect of the entire game. It’s going to vary from person to person, some people are going to love the fact that the game does not hold your hand and others with find it frustrating. I lean more in the camp of, frustration. For the most part, the world design worked, I was able to naturally find my way through the game but when I would get lost that is when I became frustrated. The reason for the frustration is because there was no easy way to figure out where you went wrong. The game has a map but it was terrible because the map itself is a flat surface and it does not convey different floors and levels well so when I would get lost, I never which floor or level I needed to be on so it often led to me just wandering around until I found the right area.  

Music/Sound Design/Voice Acting

For the most part, I never noticed the music in the game. There is one moment that is so cool that I have to talk about it. There is a maze and the only way you can navigate the maze is by listening to music that was provided to you by the Janitor. The song itself is an original song for the game called “Take Control” by Poets of the Fall. It’s heavy metal so imagine you have this heavy song playing as you’re making your way through a maze where the rooms keep changing and transforming. Meanwhile, you’re also getting into rooms with combat arenas and its set up so it’s easy to get through so the whole point is to blast through these enemies. At the end of it all, Jesse has one thing to say “That was awesome!” I agree with Jesse, it was awesome.

For the rest of the game where it lacked in music, it makes up for in sound design. It’s hard to describe because of its not quite music but it’s full of creepy sounds. It’s kind of like a good horror film or game but instead of scary think of creepy. It was very effective.

The voice acting was excellent, the protagonist Jesse was portrayed by Courtney Hope an actress that is in the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. She was also in the game Quantum Break so this is not the first time Remedy (The Developer) has worked with her.

Issues

I had 3 major issues with that need to be addressed. 

The difficulty spikes which is common in video games but they are frustrating regardless. One of the hardest aspects of game design is getting the difficulty right and that’s throughout the entire game. Control doesn’t quite nail it and there these moments throughout the game where it just gets punishingly difficult. I would just try over and over again to the point where I had to cheese my way through specific combat arenas. unfortunately, it ends up being disappointing when that kind of stuff happens because when you think of something like Dark Souls when it’s difficult but satisfying to get through. I never felt that satisfaction getting through, it was always a case where I was able to find a spot, hide and slowly pick off the enemies.

My second complaint works in conjunction with the first and that’s the poor checkpoint system. The checkpoint system is limited to specific spots in the world sometimes when you would die, you get resurrected at the specific point. The problem is, sometimes that can be minutes away from where you died. The frustration from the difficulty spikes ends up getting compounded when you factor in the minutes of running back to the area that died in.

My final complaint of the game is a big one and that’s the performance on a console, specifically my experience with a base PS4. The game has frame rate issues, there are times when the game tanks to probably around 10-15 frames per second. It’s noticeably bad but I will say that it never negatively affected me. I never died because of frame rate issues so I guess that’s a positive? Frame rate issues typically bother me too much but I do believe that it needs to be mentioned because some people find it absolutely unacceptable where I can usually let it slide.

It is important to note that as of today September 10th, Remedy has apparently issued an update that fixes some of these issues.

Recap: The Good

Start

Combat

Story

Protagonist

Recap: The Bad

Frame Rate Drops

Difficulty Spikes

Checkpoint System

Easily Get Lost

Recap: The Okay

Puzzles

Bosses

Recap: Final Thoughts

I liked it, this is a hard game for me to place on my rating scale because it is the simple 5 point scale. Love, liked, middling, disliked and bad. I liked this game, it’s a good game but I don’t think it’s a great game. 

Something is holding this game back and I’m not sure what it is. Either way, if you like third-person action games then I think you should give this game a try. 

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