Remedy Entertainment has a history of making some fantastic games. They are the masterminds behind the original Max Payne and Xbox exclusives like Alan Wake and Quantum Break (read our review here). While Quantum Break may be one of the studios weakest entries, it still brings with it a narrative and gameplay that still holds up today. Now we have with us the studio’s latest offering in the form of Control. The game is a Metroidvania style third-person action-adventure game with some interesting supernatural abilities thrown into the mix. Is it a worthy contender to the narrative focused third-person action-adventure games we have come to love? The short answer is yes, but there are things you should know about the game before buying.
The story of the game is one of its strongest points. You don the role of Jesse Faden who visits the Oldest House in search of her brother. While there, she walks into the director's room, picks up a mysterious gun and is all of a sudden crowned the director of the Bureau of Control. The Bureau of Control has made the Oldest House its headquarters and the house is attacked by a mysterious force called the Hiss. The Bureau of Control has been experimenting with Objects of Power and Altered Items in the Oldest House which you will learn about as you progress through the game. The house itself is larger on the inside than it is on the outside, constantly shapeshifts, leading to new paths being discovered in familiar places and has mysterious access to a hotel in an unknown location.
If all this sounds very confusing then it is for a good reason. I have tried to highlight some complexities of the story without spoiling the plot, which will keep you on your toes. The mystery is unravelled to you from the perspective of Jessy. So as Jessy understands what's going on, so do you. It's not only the main story but the side quests that have interesting plot points as well. From the creepy Janitor giving you some side missions to you stumbling upon some out of the blue, the Oldest House has a lot to offer. Just like 2018’s God of War, there are some pretty challenging boss fights that are a part of side quests. One interesting boss fight is where you are trying to get a replacement for a guard who has been watching a fridge for more than 24 hours. Yes, the fridge is an Altered Item and if kept without supervision, will do something crazy. During the process, the fridge becomes a boss fight and one that is quite challenging. This is but a small example of the level of crazy you will encounter in the game. Its as if the game is messing with you at a mental level, taunting you and teasing you into unravelling the mystery of the house and your reasons for visiting or rather finding it. The story of Control is one of its strongest points and cements Remedy Entertainment as a developer that can conjue psychological horror games that will scare you.
Adding to the immersion of the story is the gameplay. There is no HUD or map on the screen. In fact, the only thing on the screen is your mission objective and health bar. You need to press the D-Pad to bring up the map and for map reading noobs like me, it took a while to understand the layout. One piece of advice, read the sign boards throughout the game. They do a damn good job of leading you from one objective to the next and at times, I found them more helpful than the map.
At its heart, Control is a third-person action-adventure game but it has redefined some of the staples of an action-adventure game. Some of these changes are for the better, and others are just plain annoying. Starting with what makes the gameplay different is the fact that you don't need to hunt for ammo or guns. The service weapon you pick up at the beginning of the game can shapeshift into different forms. One works like a pistol, the other an assault rifle, the third as a shotgun, so on and so forth. You can swap between two pre-decided mods by pressing the box button on the PS4 controller and I wish there was a way to switch between more. It just felt distracting going into the menus to change the gun based on the situation. Nonetheless, in the heat of battle, you have more than your choice of weapon to worry about.
The game has a ‘one difficulty fits all’ model which is to say there is no way of changing the difficulty and for some players (like me) the game can get quite challenging. That is until you start playing by the game's rules. Let me explain. You can crouch but hiding behind cover is not recommended. You can run and gun, but you will lose significant health. This isn't Uncharted or Gears of War where you sit behind cover and shoot. You need to be on your toes. Shoot an enemy and run to him if you are low on health as your health doesn't regenerate. There is no ammo to pick up either so if your clip is empty, you need to wait. You can use melee attacks, lift objects from the world and hurl them at enemies and even pull rubble from the ground as a protective shield. You can also mind control weak enemies to do your bidding for a little while and even hurl back rockets fired at you. Needless to say, one of your abilities is levitation and you can quickly dash to avoid nearby enemies. The game doesn't have all these mechanics just for the sake of it. Rather, it encourages you to use these moves to gain an advantage in combat. Combat is challenging and you will need to have fast reflexes to execute some of these moves, yielding in a satisfying outcome.
When it comes to exploration, it is pretty standard. Enter a new area, find a Control Point and control it (no pun intended) and this becomes your checkpoint for the game. Control Points can also be used to unlock new abilities, increase your health, strength, so on and so forth and also fast travel. Now, this is where things get annoying. The control point IS the checkpoint. So if you free one control point, solve a puzzle, take out a few enemies and are defeated by the upcoming boss, you go BACK to the control point. There is no checkpoint before the boss fight. This can get extremely annoying especially if you are dealing with a tough boss battle. Thankfully, the puzzle you solved, collectables you found and the enemies you encountered stay down for the most part. It is only sometimes that enemies reappear in your route. These far off checkpoints are the weakest link in otherwise engaging and fun gameplay.
We played a review copy of the game on a PS4 Pro hooked up to a 1080p TV and the game has a framerate of 30fps that is pretty solid for the most part. It can hold its own in some of the high-octane fight sequences but there are times when the framerate dips a lot. This usually happened when I paused and resumed the game. I switched the install location from the external hard drive to the internal one and this didn’t help. Also, there are instances where the map refused to load till the game was restarted and I found random enemies stuck between doors. These problems, especially the frame rate issues, can really distract you from what is otherwise an immersive world. The office spaces in the game feel lived in, the otherworldly locations organically blend into the Oldest House and the game overall looks damn good. From the lighting in the game to the variety of levels, the game looks stunning. In one instance you will be fighting in the lobby of a building, the next cleaning out the sewers, next you will be in what appears to be a mine and finally in an other-worldly place where you communicate with the board of directors. (I intentionally left the board of directors out of the story as that is something you should experience yourself).
Moving to the character models, Jesse is a detailed character, reacting to her surroundings and showcasing fluid movement. You will see her duck when an explosion takes place around her and the fighting animation, mixed with fluid movement all feel realistic. The enemies too have a sense of fluidity to their movement making them feel alien and threatening at the same time. The other character models of NPC’s you will encounter throughout the game are good - no complaints there. The cutscenes are in engine for the most part but there are times where you will have real-world cut scenes (like Quantum Break) play out in the game. These are no more than a minute and a half long and explain some of the plot points to you. Most of them are optional so you don't have to sit through them if you don't want to. However, they do add a lot to the lore of the game.
Overall, the game looks stunning and detailed on age-old hardware like the PS4, so one can only imagine how beautiful the game will look with Ray Tracing enabled on a state of the art gaming PC.
If the voice acting in the game sounds familiar, then it's probably because you've heard them before. The voice of the original Max Payne, the voice of Alan Wake and actors from Quantum Break are all here in one key role or another. The voice acting in the game is top-notch with very little to complain about. The beauty is that the actors in the game convince you that this world is real and something like this could happen. That in itself is an achievement.
Moving over to other sound effects, the Hiss has a cry that is reminiscent of most alien species in movies but it is the board of directors and your interactions with certain key characters in the game that brings about a signature sound design in the game.
As far as weapons are concerned, they sound a lot like traditional weapons with the shotgun mod called Shatter sounding like a shotgun, Spin sounding like an assault rifle so on and so forth.
Overall, the sound design of the game is in tandem with the beat and theme of the game complimenting it at every turn.
It's obvious by now that Control is one of Remedy Entertainments finest works blending sci-fi and fantasy with mystery and horror in a way few other games have done. The story is immersive, the gameplay challenging and the atmosphere one that will be remembered. If only the checkpoint system were more refined and the framerate a little more stable, this would be a masterpiece. Having said that the game is definitely worth checking out for those looking for challenging gameplay and a mind-bending story. The game will take about 15-20 hours to beat and you will still have a few challenges and side quests to cover. Not to mention the fact that DLC is on its way, and you have a game that will remain installed on your system for quite some time.
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: 505 games
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Price: Rs 3499 for consoles, Rs 2500 approx. for PC
Tested on: PS4 Pro
We played a review copy of Control on a PS4 Pro.
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