Welcome to the Federal Bureau of Control
If your time here feels a bit strange, just remember: It’s perfectly normal. Nothing is as it should be, and everything is as it ever was. These are the premises that Control, Remedy Entertainment’s newest game, establishes as soon as Jesse Faden steps into the ever shifting premises of the F.B.C. She is the new director of the bureau, arriving around the un/usual and (un)timely death of the F.B.C.’s previous director. Her mission? Find her brother, who went missing shortly after an incident in Ordinary, the place they grew up.
As soon as you launch Control, a surreal sense of unease permeates the atmosphere. It courses its way through your controller and into your fingers before easing itself into your mind. The subtle whispers and loud settings, the flashes of images and collection of colors; it all sets an impeccable tone. If you’re not both enthralled and uncomfortable, intrigued, confused, and encapsulated – what have you been doing?
Control takes you through the sort of ride few games can. Remedy Entertainment exhibits such precision in their craft that shines through in the oddities of Control. The subtlety reeks of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (the phenomenal novel, not the poorly transitioned Amazon series) and pays homage to Remedy’s other fascinating titles (in particular, Alan Wake). Explaining Control is a losing battle, one that won’t allow it the justice it is due.
You play as Jessie, the aforementioned director. She just sort of is the director, and I’m not sure she ever really was meant to be. There’s something to be said about unreliable narrators, however, and, though Jessie is a likeable character with seemingly positive intentions, she and the game certainly cast an uncertain shadow over just about everything. This may sound like a negative, but in the grand scheme of the overarching narrative, this shroud of unreliable direction makes the experience that much more captivating.
As Jesse progresses through the various corridors, floors, and levels within the F.B.C., she meets a colorful cast of characters and other important members of the Federal Bureau of Control. In doing so, Jesse grows, too. She develops new abilities and creates and upgrades her unique Service weapon. Control beautifully builds upon the action styles of Alan Wake and Quantum Break and constructs an action experience that is both fresh and memorable – and always developing.
Perhaps the most impressive piece of Control is its ability to present both believable and lovable characters. Of these, the most notable has to be Dr. Darling – played by Matthew Porretta (the same voice as the titular Alan Wake of Alan Wake). While you explore the expansive F.B.C. building, you find innumerable documents, recordings, and videos left by Darling, all of which illuminate the series of events that occurred as and before Jesse arrived.
Controlling Jesse through the sharp angles and dramatic drops of the bureau building is a lot of fun. Sure, every once-in-a-while, I hit a few snags in controlling Jesse, but these were such sparse instances that I usually chuckled about. I was too busy enjoying my time exploring, blasting away enemies, and learning about this awe-inspiring world (you’ll get it) to be bothered by the occasional miscalculation. Mostly, the mistakes were made because I misjudged a landing or distance. Combating enemies in Control is also a memorable experience; Jesse rolls with various modifications to her Service weapon, each of which transform the gun into a variation of itself. For example, the Shatter variation works as a shotgun-type adjustment, whereas the Pierce worked as a sniper-type weapon.
In addition to the Service weapon, Jesse grows as a psychic wielder. As she makes her way through the story, Jesse grows in strength, gaining the ability to telepathically lift and launch items and enemies as projectile weapons (this ability is upgradeable to eventually include large enemies or large set pieces), hover, and use debris as a makeshift shield (which can eventually be whipped back at enemies). Jesse’s psychic abilities compliment each variation of the Service weapon in such a way that multiple combinations proved both useful and highly enjoyable.
Two noticeable elements of the game that you’ll take in instantly are both the beautiful graphical and sublime sound direction. Remedy’s inhouse graphical engine continues to evolve and impress, and the gritty visuals fit Control well. As well as the visuals meld with Control, the sound department far exceeded my expectations. For Control to work, the strange must not become the mundane. We’ve all played games with awesome concepts that have failed to impress or dragged on at some point in the experience. Whether it’s a gameplay mechanic that grows stale or a premise that belabors its point, something falls flat. Control does not suffer from that; it continuously ups the ante of combat, platforming, and the abnormal to keep the game fresh and innovative. Hell, there’s a boss fight involving a mirror that was just one example of a brilliant experience. The sound department played a huge role in this, too, as it created constantly shifting atmospheres, superb and strange acting, and the ability to keep me on my toes.
As a total side note, Matthew Porretta nailed his role as Dr. Darling. I believe Dr. Darling is one of the greatest video game characters ever created, and a huge piece of that is thanks to Mr. Porretta’s phenomenal job. He was my personal performance of the year award winner. And that cover of Dyna-mite? That scene sealed the deal for me; I love Control.
If you’re familiar with my work, you know that I love a lot of games. I’m a typically positive reviewer, and I always try to find something worth playing in each game I work on. In the case of Control, I truly found a game that I absolutely adore. It’s rare for me to stick with one game fully through (in this case, I earned the platinum trophy) without switching for minor breaks, but Control held me in thrall. This will go down as one of my favorite games of the generation – if not of all time. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you pass on this gem. It really is that good.