Being a very busy adult with very many adult-like things to do, it’s easy for some really great games and series to fly completely under the radar. Even games I might have been excited to play are inevitably set aside in order to address the urgent, day-to-day matters that comprise adulthood. Of course, I’m far from being alone in this – but running a geek-centric website and not putting out a review in a timely manner can be…confusing.
Hence, my solution to the problem: welcome to Slowpoke Saturday! This is going to (hopefully) be a weekly piece where one of us goes back to review a piece of media (video game, movie, comic, etc) that didn’t come out last week, or even last month…but more likely something that came out within the last 12-18 months that got buried by other responsibilities.
This week’s subject is a game that I heard quite a bit about when it was released, but didn’t get around to playing it until it recently went on sale on the Playstation store – so I decided to pick it up and give it a swing: Control.
In Control, you play as Jesse Faden – a young woman who seeks out the fictional (or is it…?) Federal Bureau of Control in an attempt to find answers about where her younger brother, Dylan, might be. You see, when they were young they discovered an unusual item that summoned otherworldly creatures…gave Jesse a peek behind the “looking glass”, so to speak…before an unknown power, later called Polaris by our protagonist, helped to dispel the creatures. The Bureau of Control soon appeared and took Jesse’s younger brother into custody, and she hasn’t heard from him since.
What begins as an information-gathering visit becomes much more when Jesse discovers that the Bureau is under attack by an alien force known as the Hiss. Able to possess objects, and people, the Hiss put the Bureau on lockdown, yet Jesse is able to stroll in despite these barriers. Her unique background, as well as her discovery of a powerful artifact known as the “Service Weapon”, sets her up to become the last thing she would expect: Director of the Federal Bureau of Control.
In your new role, you explore The Oldest House – the Bureau of Control’s headquarters – and seek to uncover answers about not only its own long and complicated past, but also your own. Armed with a shapeshifting gun and your own, ever-expanding array of telekinetic powers, you will take on the Hiss and assert your role as the Director.
It’s a Mad World
As a 3rd person action/adventure game, the vibe that I immediately got from Control was more along the lines of Resident Evil than say, Uncharted. The narrative is very much a scramble from the start – with incomplete thoughts, sentences and characters creating a fragmented plot that you begin to piece together – a shattered vase of a narrative that grows more compelling with each piece that you meticulously glue back into place.
At first I didn’t really define Control as being a horror game, though it certainly nailed the “heebie jeebies” vibe, with whispers and discordant talking in the background of many areas. As the game progresses, however, the lines between suspense/supernatural thriller and horror definitely get more and more blurred.
A central component of the narrative is Jesse Faden’s own mental state. We often see her talking to herself…or rather…to “Polaris” when interacting with new people. These mumblings lead you to doubt Jesse’s mental state…and by extension, your own.
Complicating this is that from the start, Jesse is essentially “vindicated” for what would otherwise be considered conspiracy theorist thinking – that a shadowy government organization is steeped in supernatural research and absconded with her little brother over 15 years before. So, if she’s right about this…why wouldn’t she be right about other things?
Control does a great job of inviting you into Jesse’s mind – whether you see it as stable or…unstable. New characters you meet might be tainted with the same paranoia that Jesse harbors for them internally.
Overall, Control creates the suspense & thriller atmosphere in an exceptional manner. Complemented with great music and sound effects, The Oldest House soon feels like an insane asylum…and you’re just the right inmate to run the place.
Losing Control, Gaining Power
To navigate The Oldest House, and the Hiss invasion that has permeated every department, you’re going to need a lot more than a shapeshifting gun, though that’s certainly not a bad place to start. The first power you unlock is “Launch”, which allows you to telekinetically pick up practically anything that’s not bolted down (and some things that are) and hurl it at your enemies with great force.
As the game progresses you unlock other abilities, and not all of them are offensive either – you also get movement based upgrades like a dash, the ability to levitate and more.
There are a number of things that that really impressed me about Control’s combat. To start – it really encourages dynamic combat. Early on the game offers as one of its “tips” that staying still is probably not a good idea. Sure – lots of games suggest the same thing.
Except Control isn’t kidding. Having a good grasp on running and gunning, finding temporary spots of reprieve to duck behind cover and continuing your movement really helps to turn around otherwise tough encounters. Your enemies, being possessed employees that are used to employing military tactics, have terrific aim and strategy that will thoroughly punish you if you’re not careful.
Another thing that adds to the dynamism of combat is how the service weapon “reloads” – rather than having to dig through cabinets for boxes of ammo, the service weapon regenerates its ammo in time. While it is regenerating, it forces you to lean on your telekinetic abilities so you can experience a good balance of gunning and hurling chunks of concrete and metal at your opponents from a distance.
As the game progresses you gain the ability to upgrade your service weapon and invest ability points in bolstering your various abilities. You can equip “mods” on your weapon modes, as well as personal mods to boost things like your health, or reduce the energy required to execute your various skills. This encourages more exploration and curiosity, as components may be tucked away in hidden chests or set upon shelves throughout The Oldest House
As you refine your skills, you find that with each wave of enemies that spawns, each baddie-filled room is an engaging and welcome puzzle. The combat is fun, and the controls are tight and responsive.
Perhaps most impressive, however, is the difficulty level. Unlike the vast majority of action games out there, Control doesn’t give you the option of setting a difficulty level. That’s right – you get to skip that opening ritual where you contemplate your worth as a gamer depending on whether or not you skip the “Brutal” setting on a game. With that said, holy crap does Control do a great job of balancing difficulty. Some rooms present a challenging makeup of Hiss soldiers, who evolve from your run of the mill grunts to walking tanks that spam grenades and missile launchers like they’re going out of style. Boss battles might take you a try, or five, but the goal is always within reach.
I’m bummed that I missed out on Control last year – though I now see what all the buzz was about. This smartly crafted 3rd person action title is a wonderful 13-18 hour romp through an interesting and engaging world. I look forward to delving deeper and unlocking the platinum trophy for this game – and chances are you’ll be inclined to pursue perfection as well!