- Control is Remedy Entertainment’s 2019 third-person shooter that was showered with awards and GOTYs
- The good: the game looks phenomenal++, controls are tight and combat can be fun due to Force powers + guns
- The not so good: the game has no depth, no variety and becomes too repetitive
- Story beats are pretty telegraphed; don’t expect any crazy wacky twists or revelations here.
- Buy, borrow or ignore? Borrow or buy on sale
2019 Game of the Year, IGN
2019 Game of the Year, GamesRadar+
2019 Game of the Year, Game Informer
2019 Game of the Year, Electronic Gaming Monthly
Best Game of 2019, Ars Technica
2019 Action Game of the Year, 2019 D.I.C.E. awards
Critics’ Choice Award, 2019 Golden Joystick Awards
[A short list of some of the accolades that Control has earned in the past year or so.]
Well, I’m disappointed.
That’s the best way to sum up my past 20+ hours with Remedy Entertainment’s third-person shooter Control, released last year to great fanfare and critical acclaim. In fact, it’s garnered more than 20 Game of the Year Awards from various “heavy-hitter” gaming industry sources.
On the surface, Control can do no wrong. It’s an action-packed, third-person shooter set in a world filled with bustling conspiracies where your character gets all manner of guns and Force powers. The art design is absolutely phenomenal. The voice acting is stellar. And you’ve probably already seen glimpses of the Ashtray Maze.
It’s when you start peeling these elements back like an onion that its core gameplay loop gets exposed, combat starts looking increasingly repetitive, and you discover that the game really isn’t all that deep after all.
The intro opens on a bleak, boxy government building: the Federal Bureau of Control. We zoom in through the doors and see an empty receptionist desk while your character, Jesse (Courtney Hope) talks about how the world’s like that one movie where there’s a prison cell with a poster on the wall. Except the poster is there to cover a secret hole, and sometimes things…creep out of the hole?
So we dive deeper into the Bureau, which is strangely deserted except for this weirdo janitor guy who looks like he belongs in a horror movie about a weirdo janitor guy that goes around killing people. He says you need to go through the job interview. Great.
You finally get to the Director’s office and discover that the old guy recently killed himself with a shot to the head. His gun is still lying on the floor. You pick it up, start shooting bad guys and never stop.
And that’s the first 15 minutes.
The background of Control centers around the aforementioned Federal Bureau of Control, a top-secret government agency tasked with dealing with all sorts of paranormal activity and preventing *alien* type stuff from leaking into the world as we know it. They’re basically the Men in Black, except the aliens are less kooky and more like everyday items – say, a fridge – that behave in unpredictable ways.
Once you pick up the gun (and go through a brief tutorial), you become The Director, which means you’re now in charge. It also means, thanks to the alien corruption spreading throughout the Bureau, that you’re one of few employees left that can actually do something about it.
But your character has her own motivations, which is figuring out what happened to her brother after being kidnapped 20 years ago. In true Bioshock fashion, most of what you learn about Jesse’s backstory and the game world is pieced together from documents and media scattered around the Bureau.
Without saying too much, story-wise there’s nothing groundbreaking here and much of it is predictable.
Control is first and foremost an action game. There’s no real nuances in combat: you rush in, shoot the place up with your weapon of choice, and use your super powers as needed (which 90% of the time is just going to be chucking stuff at baddies). It’s simplistic to the point where you can’t even reload your weapon manually – it reloads itself after a short period of time. There’s cover, but Control’s version of cover is just you hitting the crouch button or moving behind pillars.
Your basic “service weapon” aka gun starts out as a semi-automatic (it’s called the Grip) and can be upgraded to several other “forms”: shotgun, SMG, rocket launcher, and sniper rifle. I will say that the sniper rifle is the worst that I’ve ever used in a shooter, since it doesn’t come with a scope (it can be modded to increase zoom range later) and requires you to charge halfway to fire. It also shoots automatically after hitting a full charge. Holy crap I hate this gun.
Each form has space for 1-3 mods, depending on your form level, but the mods are standard stuff like faster reload time, more damage, larger magazines, etc. There are slightly more interesting mods that are specific to each form but even then we’re talking more projectiles for the shotgun or a bigger blast radius for the rocket launcher. You also get slots for personal mods that grant, say, more life or lower energy costs. Not super exciting.
And that brings us to the other part of combat, which are your special abilities. I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned before that these are basically Star Wars Force powers. In the beginning, your only ability is Launch (telekinesis – throw objects at enemies) but you later get access to a shield, a dash, a charm [ability to have enemies fight on your side for a short time], and finally, levitation. Each ability can be upgraded with skill points, with at least one major upgrade – for example, you can grab grenades and send them away with Launch, or you can use your dash as an attack.
I have a slightly higher opinion of your character’s Force powers than most of the weapons and mods. While there’s a bit more variety here, you’ll probably just end up using Launch to kill bad guys faster and the dash to move around. The shield and charm abilities are just situationally useful and levitation is really only used to progress through certain areas.
This probably makes combat sound pretty bad overall, but in reality it’s generally fun if for no other reason than you’re basically an overpowered Jedi Master with guns that goes around slaughtering everyone. But it just gets so repetitive. It just gets so repetitive. So. Repetitive.
My biggest issue with Control is that it has so little depth and variety. The game’s core gameplay loop is formulaic: go to this new area, kill bad guys, show a cutscene. Oh wait, now you have to go somewhere else because [generic reason]. Rinse and repeat. And maybe that’s an oversimplification – after all, couldn’t you reduce most shooters to the same basic idea? I always think of a series like Uncharted that manages to shake up the formula and keep things fresh whether you’re 5 or 15 hours into the game.
There’s one section near the end of Control (no spoilers) where you have to use some switches while getting attacked by the same old bad guys. And the most unique part of the encounter is that it takes ~10 seconds to activate a switch, and if you get hit while doing so it gets cancelled and you have to redo it. That’s it.
The lack of depth extends to other parts of the game as well.
Occasionally you’ll get time-sensitive Bureau mission alerts that consist of you going to a certain area and well, clearing waves of bad guys. Completing these gets you currency that you can use to buy more meaningless generic upgrades.
The side quests are just a mixture of boss fights (to be fair, some of these are a bit more interesting than the typical bosses during the campaign) and fetch/kill quests.
And your character’s skill trees are, well, not even skill trees. They’re like palm trees with the rare branch. And the majority of upgrades are vanilla: think something like +20% health or +30% melee damage.
Even the story suffers from this problem. Many of the story beats are fairly telegraphed, and there are no real crazy twists or amazing revelations. What you see is what you get.
So should you buy, borrow or ignore Control? Well, the good news is you can get it on sale for < $30 (PC). And even though it feels like I spent the past 20 paragraphs bashing the game completely, truth be told the game is decent. It’s okay. I don’t feel like I wasted the time I spent, I’m just disappointed after coming in with high expectations.
Individually, there are parts of Control that are incredibly well done (such as the art direction and design) but the sum of these parts just doesn’t rise to the heights of the accolades it has earned. That’s my take.
Control is available for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.