Control was way ahead of its time when it released in 2019. It’s a surreal shooter from the creators of Alan Wake that goes into the dark reaches of your psyche as you traverse The Oldest House. I tried it for a few hours in 2020 and quit because of the eyestrain due to the uneven brightness and color palette.
If there’s a way to plainly describe Control, it would be perched comfortably in the middle where Oxenfree sits on one end and Kentucky Route Zero on another. While Oxenfree is easily understood and Kentucky Route Zero is an art installation, Control rewards your action with abstract visions that descends into a rabbit hole of trippy wonder.
With Control Ultimate Edition being offered for free on PS Plus for February, there’s almost no excuse to not try it out at some point. (For those without a PS5 yet, you can learn how to download it here) Especially now that all the DLCs are available, Control Ultimate Edition is the definitive way to play this hit from Remedy Entertainment.
Easier On The Eyes
I played this game on the PS4 a year ago, quit playing, and moved on to other titles before returning to it upon the release of the Ultimate Edition. Narrative-wise, it’s definitely a game I’d love. It’s full of mystery, character development, and just the entire concept is in the realm of the abstract that it’d be an obvious pick for me.
The reason why I stopped playing was because it was not an very inviting title. While Souls-like games turn me off not because of the difficulty spikes but the way that the game forces me to play a certain way, it enters into a realm of tedium that takes away all motivation of playing it. Control is an uncomfortable game for me where the colors are too stark, the brightness either too striking or ill-lit, and it creates a sort of pressure point that pushes all my buttons in all the wrong ways.
Every time you die, you lose 10% of your total source points, which is used to upgrade your gear. It took quite a bit of time to reload the game because of PS4’s slow loading speed especially late into the generation, where most games are optimized for the PS4 Pro and base PS4 owners like myself just have to endure. Coupled with the fact that the colors causes eye strain, everything about the game just becomes an irritant.
If you don’t figure out that this game is all about the run-and-gun, it will be frustrating if you prefer to take it slow and easy — you will be dying a lot. Think of the difference in playstyle as something like Call of Duty and Doom.
Dying needlessly causes your irritation to branch off on the other factors of the game that soon wear off its novelty. The droning of the background noise start to sound taunting, and every time you lose 10% of your total source points, it is now a perfect storm that pretty much equates the same feeling I experience when playing a Souls-like game.
However, once you get past the first boss, just like any Souls-like game, you are now treated to upgrades and the Oldest House starts to open its doors to you. The game doesn’t hold your hand, however. The map is designed for reference and not as a crutch, the reload (recharge) function for your guns don’t work the same way as most shooters, and you take damage quite easily.
On the PS5, the upgrades due to the hardware really ease you into the game. Loading times are about five seconds on the PS5 compared to the 27 seconds on the PS4 (see video comparison), so you don’t have to wait too long in between deaths. While I suppose that majority will prefer the 60FPS support on Performance mode, I personally prefer taking graphics mode as it controls the brightness much better than performance mode, as well as seeing those sweet raytraced reflections, even if it does lock the game to 30fps. The brightness still swings in extreme ways, however it isn’t as uncomfortable as the PS4 version.
If you’ve become irritated or frustrated starting out with the game, don’t worry, because the game is designed to get under your skin. It finds many ways to do it even after you’ve completed the first two missions. You are rewarded for putting up with it, whether in its unique narrative, or with its really robust character development. Once you figure out how to play the game, maneuver in its surreal world — It gets better.
Jesse Faden Away
As I mentioned, once you complete the first two missions, the game opens up to you and you are now able to access customization screens to upgrade your load out and level up abilities. You start out as a regular human, able to jump, sprint, and shoot but as soon as you are exposed to Objects of Power starting with your Service Weapon, the world of the Federal Bureau of Control opens up to you. Commands start out simple: you fire your weapon and have a melee attack to start.
When you add psionics to the already fast-paced run-and-gun nature of the game, it is the closest you can get to an Akira video game. That’s right, everything within the confines of the Oldest House becomes your plaything. You can tear debris from the walls and throw it at enemies with your mind. You can do the same to construct a makeshift shield to protect you from damage. At a certain point you will access Objects of Power that allow you to mind control weakened enemies and have the ability to levitate and evade.
For that, you will be expending source points as previously mentioned and they could be attained from vanquishing infected enemies by the Hiss. The Hiss is the unexplained phenomena that binds the Oldest House in its suspended state. Its employees have been infected and they’ve become the enemies that you must defeat. Security guards and military personnel are infected by this phenomena and have become a hostile force to try and stop you.
As you proceed through the game, you encounter different kinds of Hiss-infected enemies that evolve into a nightmarish adversaries. Many of them possess the same abilities as you. Some fly and attack from above, while some have the same shielding mechanics and utilize the debris as instant death projectiles. My favorite are the zombified corpses that slowly float and explode when they reach you. It’s a makeshift jump scare. Yet the balance never feels too hard nor does it get too easy, it maintains relatively challenging and encourages you to adapt to the enemies as the enemies adapt to you.
Your firearm is your main mode of attack. You can upgrade your loadout weapons, which transform your Service Weapon into different forms. It starts out as a semi-automatic handgun (Grip), to a shotgun (Shatter), to a charged long range attack (Pierce), an automatic weapon (Spin), and finally explosive rounds for your semi-automatic (Charge). The grenade launcher variant (Surge) is from the AWE DLC.
What strengthens you are the specific Mods that amplify your psionics (Personal Mods) and your loadout (Weapon Mods). They range in rarity (common, uncommon, rare, prime, and absolute) that could be acquired through chests located throughout the Oldest House, crafted from materials that you collect, or won by completing radiant quests in the form of Executive Alerts or Board Countermeasures.
The skill progression and character build used in this type of action keeps the game fresh and at times I forget my current story to explore the building in order to farm material and earn these Mods. I highly recommend this because enemies progressively get more difficult and after a while before you realize it, you’re starting to fight swarms of these Hiss-infected enemies. You’ll need all the help you can get.
Oldest House In The Middle Of The Street
There’s a bit of a Metroidvania with the way the Oldest House is built. At first you’ll follow a rigid pathway with only the main questline as your guide. For exploration addicts, it is part of the reason why I wasn’t hooked right away. The moment you complete the first two missions, you now have access to key cards that allow you to go into locked treasure rooms of varying clearance levels.
Around a quarter way into the game, you will have access to Level 5, which allows you freedom to explore the Oldest House. That gives you access to most of the floors, which gives way to taking on side quests and radiant quests to farm material and collect rare mods. What’s unpredictable is the type of enemy that you would face traversing these locations.
One thing that’s great with the progress of the game is that you will have to cleanse control points that serve as checkpoints, fast travel nodes, and also where you upgrade your weapons and power up your abilities. I love these checkpoints because once you cleanse them, the stark red color that envelops your screen vanishes and the brightness adjusts to the typical fluorescent seen in your favorite office building.
As you explore, you’ll run into many collectibles in the game, which come in different varieties. I prefer the multimedia because you can have it running in the background while you explore the Oldest House. You’ll have your optional reading material that you’ll never read save for the biggest completionists among you. Call this a nitpick, but less is more. While it is one of the better collectible systems I’ve seen in a while, I prefer how they streamlined collectibles in something like The Medium but also because they have far fewer items to collect.
The Neverending Story
The narrative of this game is trippy and its mystery continues to motivate and entertain the deeper you get into the game. The more of the characters you meet as the chapters unfold add to the mystery and they each are diverse in their own way. I’m just glad that we don’t get to see the same boring character archetypes seen in most AAA titles and while the brightness continue to irritate, their narrative choices are refreshing.
Photo mode is a bliss especially on graphics mode. Reflections with ray tracing feels so crisp, there’s so much work done by Remedy to really give the player a sense of place. While there are no actual mirrors in the game including in the washrooms, reflective surfaces allow for this feature to really stand out. While most of the scenery really shows the drab industrial workplace setting, when the set pieces really come to life, there’s a sense of awe that comes out when areas like the Blackrock Quarry or the vastness of the Power Plant come to life.
Control’s controls (heh) really shine thanks to the Dualsense controller, with haptic feedback allowing you to feel your footsteps in real time giving that illusion of being present. Plus the general feel of the game compared to a Dualshock is leagues better with better aiming due to the adaptive triggers. It fits the frenetic gun play and psychic duels seen in the battles.
A quick mention, but the use of the ITC Avant Garde Gothic Bold as its typeface is magnificent. Every time a new department is shown, its stark bold lettering on screen is quite possibly a personal favorite. It gives me goosebumps every time this comes on and it is a simple pleasure every time I look forward to seeing it pop up. While it isn’t Gill Sans used in 2001 Space Odyssey or Neue Helvetica seen in 2002’s Solaris or 500 Days of Summer, this sans-serif gives it that de-humanized, industrial feel, which fits with the overall theme.
The game overall is pretty short. The main story takes about 12 hours with a completionist run doubling that to 25 hours. The extra content will give you another 8-14 hours for both DLCs, which further expands the world (and to continue to see amazing fonts). I feel that 30-40 hours is more than enough to give us a good experience for this game. While frustrating at parts, when you get past certain areas, the game gives you a good sense of catharsis. There’s a weird sense of relief and accomplishment when you overcome the many obstacles the game literally throws at you.
What We Liked:
- Exploration of The Oldest House is dynamic with each department its own unique world.
- Narrative expands on its ongoing mystery and intriguing lore.
- Balanced challenge with enemy types adjusting to character progression and gear upgrades.
- Fast paced gameplay combines gunplay with psionics seamlessly.
- Radiant quests keep character progression fresh especially when farming rarer materials.
- Unique visual style matched with a striking typeface highlighted in PS5’s Graphics Mode.
What We Didn’t Like:
- Extreme swings in brightness may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
- Too much red gets annoying.
- It takes until after the first two missions to get used to the jarring atmosphere.
- For current owners of Control regular edition, full price for a next-gen upgrade and DLCs isn’t worth it.
Verdict: Buy It!
I equally loved The Medium and Control‘s mystery, lore, and overall narrative. I also felt the same irritation and frustration with both titles regarding the strange design elements unique to their games. What made Control a fantastic game, however, is its ability to provide catharsis. There’s a level of emptiness that The Medium imbibes even when you complete a chapter because most of its gameplay is passive. Control gives players a sense of fulfillment once they acquire a new Object of Power, finally succeed in an Executive Alert, or solve the mystery that plagues a department in The Oldest House.
It’s worth noting that my rating is perfect for someone who is playing the game for the first time and doesn’t own the game yet. This is a definitive must buy, even at full price with all of the DLC and especially the next-gen upgrades. If you already own the regular edition of the game on a previous-gen console and have no plans for a PS Plus subscription, the full price just isn’t worth it.
Revisiting this game has been a treat. The PS5 proves to its current owners that its upgrades really enhance classic titles and improves performance on titles like Control. It’s a shame that I almost skipped this title because of personal preferences and I’m grateful for services like the PS Plus to be able to provide a convenient copy. Control‘s time finally came for another look when you haven’t jumped onto it the first time, and it’s on the platform that fully realizes its potential.