Control, developed by Remedy Entertainment and published by 505 games, is a war between left brain and right brain. At times, it seemed the biggest conflict in the game was its technical prowess vs. certain creative vulnerabilities. Control constantly makes you ask “Why?” and “How?” at the wrong times and say, “Whoa, that’s awesome!” at the right times.
After playing the game, it’s so easy to see how this could’ve been the game to end all games this year. There are still plenty of games to come this year, but this one could’ve cemented its legacy quickly before we saw any of the others. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to see where and when the team phoned it in a bit. There are widespread issues where you just can’t help but wonder if the developers really thought things through properly. These issues span from respawn and checkpoint inconsistencies, which are sometimes coupled with irritating load times, to character development, rough animations, AI, etc.
Respawn and Checkpoint Disaster
I purposely stuck “respawn and checkpoint inconsistencies” at the top because while the other issues probably contribute much more to the game’s incompleteness, this one will simply ruin your enjoyment. In a game where combat is extremely important to the game’s success and likability, you’d think the respawn system and checkpoints would make more sense. As you travel through the Federal Bureau of Control as Jesse Faden to stop The Hiss, a supernatural entity trying to take over the agency, you find Control Points. These are used for fast travel between points, crafting personal and weapon mods, and upgrading Jesse. They also act as respawn points whenever you die.
Unfortunately, for combat-challenged individuals like myself, checkpoints are scarce in this game, so when you respawn at these, the fight you died in resets and you have to do it all again, no matter how far you got. While this in and of itself is common and has no bearing on the game’s overall quality, the fact that once you die you have to sit through 60 seconds of a loading screen, respawn at a point a certain distance away, and run another 60 seconds until you finally get back to the fight just in time to die again is a glaring error by Remedy. This goes without mentioning that often you’ll have to go through other meaningless enemies that spawn in certain areas in order to get back to where you were. Why they decided to go with this system as opposed to a traditional checkpoint system is beyond me. It makes the simple act of respawning and trying to play the game tedious and frustrating.
You additionally have to deal with some nonsensical checkpoints here and there. Most of the time, there are no checkpoints, only mission updates that generally take some time to get to. However, the game will then choose to change it up and give you a single checkpoint in between major parts of large fights, but when it does this, it chooses to divide checkpoints by objective instead of difficulty. What I mean is while the first “half” of the fight is rather easy and actually only took five or ten minutes to complete. The second “half” is significantly more difficult and requires maybe 20 or 25 minutes to complete, and that’s if you survive the whole way through. There are other times when the game will respawn you immediately and not penalize you for falling to your death, but then it’ll send you back to the start of the fight if you die at the hands of an enemy. There is just very little consistency in this respect.
Despite checkpoints and respawns, combat is extremely fast-paced and satisfying. Very few games can match Control here. Jesse has tons of ways to approach combat. The Service Weapon gives you so many options by itself being five guns in one. It’s such a unique and interesting take on weapon and ammo management. The gun has a charge as opposed to ammo and recharges itself automatically when not being fired. However, much like weapons in Mass Effect, when the charge is completely spent, you must wait for it to be fully charged before using it again. There’s another interesting spin with the ammo not resetting as you change from one gun form to another. Your weapon shots become so much more important this way, especially when deciding which form to use against which enemies in specific situations.
Couple this with some telekinetic powers and you got yourself one hell of a fight. The abilities to levitate, launch objects towards enemies, and evade attacks make for diverse combat. For example, Launch can be used for massive shield damage or one-shot kills on some enemies; Levitate comes in handy for leveling the playing field against aerial enemies. Experimentation isn’t just encouraged, it’s required!
What’s even more impressive is how smooth and flawless it all is. I’m happy to say that I personally didn’t run into a single bug or glitch the entire game. All of this makes Control one of the most technically impressive games of the year. Exuberant amounts of time and effort shine through the combat, making the game flashy, satisfying, exhilarating, and nail-biting. There’s nothing like full immersion when facing mobs of enemies. For a while, you forget you’re playing a game.
The enemies are all drastically different, so there’s even more fun to be had while figuring out what works and what doesn’t against the many enemy types. You walk into an area and don’t know whether to expect a rocket to the face or a giant rock to the… well, face again. Unfortunately, it’s sad to see such a promising game resort to the Spider-Man version of AI. Remedy tried tremendously to hide their slow and unimpressive AI behind dozens of enemies of all different types and abilities. You want me to be frank? It sucks. Clashing with enemies is still fun, but this discredit’s the talented team working on the game. Quantity over quality is rarely a good idea with AI, and unfortunately, it appears far too often in today’s games.
Story and Characters
The narrative actually takes shelter under a similar roof. There’s so much to the plot, but did anybody give the script a look before deciding to create it? It’s a wonder that any of the characters exist at all. They’re all extremely underdeveloped. There isn’t a single NPC with any ounce of intrigue besides Dr. Darling, but the end to his story here is rather drab and disappointing. Ahti also has some fascinating traits, but they don’t really go anywhere. Jesse herself has multiple motivations which will always give another layer to a character, but her character goes through some pretty sudden changes that aren’t particularly profound or enlightening. As we discover the true story behind the FBC throughout the game, Jesse just seems along for the ride. Every once in a while, she reminds us that she’s looking for her brother, Dylan, but you can’t help but just feel totally disconnected from her throughout the game. Courtney Hope’s portrayal of her is rather flat and uninspired with little drama or stakes. At the end of the day, the complex story behind what happened and how feels fascinating but inconsequential to the game itself. The story gives a minimalist context for the combat, but that’s about it.
It’s fortunate that this doesn’t take away from the atmosphere. Lighting was another stellar aspect of this game that often leaves you grasping at words trying to find the right ones. Flashing images, bright red rooms, dark corridors, and a vast emptiness all give you a sense of dread and curiosity. It makes you want to explore the facility despite it, again, being devastatingly somber, creepy, and empty. The background is told through what you find around the facility in the way of documents and recordings. While this is the worst way of expressing lore in a video game, Control thankfully doesn’t hinge on it for the story. Most revelations and plot advancements are told in Jesse’s head, and, what’s better, the effects are on full display in the world. You want the story? Look around you. Do some searching and digging. Everything worth knowing is right in front of your eyes, and it’s all destructible during combat. It’s all quite beautiful and creative.
I so desperately want to leave it at that last sentence, but there’s so much still missing. I wish this game was worked on for two more years and given to us in full force. All of the aforementioned downfalls are bad enough, but the game is also plagued with terrible mouth animations, no fascinating dialogue choices, no cover system where you could really use one, and a frustrating lack of proper setting outside of the FBC.
There’s no telling what this game could’ve been with some more time and thought, but what it is is a sophisticated and exciting game filled with a rush of adrenaline despite missing opportunities with its characters and moment-to-moment quality.
This review of Control is based on the PC version. A review code was provided by the publisher.
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