When Remedy showcased Control at E3 in 2018, the initial trailers and little bits of information about the game that was teased to the audience left quite a few wondering if the game was set to be Quantum Break’s spiritual successor. Even after playing the game, that notion is still tough to shake. There’s so much in common between the two games that you could essentially consider Control as Quantum Break’s little sister.
Instead of being headlined by Jack Joyce, Remedy swaps out for protagonist Jesse Faden. If Jesse’s voice sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because she’s voiced by Courtney Hope, who previously voiced Beth Wilder in (you guessed it) Quantum Break. This is a reoccurring theme for Control, as Remedy also taps some of the voice actors from Max Payne and Alan Wake to fill in Control’s cast.
Control begins amid a cloud of confusion as Jesse, casually albeit cautiously, strolls in to a high security facility that’s supposed to be on lock down. There she is greeted by guards that vaporize into existence from a mysterious red glow. Control does next to nothing to explain what is going on in these sequences minus some commentary from Jesse, but if you button mash enough you’ll eventually figure out that she has a supernatural power that allows her to blast enemies backward with some damage, similar to Jack Joyce’s “time push”. Initially, this is the only option for Jesse when she is thrust unexpectedly into combat, but if players fumble their way through the abstract and obscure opening segment long enough, they’ll eventually find themselves equipping a special issue weapon and additional supernatural powers.
Jesse’s additional powers are unlocked by coming into contact with what are known as Objects of Power. Prior to being able to use each ability, however, players need to guide Jesse through an Astral Challenge that features mild platforming and combat to serve as a pseudo tutorial. Control makes use of a minimalist HUD, and that means that at no point does the game ever show you the button you need to learn to use your new power. Your first attempts at these astral challenges will typically result in a few moments spent at the relative safety of the beginning of the challenge button mashing in hopes of figuring out what your new power is and how to use it.
Despite the ever present feeling of déjà vu that Control inspires, the game’s actual narrative is deeply intriguing. Once you uncover it, that is. Control strings the storytelling out by being intentionally vague, leaving you to rely on a lot of collectibles to fill in the gaps in the early stages. Control takes a page from the Book of Metroidvanias and requires players to trek back to earlier areas of the game to access previously locked doors once they acquire the properly security clearance. Control takes place within the sprawling confines of this insanely large research compound which has the potential to be far more daunting if it weren’t for the fact that there are plenty of fast travels to make movement between the facility’s different areas more palatable.
Even with the assistance of a map and fast travel, actually navigating the facility does still involve difficulty. That minimalist HUD we mentioned before comes into play, again, as there’s no way points to help guide you around when you need to find a specific area. This leads to spending a good chunk of your time with the game flipping between your map to view where you are, and stopping to look at the signs on the walls to sleuth out where you need to go. This is an unusual decision for Control, as one quick click through the settings options shows clearly that Remedy had put quite a lot of thought into the game’s accessibility options. Its possible to have an overlay that translates the signs into different languages, but the dependence on signs and arrows for navigation means there’s a hiccup in the design that would considerably affect visually impaired players ability to experience the game as intended.
Visually, Control is an impressive piece of art. From the expansive size and detail of facility itself, to the way your actions actually destroy the environment, down to the fact that even some of the tiniest items can be picked up and lobbed at those awful Hiss soldiers that torment you. Control is a AAA quality game tucked under the ID@Xbox banner. Good looks and stunning lighting alone do not cover up for some of Control’s shortcomings in performance, however.
Sadly, the performance issues are pretty jarring, with the greatest perpetrator being the frame stuttering and microfreezes that occur every single time the game is unpaused. If you’ve checked your map, or paused the game for a bathroom break, and then want to jump back into controlling Jesse and chucking desks at Hiss soldiers, you’re going to have to wait for the stuttering to end. Every single time. In later missions, when Jesse is faced with larger hordes of Hiss enemies and boss battles, the game frequently stutters and struggles to keep up with everything happening on screen, as well.
[Reviewer’s Note: Hey, guys! Cole here! Remedy has said that there will be a day one patch that should fix most of the performance issues I’ve whined about here. I withheld the review until release but have not yet had the patch hit my console. It may or may not address my issues, but I’ll be sure to update this review once I know for sure. For transparency’s sake, I reviewed Control on a Xbox One S and had the game installed to an external SSD. Thanks for understanding!]
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher