The narrative set up in Remedy’s Control is as weird as it is almost unimportant to know at this time. There’s a malevolent supernatural force called The Hiss, the protagonist, Jesse Faden, has a mysterious past that she’s trying to uncover, and that’s led her to the rather unusual government agency, the Federal Bureau of Control.
Of course, it all goes a little bit off the rails and Jesse, through some kind of arcane ritual, has become the Director of the FBC, and thus the only person capable of wielding the institution’s powers. On several occasions as she triggers world altering events, she starts muttering a kind of mantra stating that she has the right to do this, she has Control. Whether it’s reassuring herself that she does, or part of the process, it gets the job done.
It can be quite staggering when these transformations occur, whether it’s something simplistic like pulling a light switch three times and the corridor ahead suddenly being a completely different one, or the more seismic, with a whole room being disassembled into large blocks of concrete that swirl around a weird little black and white TV. Even without the Hiss invading, this has the feeling of a weird haunted house – it’s enigmatically called the Oldest House, to boot – and there’s definitely elements of psychological horror nestled throughout Remedy’s world. The crisp lighting effects in particular look incredible and lend the game a lot of its atmosphere. To be fair, so do the floating corpses.
A horror game this is not, though, and it wasn’t long before Jesse was battling with the Hiss. It manifests itself through taking control of humans and giving them varying levels of supernatural powers. Also guns. The regular reanimated enemy don’t offer much in that regard, but others might be able to use telekinesis to pick up objects and tear up the world around them.
They’re similar powers to the ones that Jesse now wields. Her two main abilities are Shield, which rips up a floating wall of debris and catches incoming bullets before flinging them to stun enemies, and Launch, which picks up and hurls items.
Being the Director also allows Jesse to wield a unique shapeshifting handgun, appropriately called The Director’s Pistol, made out of black blocks that constantly move and reorientate themselves. It can shift from simple pistol shots in its Grip form to shotgun-like blasts as Shatter, never needing to be reloaded, but with its ammo recharging over time.
Combat is fast and impactful. Combining these various attacks and abilities looks natural and fluid, with Shield meaning Jesse never has to hide in cover and also allowing her to stun enemies before then turning to her offensive abilities. Come up against a similarly powered opponent and it turns into a war of attrition, dismantling the swirling debris that they keep around them, dodging whatever objects they fling at Jesse, and then striking when the opportunity presents itself.
This is obviously just a small subset of the abilities that Jesse will eventually have and face, but they extend beyond combat. Levitate does exactly what it says on the tin, letting Jesse float across gaps and reach certain ledges in the bureau.
Remedy describe it as a “world within a location”, emphasising its ability to shift and transform, as well as the admitted Metroidvania structure. As Jessie gains control of more abilities by finding Objects of Power like the aforementioned black & white TV, she’ll open up new parts of the Oldest House; in some ways the demonstration’s glimpse into this world reminded me of BioShock’s Rapture.
Remedy have long built games with the supernatural at their core, and in many ways Control feels like an evolution of those ideas. More fascinating, however, it the way this is all being woven together in the Oldest House, as it will transform to Jesse’s will and gradually reveals its secrets.