Remedy’s games have dabbled with the supernatural for quite some time but Control takes that to the next level, putting even more abilities in your hands, pitting you against an otherworldly foe, and looking damn good as it does so. We finally got to go hands on with the game this week, and let me tell you that it feels as awesome to play as it looks.
The abilities that Jesse has at her disposal are fantastic. We’ve been shown several of these previously, such as the telekinetic Launch to pick up and throw items, Levitate, and Shield which pulls world objects and debris to create a protective barrier. New abilities include being able to perform a ground slam from levitating, turning weakened enemies to your side, and more. On their own, they might not be all that spectacular, but combined they offer a lot of freedom, especially when put to use alongside the Director’s Service Weapon.
This is a shapeshifting gun, adding a little mystery to what might otherwise end up being boring assault rifles and pistols. The two on show here were the SMG-like Spin and charged up Pierce that can shoot through scenery with its powerful rounds. One of the interesting quirks is that the gun reloads over time, and its load status seems to be shared between the two forms you have active for switching on the fly, but each form can independently be modified to reduce reload times, increase mag size and so on. The same is true of Jesse, who gradually gains skill points to spend on making her abilities more powerful, and also has more general character mods, as they’re currently known.
You’ll need all the abilities you can get, because the Hiss that has invaded The Oldest House has taken control of the human agents of the Federal Bureau of Control. Some will simply come at you with a gun, others come equipped with rocket or grenade launchers (which are fun to pull out of the air and send right back) or they’ve been twisted and augmented by the Hiss. There’s guys sat in floating office chairs throwing shards of concrete at you, gatling gun enemies that are twice the size of regular enemies, and worse. Some enemies aren’t even human, such as the floating orb known as a Hiss Cluster that can heal its allies. Manage to Seize it and it’ll even heal Jesse.
In truth Control brings together so many ideas and stylistic elements that might feel like you’ve seen them before, from being able to grab items from the world like the classic Half-Life 2 Gravity Gun, to the twitchiness of the pose she uses to launch herself and then glide, akin to a broken Iron Man suit or inFamous. Yet it also has its own very distinctive visual feel as it blends these ideas together. The biggest part of that comes from the Hiss, with the possessed humans that have been brought under its thrall often shrouded in visual disruption. They’re smudged, leaving a trail behind them as they move, and whisping away when they die like petrol diffusing on the surface of water. Across the FBC’s headquarters, the Hiss has taken over points of control, planting this kind of visual disturbances throughout.
The Oldest House draws on brutalist architecture, with plenty of bare concrete walls and balconies, regimented office desks, and yet unusual layouts to many open areas and surprise injections of the ornate. Though the game is set in the present day, all of the technology on show is dated and old, bringing to mind the Dharma Initiative from Lost, not least from the slightly cheesy videos featuring heads of department like Dr. Caspar Darling being played on TVs and projectors in offices.
Fun fact: grab a projector with Launch, and it will continue to play and project the video onto whatever surface it’s pointed at, distorting properly. It’s one part of the outstanding lighting engine that Remedy have built into their Northlight Engine. It’s been used to truly jawdropping effect in previous gameplay showcases and demos, and only loses half a step in terms of performance when playing a deep in development build of the game on PS4 Pro.
All of this comes together in a manner that will be familiar to fans of Metroidvania-style games, just with a sprawling 3D world and AAA production values pouring out of it. Having only taken on the mantle of Director during the Hiss’ invasion of the FBC, Jesse starts the game with only a handful of resources and abilities, growing them through the course of the game by finding Objects of Power and taming them. It’s that growing power that starts to open or allows Jesse to open new parts of the building, but so too will the loss of, well, control over the many mysterious and dangerous things that have been contained by the FBC.
Though combat will naturally be a big part of the game, so too are environmental puzzles. The Oldest House can shift in unusual ways, creating a maze that overlaps itself as you seek the items hidden within, or linking through to the Astral Plane, which is home to a inverted obsidian pyramid and blocky black scenery shrouded in fog. It’s in this unknown where you’ll do battle with bosses, seek some of the most powerful items in the game and earn the use of various Altered Items. However, things like Astral Spikes can also escape, forcing Jesse to try and get them back into containment. This wasn’t an overtly hostile foe, but tore up the room it was moving through, needing to be lured back to a containment cell so that you could power it back up and seal it away once more.
It’s going to be fascinating seeing Control come together ahead of its launch later this year. There’s a very different structure to the world you can explore, asking you to become more powerful and revisit areas to find new paths to follow. Even so, This is a game that builds on what Remedy have done so well over their last few releases, combining supernatural elements with great visual flair.