As naming conventions go, the Federal Bureau of Control is a bit like 1984’s Ministry of Truth. Orwell’s Ministry was about spreading propaganda and moulding the narrative to fit fabricated truths, while the FBC gives the illusion that it understands and controls the weird and extraordinary things within its walls when really it’s a team constantly guessing and hoping nothing breaks the illusion. Of course, something eventually does and it’s up to Jesse Faden to fight back and actually restore some semblance of order and control.
Right from the start, the surrealism is front and centre. A seemingly innocuous chat with a janitor quickly reveals that nothing is as it seems within the Federal Bureau of Control. Jesse herself has the role of Director thrust upon her, and though she’s had her own otherworldly experiences, the things happening within the building do give the sense she is a fish out of water in an unprecedented situation. That is the invasion of The Hiss, a mysterious force that has corrupted the majority of the Bureau’s workers and is using them as soldiers in this attack. When Jesse enters, the Bureau is on the brink of falling to the Hiss, so she must do everything in her power to lead the fight back.
Jesse is armed with the Service Weapon, one of the Objects of Power that is found in the game. It’s a gun that can change its form from pistol to machine gun, shotgun, rifle, and rocket launcher. Alongside that are a growing set of powers that Jesse wields, including levitation, launching projectiles, shield, seizing control of enemies, and dashing. Much like the weapon upgrades, Jesse has to earn these powers through different missions within the Bureau with many of those revolving around finding Altered Items.
Altered Items are seemingly everyday items linked to something outside our dimension, bringing weird effects into this world. They could be something as mundane as a fridge or an anchor, and the Bureau is littered with them. Not all Altered Items give powers, but finding them rewards points to upgrade Jesse’s skills, weapons and mods. You never know what to expect as you approach them, and Remedy have created so many different scenarios that you want to explore the Bureau to dig even deeper into the weirdness. Control has such a detailed and intriguing environment that it will be one of the most memorable of this generation.
Fighting back against the Hiss largely depends on the type of enemies it throws at you. Many are corrupted Bureau agents that are armed with various guns or rocket launchers, and so you can often engage in straight up gunplay, but other Hiss have abilities similar to Jesse’s. Some levitate and launch items at Jesse, others put up a shield and throw projectiles, while one of the most dangerous materialises right next to you and screams doing a ton of damage. Even when armed with all Jesse’s powers, she never feels overpowered and enemies still feel threatening. Death can come from anywhere, though there are moments when you feel absolutely godlike as you’re launching projectiles while levitating and then using your weapon to fire down at Hiss below you.
If you do die, Jesse will reappear at the Control Points that act as fast travel points throughout the Bureau – a blessing given how tough it can be to navigate and the game’s metroidvania style of world design. Here you can upgrade weapons and character mods. These can be switched at any time and can play a key role in combat, reducing the amount of energy to use a power, increasing damage when low on health, and improving weapon damage among other things. You will need to keep changing them about, especially when it comes to the varied threat you face from bosses.
One boss may require you to launch things at it while another means you’ll need to be dodging a lot. This tactical nuance just shows how much depth there is to Control. If you do come up against an enemy that’s too tough the open nature of the game means you can go and do a different side mission or just explore and learn how to control the powers.
Bureau Alerts will pop up as Jesse explores, which are optional timed situations that give you different combat scenarios. In some, a team of agents may need help in repelling a Hiss incursion in an area, or a powerful Hiss being may need to be eradicated to stop it causing havoc. In addition, there are challenges called Board Countermeasures and these could be anything from killing a certain number of Hiss in a certain place, using a specific weapon during a battle, or taking out specific targets. Both of these can reward further mods and Source crystals to upgrade Jesse’s powers and weapon. In addition, various characters you meet have their own missions which opens up more of the Bureau and fill in more details about the place. There’s a lot of content to discover in this unique world.
You’ll learn about the many different things the organisation has been doing, but the answers are never spoon fed to you. Collectables that describe events have redacted bits of information and Jesse herself will comment on some things, but even her story remains a mystery to players throughout. You’re constantly searching for answers, but more and more questions are raised at each turn. The detail and the obfuscation is, in my opinion, fantastic because there’s just enough to give players an idea of what’s going on but allows for the rest to be left to the imagination.
Control is a real graphical tour de force, with stark lighting effects that really give the brutalist architecture of the Oldest House a distinctive look. Unfortunately, there’s some performance dips on PlayStation 4, such as when lots of enemies converge in an area, and the game freezes for a moment after missions are completed.