CONTROL [Review]: Edge of Tomorrow.

Travis Moody

I’m losing Control. One of the most exhilarating, yet frustrating third-person action shooters I’ve played in a hot minute, Remedy Entertainment’s Control has arrived, seemingly at both the very best and worst of times. Best.. because the August 27th is an absolutely great release date; Control is a late summer blockbuster arriving on the heels of Gamescom, just before the onslaught of heavy AAA competition comes a swarming in September. Worst.. for two reasons, one personal and the other–that little anime Nintendo Switch delight that has taken over the hearts of countless critics and curious weebs alike, Fire Emblem: Three Houses.

Like the supernatural gravity our hero Jesse Faden can freely shift and manipulate to help aid her through the Oldest House — the FBC’s (Federal Bureau of Control) headquarters — this here Control is pulling me away from playing my so-far 2019 GOTY. Jus’ sayin’. But at least Control is a visual masterpiece, with a stunning level design of cryptic jagged edges and seeping sci-fi red and yellow lights. In fact, Control has some of the best lighting effects in video games. Pieces of street and chunks of wall will spin, swirl and stream at your opponents, soon decaying into smoke that clouds the screen with just enough light beams or cloud cover to witness the chaos around you. Cinematics are sound and characters are detailed. Overall, it’s a magnificent looking trip.

More good news: there’s a lot of good news. One late-game level in particular, the Ashtray Maze, is among the most awesome action sequences/set pieces in a video game ever. Once the early-90s hair band-inspired tune entirely blasts over the frantic hotel/funhouse run of gravity and gunning, you’ll have no other reason to “STAND UP AND SHOUTTT!!!” It’s so friggin’ rad. I could give the game 5 Bibles based on this stage alone. I.. could.

Then, there’s the action-adventure gameplay. If you loved Remedy’s last entry, Quantum Break (which I found a solid yet unspectacular Xbox One exclusive), you’re gonna dig this one so much more. Both games share the Northlight Engine, with this one relying on far more than freezing time to take down foes. Jesse’s powers come off like a Jedi Neo Croft in the TV show “Legion”. That’s Control in a nutshell, and the narrative is even more intriguing.

So who let dad out of bed again?

As Jesse delves into the Old House and its constantly shifting landscape, from standard video game government offices (see: every Bond game ever) to the usual creepy pipeline tunnel environs (see: uh, every 3rd person shooter ever), you’ll come across far more shifty, yet sublime Destiny/Mass Effect areas of the FBC meshed from gravity manipulation. Control‘s horror pours out from its science. You’re constantly reminded that there is a far bigger plan in play than solving a fucked-up childhood and bringing that sicko brother of yours back to normalcy– a higher cause behind all the friction (pun intended). It’s then up to you to find out if that cause is.. well.. you.

There are some heavy layers of script here, but nothing too expository or drag; info comes in the form of old docs, wired transmissions and an evil scientist’s Instagram stories. I kid about the last part, but his projection screen docs have pretty much the same motive. Often, a large number of side quests (often hard to find stuff the creepy Finnish Janitor wants you to take care of) provide humorous alternatives to a story with such a concerning overhead.

“Here’s your 2 week notice!”

It’s a damn shame I lost my way with Control before completion, then, eh? It certainly isn’t the first time. And don’t get it twisted; Control is not Dark Souls difficult. There is no “git gud” here. There’s a level of patience, timing and luck (evading away from enemy fire and not into it) that goes into getting by the swarms of powered up Hiss that come across your path. Early on, your Jesse will be in full control. You’ll get to the hang of the game’s gravity in the use of objectional telekinesis, enemy mind manipulation, and, later on, that whole Matrix part with mind-to-body levitation. The Old House opens up into some pretty wonderful supernatural shit the more you explore.

There are also Astral Plane segments you’ll dive into that are a fun challenge (yeah– hard and frustrating-less!) and offer more paranatural abilities upon completion. Slowly but surely, you’ll mod Jesse’s Service Weapon pistol through a series of various upgrades, too. While the gunplay doesn’t feel on par with Remedy’s Max Payne 3, there’s no doubt that Jesse’s toys are far more fun to play with. Shatter is a shotty and likely the mod you’ll use most; the Spin sub-machinegun is the most fun, but does the least damage and isn’t all that accurate; Pierce hits the hardest, but is a pain to recoil, etc.

I have a really BAD Lego joke I could put right here.

This all sounds like Game of the Year material, Moody, what the flubb are you on? Oh, you’re not wrong, pal. There’s going to be a lot of people praising this game. It has all the goods. It’s better than Quantum Break and maybe even Max Payne 3 (I never played Alan Wake, so I can’t say, but I can already feel your teeth clenching as I say that..). Before I go on my tirade, even IGN refers to Control as “scathingly, gratifyingly difficult.” That statement is going to please a lot folks who want a hard AF challenge, and early on, with no medkits in tact (you can only replenish health from popping foes), I learned in the worst way that patience in Control is a virtue.

The problem is that, right now, I don’t have any. Playing the gorgeous, uber relaxing strategy anime that is Fire Emblem has sort of ruined Control for me.. even with the help of a wonderful PR chap who guided me through an area I just couldn’t get through. I’ve never asked PR for help in a video game before. I mean, think about how ridiculous that is! Good thing is, I followed dude’s advice, going back and finishing off several side missions to level up my Energy levels (the ability needed to toss desks, chairs, waste baskets, cardboard boxes and fire extinguishers at soldiers, zombified alien fuckers and so forth) before going back to ol’ Salvador and wiping out him and Hiss cult in a mere 30 seconds. This followed 35 straight deaths!

At least this way beats that morning traffic.

Thus I recovered still, fought through the shit and eventually felt like a million bucks– until I was subjected to reaching a mysterious area called Polaris. Yeah, that’s a big no. Besides the electricity going out, or your console freezing, the worst video games thing happened: following several deaths (like several), I finally finally FINALLY defeated three ultra tough waves of enemies — we are talking two hit death stuff here — before an updated mission cue popped up with no clear direction as to where to go next. Where the fuck am I supposed to wind up? Now, with levitate powers at my disposal I soared far and wide to find.. to reach.. to take in.. to breath.. Polaris. I almost called my PR guy in fear that something stupid would happen, like me falling off a ledge or Jesse floating herself into a barren hole and having to start this beyond grueling mission over.

Well, it happened. I was actually emailing my guy before ever so carelessly slipping off an edge into the dark abyss. No autosave, no new mission point to start off, no.. nothing. You can’t quicksave in Control; you can only reach checkpoints every 15 to 20-minutes of gameplay. And sometimes enemies will respawn, and sometimes they strangely will not. Sometimes all of the enemies will be cleared out posthumously, and you’re still forced to backtrack through long nothing paths of level stuff you’ve already cleared. But hey, no one said this game was supposed to be normal.

The end. For now. 505 Games was amazing enough to give me a way early advanced copy of this Remedy title (a publisher whose games I had no problem completing and being GUD at in the past), yet I’m stuck here.. close to the end but not close enough. Bruh, I’ve gotta get myself under Control! The fact this action title’s so daunting and demonstratively tough is a great thing. It’s not Remedy’s fault that Control, for all my recent personal anguish (oh, career and relationship shit, you know), arrived at a time when I just don’t feel like dyin’ and dyin’ and dyin’ (even with permadeath on, at least FETH has a rewind option to save those little anime cuties from sayin’ bye-bye). Control can reach Live.Die.Repeat levels of fuckery.

Despite all my torment, Control is a thrilling action-adventure triumph that Remedy should be proud of and should go on to sell millions of copies. Don’t be surprised if it winds up on a lot of gamers and gaming critics’ year-end “Best Of” lists, too — minus those folk who had Energy levels maxed and still chucked a controller through their flatscreen. Welp. 4/5 Damaged Control Pads.

-Travis Moody

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