Remember when government conspiracies were fun? When it was about men staring at goats, alien technology, “X-Files,” and the stories about that man in black? Tales that fit in with ghost stories and Bigfoot?
I do. As a teenager, I spent many long nights staying up listening to the creepy and spooky stories on “Coast to Coast AM,” watching garbage television shows about aliens and more recently I’ve enjoyed the SCP Foundation, a collaborative web-based fiction series presented as research reports from the paranormal.
So, suffice it to say when I heard that there was a new video game that rolled all of these themes up into a single package I was already sold.
“Control” puts you in the role of Jesse Faden as she walks into an anonymous — and mysteriously empty — government building. Something’s drawn her to what we find out is the Federal Bureau of Control, a secret government agency that deals with what its scientists call the “paranatural.”
The “paranatural” is anything that doesn’t obey the laws of nature and reality, and you’ll find plenty of that in the time you play “Control.”
The Federal Bureau of Control is under attack from a mysterious force called “The Hiss” that corrupts the minds of everyone from ordinary office workers to the armed security forces. In the disorder, the Federal Bureau of Control has, well, lost control of a bunch of “paranatural” objects like an 8-inch floppy disk that contains the USSR’s nuclear launch codes that gives Jesse the ability to lift and hurl pretty much anything in the environment.
It falls to Jesse Faden and a handful of surviving bureau employees to reclaim, well, control of the Federal Bureau of Control. Jesse will gain special abilities along the way that continually mix up the combat in “Control” while also building the game’s world.
Typically, graphics aren’t a major selling point for me, but “Control” does a stellar job in this category. The art design of the building and the character models are great, but the explosions and destruction that can be brought down on the building is fantastic and really impressive (though it comes with some performance issues, particularly on the base PS4 and Xbox One).
“Control” has a few shortcomings, especially when it comes to a relatively punishing checkpoint system that can have you replaying long, difficult sequences over and over again. There are also times where you’ll find big, revelatory things in the world that go uncommented on by Jesse Faden. Even a “Whoa,” or a “Well, that was weird” after finding something that was particularly weird would have helped connect the world together a little bit more.
But in the grand scheme of things, those are the kind of complaints you find when critiquing something that’s so enjoyable. Everything from top to bottom in “Control” helps build this mysterious and creepy environment that invites you to explore and discover.
What really draws me into “Control” is its excellent world-building and deep lore. Developers Remedy draw from and pay homage to all sorts of spooky and eerie pop culture ranging from “Twin Peaks,” many of the sources I’ve mentioned above and even the stark imagery of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” but they do so while adding their own flair to the formula.
Some of the best moments in “Control” are spent digging through the emails, memos, audio logs and, yes, live-action video that blend the fantastic with banal office culture. After all, the Federal Bureau of Control is a huge government bureaucracy.
In a world filled with so many video games that are made by committee, “Control” feels like a singular, creative vision filled to the brim with love for the source material. “Control” is at the top of my list of games played this year and I can’t wait to see what else the developers have in store.
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
If You Play
Rating: 5 out of 5
Platforms: PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One
Internet usage: 25GB to 35GB, depending on platform
Release Date: Aug. 27, 2019
ESRB Rating: Mature