Control

Control exerts full mastery over videogames as a unique narrative form, blending motion-capture acting performances, live-action filmed skits and monologues, puppet shows, radio programs, rock albums, short stories, technical documentation, a whole slew of homages to other videogame genres, and — of course — shooting weird shit that needs to be shot. While not a must, Control and its Oldest House are best experienced in the progressive revelations and immersive weirdness so carefully crafted by its developers. The remainder of this review may contain atmospheric and thematic spoilers.

Control should be remembered, if not for any of its other solid qualities, as a milestone in storytelling with the gaming medium. It’s one thing to have high quality voice acting and motion capture — especially for facial expressions — so that your game characters can converse more naturally than, say, Siri. It’s another thing entirely to film talented actors and put that footage in the game, a technique Remedy continues here from their past work in Quantum Break and, to a lesser extent, Alan Wake and Bright Falls. The narrative tricks needed to pull this off (namely, the Hotline and littering the Oldest House with instructional films and research updates) are clever. Weaving tie-ins between those short films and the mass of mixed-medium work throughout the rest of the game is impressive. But slowly coming to grips with the collective efforts of directors, writers, actors, visual artists, programmers, managers, and the many, many others involved in developing a game of this caliber is staggering. To experience artistry that feels genuinely new is a deep joy.

Jesse Faden (Courtney Hope), our protagonist, is solid ground in the physically and metaphorically shifting strangeness of the Oldest House. We get to watch the depth of her inner worries and assessments balance with her do-what-we-came-to-do attitude to round out a reasonably believable human being. She’s relational, witty, and exceptionally brave: unlike me, she does not freak out when ambushed by shrieking resonance zombies. The player may be holding the controller, but this is Jesse’s story and she is in control.

Control, aside from being the literal name of the game, is a central theme under exploration. What does it mean to have control? Who had it before and who has it now? What do you do with control when it’s yours?

Power, the story posits, is not the same as control. Control is more elusive. It requires understanding, trust, and genuine leadership — qualities that Jesse’s predecessors Northmoor and Trench traded away in their pursuit of, ironically, control. But instead of probing this theme more deeply (for example, asking whether control itself is just an illusory sense of security), the game’s conclusion is satisfied with replacing entrenched, toxic leaders with Jesse and other critically thinking young people and calling it a day. The Foundation and AWE DLCs do a little more work in this direction, but fall short of staking out a thoughtful value claim to complement the robust narrative creativity. I’d hoped for more.

Amidst all this focus on artistry, narrative, and hopes for philosophy, it’s still worth mentioning that the gunplay and paranatural combat abilities feel great. Returning to other games after being Jesse Faden is markedly disappointing. Said another way, you know how exhilarating the combat in Control is going to be from the first moment you accidentally bump into a table and the physics engine sends it flying into a wall, papers thrust into the air.

I’m excited to know the talented folks at Remedy are already working on new stories in the Control universe, and for what other developers and artists this quality of videogame storytelling might inspire.

Bugs

It’s minor, but there was an occasional issue where the floor would just… disappear. At first I thought this was a thing the Oldest House did; then after an extended period of confusion I realized some textures just weren’t loading.

Also, while not a bug, I’m highly skeptical of an office building with lids on their public toilets. Like. Who does this? The Federal Bureau of Control, I guess.

Rating

Info

Type
Video Game
Release Date
August 27, 2019
Joshua J. Daymude
Joshua J. Daymude
Assistant Professor, Computer Science

I am a Christian and assistant professor in computer science studying collective emergent behavior and programmable matter through the lens of distributed computing, stochastic processes, and bio-inspired algorithms. I also love gaming and playing music.