While most folks would surmise that the mysterious Area 51 facility found in the Nevada desert contains space aliens, us real conspiracy theorists know that the invasion has already begun by inter-dimensional beings wholly imperceivable to humans.
Creators of the seminal horror title ALAN WAKE, Finnish developer Remedy are hardly strangers to the paranormal. With CONTROL, they combine the frenzied firepower of their MAX PAYNE series with the otherworldly mystique of ALAN WAKE in a kinetic pairing that’s eerie, mysterious and a total blast to play.
Taking place in a facility not unlike the aforementioned Area 51, CONTROL centres around Jesse, a woman in search of her long lost brother Dylan. Guided to the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) by a mysterious entity known only as Polaris, Jesse discovers the corpse of previous FBC Director Zachariah Trench (portrayed by Max Payne voice actor James McCaffrey), the victim of an apparent suicide.
To make matters even worse, the facility is overrun by an insidious force dubbed the Hiss, taking possession of the FBC’s staff and transforming them into grotesque beings capable of immense mystical power. Corrupted personnel levitate throughout the facility, mumbling to themselves creepily and dropping down to face-off against Jesse at seemingly random intervals.
After picking up a shapeshifting firearm referred to as the Service Weapon, Jesse is transported to the Astral Plane and instructed to partake in a trial, the completion of which results in her becoming the new Director. It’s then that Jesse embarks on a mind-bending journey through the FBC facility, known internally as the Oldest House.
CONTROL’s gameplay is dynamic and fluid, with Jesse able to upgrade her abilities in a variety of compelling ways. Continued survival means making good use of levitation, launch (think telekinesis) and shielding, with a variety of discoverable and craftable mods able to tweak these abilities further to Jesse’s advantage. Players will then circle back to already explored areas with these newfound capabilities à la the best Metroidvanias, with previously inaccessible locations opening up upon return.
Though the soundtrack is mostly minimal, the game’s near-industrial percussion that ramps up during action is a wonderful accompaniment to the mayhem on screen. A particularly engaging late-game sequence in an area named the Ashtray Maze is one of the slickest moments to be found in gaming thus far in 2019, accompanied by a metal song with plot-laden lyrics that’s reminiscent of tailored 80s movie themes in the best of ways.
If there’s one aspect of CONTROL that leaves a bit to be desired, it’s on the performance side of things. Built using the same Northlight engine that Remedy developed for QUANTUM BREAK, the game always looks fantastic, but the framerate can occasionally screech to a halt during massive firefights.
There’s also slowdown in some decidedly crucial moments, such as seizing a control point, utilizing the game’s map overlay, or simply returning from the pause screen. These will likely be patched sometime in the future, but for now, it’s a blemish on an otherwise stellar package.
Despite these hiccups, CONTROL is exceedingly easy to recommend to fans of an intriguing narrative and the third-person action genre. And with the game’s lore teasing a possible ALAN WAKE tie-in sometime in the future, it’s a dizzyingly wonderful point of entry for horror gamers unfamiliar with Remedy’s previous work.
CONTROL is available now for PS4, Xbox One and PC. PS4 review code provided by the publisher.