That’s right, It’s not a review. Unfortunately Control seems to have launched just between a busy work period and the first holiday me and my partner have had in years. As such here’s a quick run down of what the first 10 or so hours of the game are like. I’m hoping this will help if you’re on the fence on the title. I’ll be surprised if the last act ruins the experience for me because everything so far has been amazing and to be honest, any excuse to use some of the 144 screenshots seems like a great idea. I’ll try to be as spoiler free as possible because frankly you should go experience Control for yourself. It’s that good.
What is Control? I feel little it’s best described as playing like Tomb Raider, Uncharted or any other third person action game where the gun is a go to weapon between puzzles, story and light platforming. Everything comes together nicely in a psychic power using frenzy which has been wrapped up in a CIA/SCP Foundation shifting world. There is a lot of SCP Foundation at the core of Control and it’s fantastic to finally get something so deliciously twisted and weird which does have splashes of horror but not primarily the focus of the material. You’re just as likely to read a report about a pram that produces smoke as a distortion that explodes brains. Even the enemies throughout are mostly soldier-like with the later monsters either taking on expanded powers or surrounding environments. There’s horror here but it’s a lot more Twin Peaks than Hannibal.
The way the story is told through clever acting in game and brilliantly acted live action footage is such a brilliantly used mechanic (with the option to watch them separately in menu) It’s not a new idea but in Control it feels like it has been refined to a level where the live action merges fantastically into the scene. The only catch to this unique layering footage and the other fancy visual effects is one of Controls biggest problems. There’s a huge amount of destruction you can wreck to both the environment and objects and as such the PS4 fan is in full force here. The frame rate is surprisingly fantastic throughout given the levels of destruction and chaos, the problem is that it can horribly tank when waves of enemies attack. There are moments where allies and enemies are going at it and the whole engine chugs along badly, it’s bearable but not great given how smooth the majority of the experience is. Everything else is so smooth it feels like it’s intentional.
Visually Control is simply a masterclass in how to use design and ideas to show something different. It’s not perfect and the textures can have issues with loading that feels a little like Mass Effect where the engine took a few seconds to load in signs but this is a rarity rather than the norm. When you complete a big story mission the engine locks up for a second and this is the sort of bug that’s likely to be patched out ASAP. You do get used to it pausing for a few seconds after each time it occurs. That bug aside Control has a huge amount of polish, amazing amounts of text, collectibles and bits to find and experiment with. Even when being picky about it’s issues it’s still such a stand out experience. There’s a reason I found myself taking so many screenshots while playing.
What more is there to say? I’m writing this now but all I want to do is go back and find out how it all ends. Even with this knowledge I want to go back to complete the bonus extras. There are optional timed challenges that pop up to allow you to kill more enemies, loot more items, craft more goodies for your gun and self. All these words, ‘crafting’, ‘looting’, ‘bonus challenges’ are usually said with a roll of the eyes and a sigh about how grindy it feels but that just don’t apply to Control. The difficulty curve is lush with no grinding but a simple “try a different approach” mentality when/if you fail and die. Powers gained by optional missions don’t feel like they can be missed as they are almost always pointed out to you as you go through the main story. Not only that but the side focus of Control is really about exploration. You’ll either find something quirky and interesting, a new power or extra power to equip each time you go off and explore an area. It’s really a liberating feeling to play a video game that encourages and rewards exploring and backtracking even when the areas naturally fold into themselves akin to Dark Souls level design.
Clever camera work, story telling, writing and cutscenes that are worlds apart from any AAA from the last few years, Control is a stellar title. The designing at work here is just the purest horror twisty weird genius all wrapped up in a X-files style mystery. Control is a masterclass in how to mix live action and video games. This is swiftly becoming GOTY material for me but it’s still got room to twist itself into a knot and take itself away from that place. Everything up until this point has been so fantastic though it deserves this extra post and words of praise and critique. Control is just absolutely brilliant so far but then maybe I’m just compelled to say this because I looked at the Rubber Duck too long.
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