With Control, Remedy's upcoming action game, the Finnish developer pulls back on the active storytelling in favor of something more atmospheric and environmental. All the while ramping up the complexity of the combat and gameplay. The result is a much more subdued title with a "less is more" ethos.
Like the Nordic design that makes its furniture so functional, Control is a lesson in focusing on the functionality, while housing the overall package in an austere, yet pleasing package. But like Ikea furniture, there are some rough edges that could stand to do with a little more quality assurance before the full launch.
Remedy's Latest Inspiration
Remedy games like Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break have always juggled complex mechanics with ambitious, multimedia storytelling. The results have been mixed. When it works, like in Alan Wake, Remedy melds together the best of serialized TV with the fun interactivity of video games. Sometimes, like in Quantum Break, it gets a little bloated.
Control feels like a response to the ambitious multimedia storytelling ambitions of Quantum Break. That doesn't mean Control's story itself has been reigned in. If Alan Wake was Remedy's take on Stephen King, and Max Payne was an homage to noir crime drama, Control is heavily influenced by the New Weird literary genre.
The player takes the role of Jesse Faden, the new director of the fictional U.S. Federal Bureau of Control (FBC). The game takes place in the FBC's labyrinthine headquarters, the Oldest House, which has been overtaken by a supernatural force known as "The Hiss." It's not quite clear what the Hiss is, but it seems to have taken over the members of the FBC while introducing new evils into the Oldest House. Luckily for the player, Jesse herself also has control over some supernatural abilities.
And that's really it. No live-action cutscenes (as far I saw in my demo) or web series tie-ins. Control is about Jesse and the Oldest House, which Control's director Mikael Kasurinen says is an open sandbox with multiple pathways and hidden passages. Though certainly not similar in combat, Kasurinen says The Oldest House is not unlike the first Dark Souls game by From Software in terms of level design. Pathways lead into pathways, and shortcuts connect parts of The Oldest House to earlier stages.
During my hands-on I got to experience a little of this maze-like structure. I uncovered hidden passageways into scenic, but mostly ornamental, side paths that added a bit more to Control's ambiance. I'm told that as I progress through the game, more paths will be available to me Metroidvania-style, so expect backtracking.
Combat was the other focus of my hands-on Control demo, and I had slightly more problems here than with the gorgeous level design. Jesse has access to several psychic abilities including levitation, psychokinesis, mind control, and more. Players can fly around enemies, blast them with force powers, and deflect projectiles, and it mostly works.
There's a good feeling when you're hovering off the ground and sending rockets back at enemies. It feels like a good video game representation of the X-Men's Jean Grey if I'm being honest. By my third mob encounter, I was pretty much a natural at handling Jesse's many psychic powers.
I had a harder time using Jesse's gun, which is also imbued with psychic powers. The gun can shapeshift to take on different abilities, such as a standard pistol configuration or a more powerful charge shot. The weapon can overheat, so it's best to use the gun sparingly, or at least precisely. But I found that it overheated a bit too easily for my taste, especially since Control's combat encounters tend to pit a whole bunch of enemies against Jesse at any given time.
Another problem was just playability. Control is still in development and Remedy says it still needs to optimize the title before launch. But I'd remiss if I didn't tell you that the demo felt like it was going to cave in on itself once I found myself battling a particularly large enemy goon, and psychic powers were used with reckless abandon.
Still, those issues won't be indicative of the final product (hopefully) and if anything, is an example of just how hectic combat can be in Control. In Alan Wake players had to juggle using a flashlight to stun enemies and then shooting them with a gun. In Control, players must juggle flying, deflecting incoming projectiles, shooting, and any other number of godlike powers. I hope Remedy can make Control feel effortless while doing so.
There's still plenty of time until Control's August 27 release date, where it will launch on PS4, Xbox One, and exclusively on the Epic Games Store on PC. I for one am excited to see more of the studio's take on Dark Souls-like, ambient storytelling.