Control's Creepy Memos and Unsettling Book Clubs Make Its Collectibles Actually Worth Collecting

Control's Creepy Memos and Unsettling Book Clubs Make Its Collectibles Actually Worth Collecting

The information buried in the collectibles is far more sinister than it lets on.

An early collectible I found in Control made my imagination run away. What if every urban myth we've ever heard, from Sasquatch to conspiracy theories about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, had more going on? What if they were, to some extent, true? According to an internal memo in the Federal Bureau of Control, there is no such thing as an urban myth. Every paranormal story must be investigated.

It's The X-Files, only without the enthusiastic Agent Fox Mulder and without aliens, at least in the traditional sense. Instead, Remedy Entertainment's Control builds up its own idea; one revolving around probable alternate realities and "Objects of Power," or items which affect the world in strange ways. It's up to the Bureau to control these objects, and ensure order is kept across the world. That means erasing any lingering traces the Objects of Power may have left in their wake. (So basically, a helluva lot of cover-ups.) The Bureau also being based in the United States only makes it more side-eye worthy—of course an American federal organization would seek to impose its influence and control the world through sketchy means.

Jesse Faden, the protagonist of Control, is a victim of one of these cover-ups. Her backstory has her discovering an Object of Power that wipes out everyone in the town, including her parents. They stop further devastation by interacting with a mysterious being they discover on the other side. Soon after, the Bureau shows up and abducts her brother, but she is able to escape. This sends her on a quest to find the Bureau, which she coincidentally finds on the day of a major building-wide lockdown.

It's the collectibles that really illustrate the goings-on at the Bureau, and the world at large. I find them much more fascinating than most in-game collectibles, which I usually ignore past the honeymoon phase with a game. In Control, I've kept with reading, and better yet listening, to every collectible I've stumbled across. For instance, The Oldest House, the building the Bureau resides in, is a building with mysterious properties. It's always shifting, meaning its rooms are always changing. It's almost impossible to navigate. I don't think I understood the extent of this until I read a memo from an employee complaining that their go-to bathroom disappeared one day, and they were wondering where it went and wanted it back. Collectibles don't just enrich the world's lore, they help make it more comprehensible for players.

The first collectible that hooked me was a string of notes for a book club at The Federal Bureau of Control. Employees were running a recreational book club on the side, and were required to write up micro-essays and ratings for the books they read week by week. They're mundane, but almost sinister. The more you learn about the Bureau, the more you suspect even the motives of something as casual sounding as a book club. I felt that the manager running the book club was likely doing this to suss out the personalities and interests, basically collecting data on their colleagues for the Bureau's gain.

Are these books glued together? | Caty McCarthy/USG, Remedy Entertainment/Private Division

The book club reports themselves are innocent. One laments the teen angst of a young adult novel, while enjoying the book as a whole otherwise. Another heavily criticizes a science fiction book, and says a particular character's early death "didn't feel necessary at all." Other notes you pick up across the Bureau range from varying degrees of importance; like a no smoking notice in a technically outdoor area, or inter-office drama.

In-game collectibles like this are standard fare for triple-A games. They help illustrate the world, but there's something about Control's that go above and beyond. Most letters you collect are heavily redacted, like the Mueller Report gone wild. You can largely infer what some notes are leaving out, typically names or locations. One notes that Agent Redacted was "terminated." Knowing the Bureau, I still don't know if that means they were fired or killed quietly.

Please help, this sticky note is out of control. | Caty McCarthy/USG, Remedy Entertainment/Private Division

Control's excellent handling of its collectibles also extends to its audio logs. Now if you know me at all, you know that I hate audio logs. If a game makes me pace awkwardly around a room while a faux-cassette plays some improbable monologue, I'm annoyed. There are exceptions to this, of course, but they are slim. Control is one of those exceptions, using audio logs and even live-action videos to even greater than usual effect. These vary from a radio show called "America Overnight," where listeners call in to tell their own stories with the supernatural, to a deranged puppet show seemingly made for kids of Bureau agents, which deal with heavy topics like, "What happened to mommy when all I have is this heavily redacted letter to go by?" The puppets are always eerie in the live-action videos, making them one of the most memorable collectibles in recent memory.

The videos remind me of the biggest failing of Remedy's last game, Quantum Break. Quantum Break was an ambitious project that sought to weave video games and television together, but the problem was that the threads weaving them together were too thin, and the live-action television episodes in-between the game segments suffered as a result. Remedy never figured out quite how to integrate the two.

Control shows that it did finally figure out how to bring it all together. FMV shows up on in-game TVs and projectors throughout the shifting Bureau, and I always stop to watch it. Sometimes, a soft FMV overlay even appears on the screen, usually when a certain character is speaking to you. It's a cool effect in a game full of sharp art direction.

Control is a fascinating game, with intrigue in every office, from floating workers' bodies to seemingly sterile office memos about "Altered World Events." It's a pity it has some deep problems despite its fantastic world-building. It has some significant performance issues on console, even on the PlayStation 4 Pro I'm playing on. The checkpoints often are bad; the action can feel great at some points and awful at others. It's also never quite tight enough for my liking. If I weren't so absorbed by its art direction and its world, I probably would have dropped off a while ago, which is a shame because the world is one of the most compelling I've ever explored in a western triple-A game. I just find myself wishing the "game" part was better.

Major Game Releases: September 2 to September 6

Here are the major releases for the week of September 2 to September 6. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.

  • Catherine: Full Body [September 3, PS4]: Catherine: Full Body is a full-bodied remaster of the 2011 cult classic from the makers of Persona. The remaster doesn't just improve the graphical fidelity though; it includes more animated cutscenes, a new romance route, remixed puzzles, and even online multiplayer. You can read our review of Catherine: Full Body to see if it aged like a fine wine here.
  • Final Fantasy 8 Remastered [September 3, PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch]: Final Fantasy 8 is easily the PlayStation Final Fantasy that gets the least love. With its shiny new remaster though, hopefully it finally gets the adoration it deserves.
  • River City Girls [September 5, PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch]: River City Girls is rumbling across most platforms later this week. It's a stylish update on the River City Ransom formula, and we're very much looking forward to rumbling with it later this week. I mean, c'mon, it even has a dab attack. Ridiculous and stupid. I love it.
  • Monster Hunter World: Iceborne [September 6, PS4, Xbox One]: Monster Hunter: World is getting its first major expansion, which has been billing itself as basically a soft-sequel to the 2018 hit game. You can expect a review from us later this week.
  • NBA 2K20 [September 6, PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch]: NBA 2K20 is looking like it won't just be another year of NBA 2K, thanks to its introduction of the WNBA and even unique dribbling styles. And without competition from EA's NBA Live, the court is truly 2K's this year.
  • Creature in the Well [September 6, PC, Xbox One, Switch]: Creature in the Well, a pinball-infused hack-and-slash, has been generating buzz since its reveal earlier this year. I loved what I played of it back at the Game Developers Conference earlier this year, and with it coming to Switch, I'm bound to pick it up for some pinball action. Stay tuned for our review later this week too.

This Week's News and Notes

  • Over the weekend Eric, Nadia, and Mike were running around PAX West. They hosted a few panels, and of course, played a lot of games. Nadia checked out the newly announced Shovel Knight Dig, a roguelike that takes heavy inspiration from Downwell. Mike found out how Square Enix's Avengers game will be monetized. Eric checked out the charming indie Bravery Network Online, which features Pokemon-like combat. There's all that and much more. Stay tuned for more coverage from what we played at the convention all week long.
  • It's the 20th anniversary of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. (Or so Google says, as upon further investigation we discovered it's actually September 29. But judging from other articles that went up on other sites, we weren't the only ones duped!) Check out feature on the series' legacy from contributor Blake Hester, which features insight from ID@Xbox's Chris Charla, Insomniac Games' Cameron Christian, Noclip's Danny O'Dwyer, and more about why and how the series changed not just sports games, but pop culture.
  • For Dragon Quest's 30th anniversary in coming to America, Nadia wrote a retrospective on why it failed to make it in America. At least, at first.
  • At the start of PAX West, Gearbox announced Homeworld 3. All around, Homeworld fans are rejoicing.
  • In Case You Missed It: CD Projekt Red also released a 14 minute cut of its behind closed doors Cyberpunk 2077 E3 demo. The video has narration, and goes into detail about combat, character builds, the fluid class system, and more. You can watch it here.
  • Remedy Entertainment is well aware of the performance issues on console for Control, and says a patch to fix it will "take time."
  • Two highly anticipated indie games got release dates late last week, and with good news: they're both coming soon. You can look forward to Finji's Overland and House House's Untitled Goose Game later this month.
  • If you can spare about 10 minutes, please help us out and take the USgamer Readership Survey. Tell us about what you'd like to see more of on USG!
  • Axe of the Blood God: There's been a delay in Axe of the Blood God this week, unfortunately. Stay tuned though, there should be an episode coming sometime this week.

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Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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