When you think of the FBI, an image of unsettling men in dark grey suits, touting in-ear communication devices and dark glasses probably comes to mind. Developer Remedy Entertainment, best known as the creators of Max Payne, has a different take on them. Their latest third person action-adventure shooter Control, takes place within the walls of the FBC headquarters. It’s like the FBI headquarters – only with more paranormal activity. You step into the shoes of new FBC director Jesse Faden, who unlike most agents, flies around the place smashing blocks of concrete on her enemies.
From the outside, the Federal Bureau of Control headquarters looks like any other building designed by a bored architect with a gun to his – or her head. Inside however, you realize this building is an unstable labyrinth with a far larger interior. This unassuming building is a place of power that acts as a conduit between dimensions of reality where the FBC conduct paranormal research. Or as the game likes to call it – paranatural research.
The writers working at Remedy are a healthy mix of conspiracy theorists and metaphysicians. The story is a cross between the general paranoia surrounding government secrecy and the ideas popularized by metaphysics. The bureau seems to be obsessed with objects of power – ordinary looking everyday objects that are somehow connected to the astral plane, giving them immense reality-defying powers. Think of these objects as the super-heroes of the inanimate world.
The writers working at Remedy are a healthy mix of conspiracy theorists and metaphysicians.
In usual video game stupidity, the agency screws up with these items tearing an opening to a bad place, and the story’s main antagonists – the Hiss come through this tear. The Hiss are a powerful force of malevolence that turn otherwise decent blokes into angrier, misled versions of themselves. They shoot up the entire place and push what’s left of the staff into mini-bunkers. The ones that are lucky are turned into passive, levitating, wi-fi routers that help propagate the Hiss, which is a far better fate than having to compulsively kill everyone.
Jesse finds her way to the headquarters on a quest to find her missing brother Dylan. Her urge to uncover their past leads her through a dark path, turning her into FBC director and giving her special abilities. Jesse soon gets her hands on the director’s special sidearm – a gun that binds itself to her and changes form at her will. It can be turned into a pistol, sniper rifle, a submachine gun, a shotgun or a grenade launcher. It is the only gun in the game though, but hey, if you had special powers you wouldn’t really need a gun anyway, would you?
And that’s where Control’s fun begins. As you progress through the game, Jesse binds various objects of power to herself giving her various special abilities. The starting of the game feels like a standard shooter – take cover when you’re getting blasted, and pop some heads from around a corner when the baddies are reloading. As you progress, the gameplay truly opens up to allow for some directorial ass-kicking. Jesse’s powers allow her to turn concrete tiles into shields, mind-control weakened opponents, and even float around like a crazed banshee doing all of the above mid-flight.
Jesse’s powers allow her to turn concrete tiles into shields, mind-control weakened opponents, and even float around like a crazed banshee doing all of the above mid-flight.
All these mighty abilities might fool you into believing that she’s all-powerful and you might decide to take on a whole bunch of enemies at once. That isn’t a very good idea as the game’s not easy. I consider myself pretty good at action games, but I constantly got my butt handed to me. The enemies scale as you level up, and even a bunch of the basic grunts can take you down if you play foolishly. While the special powers do give you quite an edge in battle, the enemies also come with their own special abilities, forcing you to think tactically.
It’s not all bad though. The game might be tough, but there’s enough to keep you going. Just using Jesse’s powers and finding creative ways to win over a situation is incredibly satisfying. I found myself alternating between using special powers and Jesse’s gun regularly. The shielded enemy would get a nice little slab of concrete to the face, followed up by a few pop-pops to the head to make short work of them. Apart from that, it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a destructible environment as much as I have in Control. When out of danger, I found myself tearing down office rooms and filing cabinets using Jesse’s telekinetic abilities. My therapist says that it’s most likely my non-conformist mindset and my hatred for the 9 to 5 that made me do this. She’s probably right.
If just fun gameplay isn’t enough for you, this game won’t disappoint in the visual department either. Even on my rather modest gaming rig (4th gen i7, 16 gigs of DDR3, GTX 980) the game looked wonderful. It features realistic particle physics, a well designed game world, meticulous texturing, tremendous facial animations (accompanied by great voice-acting), and life-like, motion-captured animations. For a comparatively smaller development team, Remedy has done a great job at bringing this game up to triple-A standards. All this goes a long way to draw you in and make the game world all the more believable, in spite of its rather outrageous storyline.
All of this does come at a cost though. Performance cost, that is. Even at medium settings, my game wasn’t stable at 60 FPS. It kept dipping to 40 and at some occasions to the lower 30s. I’m going to give Remedy the benefit of doubt in this regard though, since as of 24th August Nvidia hasn’t released game-ready drivers for this baby. I’m sure once they do, frame rates will get better. And I also hope future patches improve performance.
If you’re looking for a unique third-person action game that challenges you at every turn, Control is definitely worth picking up. It isn’t groundbreaking or revolutionary, but does what it does with a poignant charm that is rather scarce these days.