Republished on Wednesday 27th January, 2021: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of February 2021's PS Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Control could, and probably should, have been something worth shouting about. It’s been 16 years since Remedy Entertainment last released one of its games on a PlayStation platform thanks to the developer’s decision to jump into bed with Microsoft, so to see it back is a bit of an occasion. However, the title that brings about its return isn’t quite as noteworthy. This is a good game, but it doesn’t reach the heights we were hoping it would.
Had inFAMOUS: Second Son got a much darker, more mysterious sequel and limited its open world to the floors of a single high-rise building, the experience wouldn’t be all that dissimilar to that of Control. Jesse Faden’s range of superpowers is what sets this third-person narrative-based shooter apart from almost anything else out there, and it comes with a great degree of secrecy.
There’s a mystery to solve at the heart of the Oldest House, but initially, you’re just there to find out about your missing brother. As you work your way through its otherworldly corridors and lobbies, however, the position of Director becomes vacant, setting off a sequence of events that lead to all manner of discoveries.
Its narrative is perhaps one of the game’s biggest talking points, but there’s only so much that can be said before we find ourselves in spoiler territory. There’s a lot to unpack as each mission plays out, starting off somewhat straightforward before upping its complexities tenfold. It’s a genuinely interesting plot because, of course, some things aren’t as they seem, but it’s also one that’ll most likely require a YouTube explanation video to help you to fully grasp what’s going on. A highlight indeed, although it may be lost on some.
One thing that cannot be denied, however, is the title’s sense of style. Big, bold, booming typography welcomes you to each new area, while sound effects and audio design bring about a new industry standard. The menacing atmosphere sets a tone for exploration that will keep you on edge, while the Hiss – the enemies in the game – float ominously overhead. They’re minor details that don’t go unnoticed.
Exploration is at the heart of what makes the experience tick, so much so that Remedy felt comfortable dubbing it a Metroidvania. And it is, of sorts. Every area of the Oldest House has its own sprawling map that can be rummaged through at your leisure, with many rooms locked behind security clearance levels and others that require specific powers to access. The problem is that your reward is never particularly interesting. Maybe you’ll gather some materials for an extra upgrade or uncover a couple of collectibles, but they never feel like they were worth the effort.
Thankfully, side missions are a little more worthwhile. Cleverly hidden quests explore the inner workings of the office block, what life was like before the Hiss made their presence known, and how those that are left deal with the outbreak. The majority adds either historical or scientific context to the world, and alongside optional time-limited missions, are a welcome distraction from the main plot.
Engaging in combat with the Hiss is what you’ll spend much of your time doing, though, and it’s far and away the biggest highlight of the package. Equipped with a breathing gun known as the Service Weapon, Jesse can swap between numerous modes of fire on the fly. Kicking things off with the capabilities of a pistol, she’ll quickly amass variations that allow her to switch to the likes of a shotgun, machine gun, and a magnum, but it’s how the gun is used in tangent with superpowers that makes all the difference.
The Service Weapon operates on a cooldown rather than a normal reload, and it’s during those times when bullets are sparse that you can explore the full range of your abilities. Launch allows you to pick up any object or enemy in the environment and throw it at another foe, while Shield protects you from gunfire for a limited period. Evade is a quick dodge that’ll get you out of danger, Seize turns a combatant to your side, and Levitate lets you take to the skies and survey the battlefield from a vantage point.
Combining the use of these abilities with your Service Weapon is paramount to success. Different enemy types require various means of approach, such as shields that need to be whittled away with bullets before a killing blow can be landed. Meanwhile, airborne foes can dodge the objects you throw at them via Launch entirely. Striking the right balance between ammunition and abilities couldn’t come with a greater feeling when you get it right. Pulling an enemy towards you, who takes out a weaker adversary in the process thanks to sheer force, and then launching that body at another combatant to end the lives of three men in one smooth move is really quite special.
Unfortunately, the title completely fluffs its lines in the penultimate chapter. A gigantic, open space gives enemies the chance to take potshots at you from a distance, while those closer to the action bombard you with explosives. An overwhelming amount of foes are spawning in at the same time, meaning you’re never given the chance to catch your breath, resulting in sequence after sequence of close shaves with death. It’s not fun or engaging in the slightest, making for a series of encounters you’ll quickly grow to loathe following the tenth or so attempt.
However, the game’s biggest offender by far is its framerate. Strangely enough, the experience manages a somewhat stable 30 frames-per-second for roughly half of the 12-hour campaign, but the more you progress, the worse it gets. The back half suffers from major drops during combat that slow things down to a snail’s pace as you have to fight a framerate in the single digits as well as the more traditional enemies on screen. We don’t quite understand how the game has managed to ship in this state, but that’s not the only technical fault. The title can be made to freeze on demand for a handful of seconds after quitting out of the pause screen every single time you access it, while stutters are also present when coming in and out of a fast travel point. It’s absolutely unacceptable – a flaw that a series of patches will need to fix post-launch.
Elsewhere, its visuals fare a little better. Whilst some of the environments do become a little samey after a while, the locations that break away from the grey offices of the Oldest House are real lookers. Combined with its style that oozes out of every corner, bright oranges and blues illuminate a world twisted and ravaged by the Hiss. It’s not always on display, but Control does indeed have some artistic beauty to it.
There’s no doubting that Control is a good experience, but it’s not one that’ll go down in the history books. Its explorative and combat-focused gameplay is a major highlight thanks to abilities that give you the chance to get creative, but the unreliable framerate that goes with it puts a stop to the enjoyment far too frequently. This is most definitely worth playing, but that’s about as far as any substantial praise can go.