Played on Xbox Series X, additionally available on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series S. This review contains mild spoilers, showing and describing select locations in the game and some references to lore found as collectibles.

Control, the latest game developed by Remedy studios, has a lot of things to love. Comparing it to its previous games, especially Quantum Break, the Finnish studio have stepped into gear and have produced their most fully realised form of their multi-genre vision. But with this latest “Ultimate” edition of the award winning game for the next-gen consoles, I feel hesitant to recommend this game to most players. 

Control Ultimate Edition Launch Trailer

Going back to 2016, Quantum Break ambitiously attempted to combine video games and television in their exclusive with Xbox, leading to uneven results. QB was a Sci-Fi shooter that meddled with time travel elements and player control in the narrative. Every chapter had a branching series of choices that not only effected the game (arguably, it wasn’t as successful as intentioned) but also the TV show that filled in gaps for the side characters of the plot. 

Unfortunately they failed to blend the two distinct parts together at all and forced players to compartmentalise the two with distinct moments for gameplay and then a controllers down, Netflix-lite twenty minute live action show. It felt clunky and while there was a kernel of something interesting at play in that execution, it required a little baking in the oven and refinement of both ingredients to make things work. An example of this on the gameplay side was its failure to nail its combat system. The main protagonist, Jack Joyce had a series of time manipulating powers that were a pleasure to use: deftly juggling time-freeze abilities with super speed and creating momentary cover by defending with a forcefield. The game was let down with its gun play however, which often felt a bit lacklustre and only encouraged me to lean more on the time powers in the game. I felt that the action elements of the game felt lopsided due to this, and every combat scenario was just biding time under fire until I could use the slowly refreshing time powers. 

Time hops and gun pops in Remedy’s Xbox exclusive, Quantum Break

Jumping forward in time, Remedy returned with Control with a lot of the same concepts carried wholesale over but shinier and with fewer jagged edges. Control blended strong worldbuilding with satisfying gun play, dazzling particle effects and a uniquely unsettling tone that enticed you to push forward. Jesse Faden is the game’s protagonist (played by Courtney Hope, a returning actress from Quantum Break), who is looking for her kidnapped brother (also played by a QB background character) in a brutalist skyscraper hidden to everyone except for those that are looking for it. Upon entering the building, Jesse quickly gets hired to be the director of the department of Control by a talking pyramid in the sky, chosen for a role recently vacated by the man who shot himself in his office. 

To add to the supposed stress of her new job in a batshit building that laughs at conventional physics, it has just now been taken over by an invading enemy called the Hiss that have seized every rapidly contorting floor and now stand in her way to long awaited answers. 

The good news is that one of the benefits of being the director is that she is eventually equipped with comparably satisfying and intense powers that mirror those from Remedy’s predecessor. Jesse can pleasingly smack enemies across the head with basically any object around her; be it a flask or a fork lift. Impressively, the game engine has the technical capacity to scoop up chunks of the ground and walls to thwack surrounding enemies when other objects are scarce, highlighting the almost complete destructibility of the world. In fact, every battle re-arranges locations in totally destructive ways. Basically everything in this game can be blown up, blown a hole through, crumbled and smashed into fragments in various ways through Jesse’s powers. In addition to the destructive powers, like QB there is a shield and a dash ability, but also an ability to levitate with the world designed to allow for constant verticality to gain an advantage and as a secondary way to navigate the world. 

Instead of burying the player with too many underpowered weapons, Remedy provided one gun with five distinctive modes. Each of them covering a rough weapon class of pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle, SMG and rocket launcher. Almost all of them feel solid to use at the base level and unlike most shooters, Control is less concerned with playing like a traditional action/shooter as each of the gun’s ammo is constantly replenished after a certain time limit. Enemies also provided a fair challenge in encounters, constantly flanking you and finding cover to protect themselves in combat. Different foes respond to various weapons and powers, making it a constantly shuffling game of rock, paper, scissors. This encourages the player to juggle between the various powers and weapons instead of brute forcing their way through with the one skill levelled up through play. As enemies swarm you, Jesse must move around to prevent dying very quickly and as you drop each foe to the floor, the only way you can heal is to risk aggressively rushing forward to pick up health points on the battleground. 

Jesse Faden has to navigate some twisted level design in Control

This ebb and flow between aggressively pursuing, retreating and healing is the reliable spine that makes Control fun to play. 

The difference in execution also lies in how the game is designed and how stories are told. Rather than play like a linear action/shooter, Remedy deploys Metroidvania-esque backtracking to uncover new areas of the map as more powers are found & upgraded. The Department of Control is a dense building that impossibly stretches in every direction. More than once with time sunk into the game, did I look up in the early sectors and noticed little alcoves and balconies that didn’t draw attention to themselves, but beckoned for further investigation. You can bet that there would be some collectibles to spend on weapon upgrades, hidden skill points or multimedia to pick up if you dared to take it up on the offer. 

Similar to Quantum Break, there are heaps of document pickups that flesh out edges of the story and encourages the player to scavenge in every nook and cranny. I think Remedy did a much better job at blending live action multimedia into an otherwise mo-cap heavy videogame, with a lot of the traditionally created content used as cutscenes and narrative texture, somewhat reminiscent of older games from the 90s. 

Arguably the collectible lore and the hidden stories picked up throughout the game is far more interesting than the main story that it wants to tell. To the point where they only really tell you the full main story in these missable scraps. These snippets of information hint towards far more bizarre entries solving the true events of real life conspiracies, supposed werewolf sightings, other Remedy characters and whether your gun is really just the reformed incarnation of King Arthur’s sword and Thor’s Mjolnir. While the game hints at supposed stories during the campaign, the troves of documents are more explicit regarding how exactly a former director’s duty was to keep the lights on and other tidbits fleshing out previous stakeholders in the Department of Control. 

"I can reasonably predict that this game will be the go to example to showcase realtime ray tracing, in the same way we used to show off a PC’s specs by playing the Crysis games on Ultra settings more than a decade ago."

These parts greatly deepen the story and make me want to explore more of their stories in the future, which structurally borrows more from books like The House of Leaves, websites like the SCP Foundation and the show The Twilight Zone than any average videogame. Control is not a horror, but it definitely leans into unnerving moments and occasional jump scares to set people off balance in an otherwise empowering game.

Also snuck in some of these corners are arguably the highlights of the game, set within the side missions. Often relegated to being extended fetch quests in other games, Remedy placed some of their most challenging and inventive bosses and missions that will only trigger if you find certain pieces of paper in the game. I won’t spoil any of these missions here, but I thoroughly recommend that you search every nook and cranny for a challenge above the typical fare in the main campaign.

Control’s built-in photo mode comes in handy when you want to stargaze a little.

The setting of The Oldest House serves as the game’s location and offers up a great variety of different environments on each floor. There’s the vertical research sector adorned with fauna and lush trees with floors that similarly branch out into wacky places. There’s the maintenance sector that impossibly stretches from a basement into an other-worldly quarry set in space, and the containment sector, which houses the Prime Candidate programme to select the boss of the Control department, but also altered objects like anchors, clocks and Swan Pedalos that harness immense powers. I can admit that well after attempting this game when it first came out, I had dreams set in some of these distinctive locations. The only thing that mars exploration is the pretty ineffective map. Mapped to the d-pad, the player can check to see where they are in every location, but the map is rendered top down. With such an emphasis on verticality and overlapping levels on top of each other, it is very frustrating to parse when attempting to make your way to your intended location. Am I on the right floor? How do I get to this bit seemingly cut off from other parts of the map? The only respite is the occasional in-game signage and eventually, the memorisation of the major areas to help smoothen exploration.

And here’s the biggest thing that makes me pause when asked to recommend this to someone. 

To be blunt, Remedy have somewhat ruined the handling of this transition to next gen consoles. They charged fans again to play the game on the Xbox Series S/X and PS5, unlike other major videogames that offered a free upgrade. When actually playing the game, the technical improvements seem like a mixed bag. 

The touted use of Raytracing (RTX) to home consoles is a genuinely exciting and well awaited flex of the next gen consoles’ specs. I can reasonably predict that this game will be the go to example to showcase realtime ray tracing, in the same way we used to show off a PC’s specs by playing the Crysis games on Ultra settings more than a decade ago. RTX is arguably the biggest step to creating the most realistic worlds in video gaming and it mostly works as planned in Control. 

 For those that want a quick primer on it: Ray tracing is a new technique that allows RTX-enabled games to create incredibly accurate lighting and reflexions in real time to make everything look more realistic. It’s very graphically intensive though and previously only ran on beefy PCs until now. Previously most games running on consoles/PCs would have a lighting engine that would try to mimic how a certain area should look, but it wouldn’t work if you wanted multiple sources of light to hit objects from different locations at different intensities due to the number of calculations it would need to do that. With RTX, water reflects like water should, mirroring people, the sun, lanterns etc. In Control, RTX allows for basically every wall, floor, object and mirror to look close to uncanny than ever before. Playing it on Series X, it genuinely felt like I was playing a proper next generation game and a taste of the future to come. 

Control is starkly beautiful at times when ray tracing is turned on. LOOK AT THOSE REFLECTIONS!

The downside is that in order to use it on the new home consoles, you need to enable the Graphics mode, capping gameplay at 30fps and allowing for upscaled 4K resolutions. The game handles it at this framerate fine when not in moments of intense action, but as soon as shit hits the fan, it starts to get very jittery and at time difficult to parse what is on screen. The only real solution is to forgo ray tracing and enable the Performance setting, upping the framerate to up to 60fps and allowing for smoother gameplay – how the game is really intended to play. Even there it doesn’t always run completely smooth on the Xbox Series X. Every so often in combat the framerate would drop dramatically, making it look like I was playing Control in stop motion for seconds at a time. It wasn’t frequent enough for me to want to reboot the game but it’s something to take note of. 

And the bugs! Control has crashed on me upwards of 15 times, easily. This has been on both the graphics and performance settings and usually occurs when accessing any menus or when opening the map. The game will suddenly kick me to the start-up screen of my console, forcing me to boot up the game from scratch and occasionally track back to where I was before – in part, a symptom of the game’s still sparse checkpoint save system. These crashes have happened at least once or twice in each of my playthrough sessions and it shouldn’t be acceptable. 

To be fair, Control has reliably fast loading screens and a nippy boot up time to at least sand down some of these jagged technical edges. Regardless of graphic setting, it usually takes less than 20 seconds to click the game icon and enter the game, which is just nuts. 

There have also been minor audiovisual pop-ins and texture fade-ins even when not in combat, where I would expect the game to struggle a little more. I shudder to think how this performs on the underpowered Series S, but judging form similar comments on Reddit, I am not the only one who has experienced this issue with frequent crashes. 

CONCLUSION

Control is a fantastic game but a less than great port to the next gen consoles. Not only for the way Remedy double dipped to screw over fans of the series who previously invested in the full game and DLC, but also in terms of the uneven execution. And it pains me to say this. Control is very fun to play and I have had issues playing anything else since installing it. But I feel like at this present state, I can only really recommend this to those who hadn’t caught this when it was first released AND who also have a next gen console ready to play it. Control is clearly playable if you have a last gen Ultimate edition version of this game, so if you want to dip your toe in, I recommend that you try that and see if you want more. 

Despite these technical issues, Control still tempts me to boot it up and explore more of the fascinating Oldest House. Each side mission is equally bizarre and mundanely threatening. Each power and weapon a joy to use. And a world that is easily Remedy’s strongest and most capable for further gaming entries. 

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