There are few games that I’ve played in my life that are as mind-numbingly boring and tedious as Remedy Entertainment’s latest cinematic action-horror title, Control. From its horrendously designed map and level design, to a complete lack of meaningful tension or atmosphere, to its sluggish performance on consoles, to the icing on the mouldy cake: A completely incomprehensible mess of a narrative with a profound lack of distinct flair or character, Control is one of the blandest experiences I’ve had in gaming for a long while, and one of my personal major disappointments of 2019.
“But it’s REALLY, REALLY PRETTY!” I hear you shouting. “And didn’t you know it’s got RAY TRACING? And all this AMAZING DESTRUCTION PHYSICS?”
So. Bloody. What?
When the vast majority of Control’s gameplay experience is marred by frustrating exploration and poor design choices, are shiny hyper-real visuals enough to paper over the cracks? In essence, playing through a large portion of Remedy’s latest felt more like a soporific chore than a fun, engaging experience.
And I can’t get any simpler than this: No. Game. Should. Ever. Feel. Like. That.
Indeed, the trial-and-error puzzles where you re-arrange random objects in the Oceanview Hotel are teeth-clenchingly annoying. Add to this, the confusing in-game map, which often makes me want to shoot myself with my own damn Service Weapon. Furthermore, its difficulty is pitched way too low. Speaking of which, why can’t I choose a harder difficulty mode? Come on, it’s 2019, folks!
I’m sorry, but whoever was in the meeting and thought these aforementioned things were great game design choices deserves to be paranormally exorcised. Seriously.
Another blunder that seems like an oversight is the game’s indistinctive and dull enemy design. The shadowy antagonistic darkness of “The Hiss” is only remarkable in how unremarkable it is. Trite, gamey and vanilla. I’m not sure about you, but whatever happened to creating eye-catching, compelling enemies that exhibit striking aesthetic designs or thought-provoking back stories?
Put simply, The Hiss are the beige dinner of the culinary world; the Birds Eye frozen chicken nuggets of gaming. We all deserve better.
Of course, I get what Remedy was going for: a blend of The X-Files, David Lynch with a dash of the du jour at the moment: modern superhero sensibilities. However, spoilers: just because Control homages great fiction, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s, you know, great.
For me personally, I just don’t feel like the world is compelling or cohesive enough. Instead, I confidently believe that Swery 65 and Access Games’ 2010 open world survival horror title, Deadly Premonition — which is ironically even clunkier than Remedy’s 2019 effort gameplay-wise — absolutely nails the David Lynch/X-Files’ tone and feel with much greater aplomb.
Not only does Deadly Premonition boast an engrossing, well-written, endearingly bizarre narrative, but it brims with authentic tension, genuine character development and an interesting, atmospheric world. For me, all these elements are way more important and impactful, than the dull, hyper-real visuals and incomprehensible story of Jesse Faden’s ventures.
Granted, Swery 65’s magnum opus is one of my favourite games of all-time, but overall Control just never comes anywhere close — in any shape or form — to Deadly Premonition standards. This is legit surprising, as I know that the Finnish studio who crafted Control is an incredibly talented developer. (For the record, I absolutely adored Alan Wake.)
What’s also surprising, though, is how well it was reviewed by gaming press. Sitting happy at an 82 on Metacritic and 82.27 on GameRankings at the time of writing, I’m sure Remedy are pleased with how positively their game shook out with critics. Interestingly, though, Control did fail to crack the top 20 games of August, which hints at a rather lukewarm reception sales-wise.
The truth is, I don’t actually hate Control. There are some decent, well-meaning ideas hidden in there. At the heart of a good-looking game is a weird world with some solid action gameplay. However, about two thirds of the title is spent backtracking aimlessly around a lifeless, repetitive structure with very little authentic tension, atmosphere or agency. These issues really got in the way of my enjoyment of the game. And I know that Remedy have done better and can do better.
Ultimately, the overall execution of Control leaves a lot to be desired and left me feeling cold and disappointed. True, Remedy’s latest may not be an awful game per se, but it does make awful narrative and game design choices that relegate the frustrating experience to one of my personal disappointments of 2019.
“WHY WON’T IT END?!” Jesse Faden pleads with the player in the final stretch of Control’s bland and forgettable 12 hour campaign. It almost feels like Remedy was in on the joke. You seriously can’t get any more meta than that, right?