With the abundance of shooting games on the market, developers are always looking for something a little different—a story angle that might compel you to want to squeeze their digital trigger.
Some developers lean toward the gunplay of historical wars. Others might focus on a dystopian anarchy, an alien infestation or a zombie invasion.
But the gamemakers at Remedy have lately been opting for a paranormal setting. With games such as Alan Wake and Quantum Break, they’ve created brutal worlds packed with phantasmal entities and psychic abilities. And Remedy’s newest entry, Control, might be their most oddball sci-fi/supernatural shooter yet.
The action takes place in a government building nestled in the heart of New York City. But this isn’t just any old office structure filled with soundproof meeting rooms and guys in dark suits. No, this is the Federal Bureau of Control: a place that goes unnoticed by the majority of the scurrying foot traffic out front. It’s an agency that specializes in the realities beyond our ordinary world. And it’s a repository for “Objects of Power” and “Altered Items,” potent artifacts that can raise havoc in our world and open doorways to strange dimensions.
Into this bizarre place steps one Jesse Faden, a twentysomething woman who’s been looking for the shadowy agency for 17 years. She’s guided by a paranatural entity that protects her from strange outside influences and gives her special abilities, the kind other people only wish they could manifest.
You see, Jesse and her brother, Dylan, actually found one of those Objects of Power (or OoPs, as the FBC agents call them) when they were kids. It appeared to be nothing more than an old slide projector. But it opened doors to someplace strange and let in Jesse’s supernatural sidekick. Oh, yes, then the FBC showed up, grabbed the projector and Dylan, and quickly exited stage left. Jesse has been looking for them ever since.
If that’s starting to sound like a supernatural twist on the film Men in Black, well, it sorta is. Only it’s in a nightmarish, ever-shifting and blinking, talking-inanimate-objects kind of way. The game often feels a bit queasy and unsettling, like something you’d probably not experience unless you came down with the flu and were fighting a fever of a 105.
As Jesse, it’s your job to seek out Dylan, who’s likely being held captive in this otherworldly, too-big-for-its-foundations building. You have to use a gun and your burgeoning telekinetic abilities to blast malignant creatures and fight a powerful force that wants to destroy everything. And since the previous FBC director just blew his brains out on his office floor carpet, you have to take over that job, too. Don’t worry, it’s all official. The dead director’s service revolver whispered in your ear and told you so. (Like I said, it’s all just a hair off of a nervous breakdown.)
At one point, Jesse asks a medic she just rescued to point out the best pathway out of their current location. “Just follow the blood,” he retorts. And it strikes you how that is exactly what you’ve been doing for the previous 10 hours or so.
Indeed, players encounter pools of blood and gore, hanging corpses and ghoulish discoveries with almost every step they take. And a big part of the gameplay here is to mundanely spread and splash more and more of it. Your character also spews plenty of f- and s-words, as well as other profanities, along the way, too.
There’s certainly no lack of imagination in Control. And Jesse’s ever-growing list of OoP-endowed abilities—a floppy disk that lets her telekinetically chuck a filing cabinet, a merry-go-round horse that gives her super speed, an old tube TV that lets her levitate, etc.—smack of X-Men-like superpowers that could have been fun.
But those potentially enjoyable and engaging elements here get mucked up by all the other dribble and dross in this disquieting adventure.
And that amounts to an unfortunate lack of, uh, control on the gamemakers’ part.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.