At this point, any reader could parse out the thing I love most about a game. I say it all the time: feel. Control feels good. It feels momentous in its big moments, and sparse in its subtle moments. The combat has you throwing large objects and shielding yourself from projectiles. Jesse, the protagonist, is essentially a superhero with superpowers and those powers are fun to use.
Cheating On A Game With Another Game
Near the beginning of my time playing Control, I thought two things:
1. I really hope this all means something when the story wraps up.
2. I really wish I was playing Yakuza: Like A Dragon.
To speak to the latter point, it’s never a good sign to be dreaming about playing a different game whilst playing a game. To speak to the former point, it turns out that none of it really meant anything.
An Underwhelming Story
Jesse is searching for her brother Dylan after he disappears during a supernatural event that they both witnessed and experienced when they were kids. Throughout the game, she attempts to unravel the mystery of where he went, what happened to him and how to get him back. The disappointment lies in the sort of meh nature of it all. Questions are never really answered and while the game doesn’t concern itself with answering them, I’ve found myself wishing it had. This isn’t because of a moment or even the ending. Control never jumps the shark; it could have had a moment like that and gotten away with it, but even if it did, I’d still wonder what was going on with Dylan and that’s the question it needs to answer.
(Insert keyboard warrior response here complaining about how they understand the whole story and how if I had actually played the game I would understand it). If there is a story beat that explains the Dylan mystery, then I’m not aware of it. Not to mention that if it is somehow in the game and I missed it I did every side quest; read every collectible; scoured every corner of every area; but I don’t know the ins and outs of the core mystery of the game. It’s clear to me where he is and how he got there, but without spoiling anything, I don’t know the why of any of it. There are so many why’s and Control only seems interested in answering the what’s and when’s.
The Other Writing Is Pretty Alright
The side stories the game has to tell are inspiring and reminiscent of classic 60’s sci-fi. There’s even a lot of camp in the writing of Control that I greatly appreciated; some of it even reminded me of the best moments of MST3K (before that awful reboot with Jonah Ray). As with all camp, sometimes it can feel oppressive in its abundance, but in Control most of it is funny or at least worth a grin. The side missions and collectables are much better written than the main story. The characters are mostly unmemorable, but the story of the objects and environments that you come across are pretty fascinating and say more about the theme of bureaucracy and other sci-fi themes than anything else in the game.
Control Is Certainly “Inspired”
The game borrows a lot of well-known sci-fi imagery such as Escheresque stairs, Lynchian imagery and parts that resemble 2001: A Space Odyssey. This isn’t a knock on the game, some areas are incredibly impressive, especially on PS5. There’s an infamous area in the game that is sort of the standout moment (it ends with “Maze”). I absolutely understand why so many players opined their love about the visual and audio masterpiece that is that three-minute section of the game. Impressive as it was, it certainly didn’t make me feel or think anything other than, “That was cool.”
I want more from video games than “that was cool.” Yakuza 0 made me ponder morality; Control did no such thing. I understand that I’m on the outside looking into a world that does enjoy games without depth that don’t offer a philosophical question at the centre of them. Control, though, is a game I wouldn’t have even played or reviewed if I didn’t think that it had those things to offer to begin with.
But Is Control Fun?
Yes, I am pleased to say if you couldn’t tell from the opening paragraph that Control is fun. You’ll have a blast, a literal kinetic blast, more upgrades than skill points, guns with replenishing ammo and a guaranteed good time. In fact, Control is so fun and the combat is so good that it’s really the only thing I unabashedly like about the game and there’s a lot of it. It can feel repetitive after you get all the upgrades, especially since the mission formula is so repetitive (some may this is the case for all games and to that I say shh, it’s still a criticism of the game).
Talk to an NPC
Go towards place
Fight enemies of 3-5 types in waves
Go towards place
Fight slightly harder enemies of 3-5 types in waves
Arrive at place
Fight kind of hard enemies of 3-5 types in waves*
(* = Sometimes instead, you fight one pretty hard big boss guy)
Don’t Finish Control, But Do Play It
Control, more than anything, is a game that I don’t recommend finishing. I spent too long with it and I think it left a bad taste in my mouth. As fun as the combat is, I’m writing this review wishing that I had played less of it. The story didn’t click with me but I kept playing it hoping it would. After about twenty hours, the repetitive combat was a wash and I barely had to think about it, but Dylan was waiting for me and that mystery was still intriguing, so I persisted.
It’s worth purchasing even at full price. It’s fun. It looks amazing. It feels great, but don’t expect to be satisfied by the narrative.
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