Take a pinch of the gameplay of Quantum Break, add a generous sprinkling of Stranger Things, the famous Netflix series by the Duffer brothers, and close it all with a couple of handfuls of the great writing ability that has always been the basis of Remedy video games.
Done? Well, you just laid the solid foundation of Control, the new third-person action from the creators of Max Payne and Alan Wake, a single player adventure that, despite the rather short development times, presented itself on our test bench surrounded by a captivating aura to say the least.
Yes, because like all Remedy’s works, Control sees the gameplay climbing around a pillar of narrative that takes on an absolute protagonist role from the first moments of the game. What surprised us most is the magnetic charm emanating from the characterization of the universe of writing, a “lore” that emerges as much from the aesthetics of the settings as from the small details hidden in every ravine of the Federal Bureau of Control in New York.
Let’s get straight to the point: in Control we will play the role of Jesse Faden, a girl who, following a trauma suffered in childhood, has acquired a series of paranormal powers. Inexplicably, through a mysterious supernatural ritual, Jesse will suddenly find himself at the direction of the Federal Bureau of Control, a government structure that has lost its previous leader Zachariah Trench following the invasion of a terrible otherworldly threat known as The Hiss.
But what is the Federal Bureau of Control really? This secret government department was created for the purpose of containing and studying all the supernatural phenomena that occur on our material plane. If apparently it might seem the classic labyrinth of offices and research laboratories, the mysterious building known as The Old House will soon prove to be a receptacle of disturbing mysteries, raising the curtain on parallel dimensions, unknown entities and rooms that challenge the same laws to basic physics.
In short, the setting travels halfway between the gate for the “Upside Down” of the Duffer brothers and the Department of Mysteries encountered in Harry Potter, adding to the amalgam a small, albeit always fascinating note of Lovecraftian cosmicism. From the disturbing white marble atrium of the Central Research section, for example, we passed the floating corpses to reach a sort of sealed chamber that opened onto the “Mirror Maze”, a wing of the reminiscent building of the Black Lodge of Twin Peaks , were it not for the fact that the upholstered corridors kept changing shape with each of our passage.
Similarly, taking an elevator we went down to the lower floors of Central Research, finding ourselves in a sector completely invaded by dense alien vegetation, all while some monitors positioned along the walls showed the history of the experiments underlying the scientific structure and the signs close to the imposing stairways they revealed wards with at least an interesting name, such as an “Extrasensorial Laboratory” and a section intended for the study of hypnosis.
If the great protagonist of Control seemed to us to be The Old House along with all its mysteries, we must not forget the story of a Jesse who, obsessed with the ‘ghost’ of the ex Bureau director Zachariah Trench, must constantly clash with the effects of The Hiss, the force that has now taken control of the building and all its inhabitants. During the exploration, in fact, we will be attacked by enemies of all kinds, from simple security guards to decidedly more advanced and proficient units in psychic powers.
Although the structure of the game world reminded us very closely of the classic ‘metroidvania’, embroidered around backtracking and discovering new skills, Remedy’s Vida Starcevic preferred to use Prey’s TranStar space station as a comparison: apparently, the entire The Old House will be divided into macro-sectors to be visited several times during numerous quests and side quests, where the latter will be assigned by none other than a series of NPCs.
The Federal Bureau therefore emerges as a semi-open world in which to progress through a questing system that will lead us to know every corner of the setting, and during the first main mission it was necessary to make headway among the laboratories of ‘Parapsychology’. Along the way, Jesse came across an Astral Spike, a four-dimensional entity that came from a parallel and extremely dangerous universe: the only way to get rid of it was to restart the containment procedures and close the door behind him, a factor that put black on white the presence of systems capable of deviating from the simple action track.
It was precisely at this juncture that we realized that the technology behind the laboratories is far from advanced and, indeed, closely resembles that of the second post-war period. The reason is soon explained: the extra-dimensional forces that loom over the world of Control have a lesser grip on the less advanced electronic components, therefore the minds behind the construction of The Old House have wisely integrated old computers and obsolete transmission systems.
This and other details have covered the whole journey to the heart of the department, the place where Jesse found herself in front of a so-called ‘Power Object’, an instrument that plays a fundamental role both in the economics of fiction and in that of mechanics of play. In the case in question, the mysterious object was an old X-ray reader which, once touched, transported the protagonist to the Astral Plane, a parallel dimension characterized by an impossible architecture in full futuristic style ready to stand out on an enigmatic white backdrop.
By interacting with the Object of Power, Jesse has acquired the ability to take control of the mind of weakened enemies to turn them into useful allies, a capacity that has gone hand in hand with all the other essential tools to break through the hordes of opponents . In fact, our heroine can float in the air, erect a telekinetic wall to block incoming bullets, crash into the ground with unprecedented violence and even unhinge debris and pieces of cement from the walls and then throw them against the safety of the building.
At the time of her appointment as director of the Federal Bureau of Control, Jesse turned into a real war machine equipped with all sorts of paranormal power, and was able to get her hands on the unique, splendid firearm in the title. In fact, Jesse’s “Service Weapon” can constantly transform itself to perform the most varied tasks: if the Piercer, for example, makes two harpoons available to impale and pierce the most stoic enemies, we can easily transform it into a comfortable Repeater or even in a devastating Shotgun to adapt the TPS component to our gameplay needs.
In essence, although it does not show itself as an intrinsically innovative combat system, it cannot be said that it does not leave total freedom of choice and action in the hands of the gamer, and it was with immense pleasure that we eradicated entire libraries from the walls of the laboratories and then launched them in a cloud of sheets of paper against the armor of the unwary security teams, being struck by the seemingly unlimited destructibility of the environments and the impeccable work of the physical engine.
The icing on the cake is represented by a simple and immediate power-up system that allows, accumulating experience, to unlock a series of perks, such as the ability to move objects much heavier than normal through telekinesis. In the same way, the very rare Mods for weapons and for the character allow to increase their statistical values, increasing the quantity of available stamina or drastically reducing the reloading times of the different functions at the base of the firing mouth.
Needless to say, being the launch of Control scheduled for August 27 this year, what we tested was nothing more than an early build. However, apart from some drop in frames in the most crowded rooms, the technical sector has fully managed Remedy’s ambition, shining during the physics management phases, the most important in light of the gameplay structure itself, and outlining an apt minimalist outline for the labors of the young Jesse without skimping on the details.
The narrative universe, then, managed to involve us from the first moments in the mysterious atmosphere of the Old House, leading us to fantasize about the nature of that Astral Plane composed of inverted pyramids and gashes on nothing capable of making anyone’s heart vibrate have explored the famous Vault of Glass. Sensations that come back to emerge with arrogance through the disturbing and gigantic ‘fire door’ that separates the Central Research building from the Mirror Maze, a place where you can feel the sensation of going through a wormhole.
And it is precisely for this reason that the writing of the game world seems to have the credentials to turn into a small jewel, especially in the eyes of those who were fascinated by the world of the paranormal, by the para-science typical of television series such as Fringe, from the adventures of “Eleven” and, why not, also from the planes of the cosmos encountered on the night of Yharnam.
Obviously the very nature of the project remains shrouded in an aura of mystery, but the comparison with Prey of Arkane Studios can do nothing but further fuel expectations. If the characterization of The Old House and the rapid and intuitive combat system will be flanked by a general structure that has an appropriate level of depth, Control could mark the great return of the Remedy that we have learned about the splendid backgrounds of Max Payne and Alan Wake.
For the rest, there could not have been a better first impression than what we had, an objective achieved through an emerging narrative capable of turning the spotlight on some of the most interesting themes in the pop culture spectrum. Then, let’s face it: floating with Jesse to tear off blocks of marble from the ground and using them as deadly bullets conveys a feeling of control that, ironically, can only be found within Control.