Even if it’s pulling back from storytelling
The setting is anything but exciting. A labyrinthine office building, the sort of place where Karen from accounting navigates a maze of cubicles just to ask how your weekend was. She doesn’t care. She’s just looking to kill time before she has to go back to crunching the numbers.
Elsewhere, there’s a janitor whose main concern is fixing coolant pumps and energy converters. It’s standard fare for video game chores — some mindless busywork to get you on your way. So much of it feels so rote.
But you have to really force it to see Control in that light. Remedy has masterfully taken the mundane and made it magnificent.
Remedy has carved a well-earned reputation as deft interactive storytellers. Surprisingly, that’s not necessarily the aim with Control. More so than any of its previous games, Remedy’s Control prioritizes action over narrative. It’s too early to tell if it completely works — and, to be fair, you wouldn’t expect Remedy to completely shy away from spinning a good yarn — but early indications are that it excels in this context.
During our E3 demo, Remedy never tries to overwhelm us with exposition. There’s a bizarre conversation with a custodian, but that’s about it. Instead, we’re left to see how far Control leans into its action sensibilities. “To an impressive extent” is the answer.
“We encourage an aggressive style,” a Remedy representative tells us seconds before we start. It’s immediately apparent as to why. Despite taking place quite early in the game, protagonist Jesse Faden is rather adept with her abilities. Nearly everything in the environment can be telekinetically chucked at enemies. There’s a supernatural melee skill that feels more effective than bullets.
Control refuses to be played like a cover shooter. Bits of health are dropped by enemies, and this is the only way of refilling your life bar. Further, the same gun is outfitted to serve different purposes. One mode has high-power rounds with a small magazine. Another is more akin to a traditional handgun with accurate shots that do less damage. There’s more, and they’re eventually earned through progression. However, there’s no ammunition to pick up; the gun refills itself over time.
The single most outstanding aspect of Control is how abilities and weapons complement one another. Combat is always fast and fluid, with an elegance in the way you’re able to interweave the two types of attacks. It’s natural and brimming with panache. Taking the offensive isn’t just the right way to play, it feels like the only way to play.
Control would occasionally veer into the totally surreal, like during a side quest where we learned the evade maneuver and were tasked with dodging through moving walls in some sort of alternate reality dreamscape. Other times, it’d just ask that we go check in with a security guard. Remedy seems to know how to balance these moments. Sometimes working in an office building means just being a regular office employee — even if this is the world’s most odd office building.
It’s impossible to know exactly what to expect from Control. Nearly an hour with it isn’t enough. You get the feeling it’ll morph somewhere along the way, subverting expectations and getting exponentially weirder. But the tactile stuff, the gritty dance of creative combat, is superb thus far. It took a long time for Remedy to relent and focus more on gameplay than narrative; in Control, it found a framework that can carry the studio’s experimentation.