🖐️ Notes on Control

You can clearly indentify one line in Control as being the worst. Which is quite a feat in a game that has so many bad lines. But without further ado, here it is: "That was awesome!"

The main issue with that line is context (of course); it is said out loud by the main protagonist after, yes, the most awesome sequence within the entire game. The sad part is that the game doesn't allow you to come to this conclusion yourself. You need it to be spoonfed to you.

Which is Control's main issue throughout the game. As its plot and setting mixes up the serious conspiracies of The X-Files with the dark humour of Portal, you'll also find some notes of House of Leaves in there. Sadly those notes are completely overpowered by the game's tendency to explain just about everything. The protagonist Jesse constantly expresses her internal monologue to the player as interruptions and it's killing any sense of mystery.

Having Jesse verbalise her observations so directly makes them canon within the context of the game and eliminates any ideas the player might have. While most stories tackling these subjects go off on a wild scavenger hunt, making you question every last scrap of information you can find, Control wants to have its cake and eat it too. Yup, here's the scavenger hunt, but 5 minutes later you're being told exactly what the mystery is.

The game is constantly spoiling itself on its major beats, not letting you revel in your own conclusions. There's no feeling of figuring it out. It's the main reason its finale falls flat on its face and doesn't linger in the mind. Actually, thinking about it, I wouldn't be surprised if these internal monologues have all been added as a last ditch effort to make the game 'accessible' to a larger audience.

There are more oddities. The game's incessant focus on collecting mods for your weaponry, and doing so through either tacked on side-quests or tacked on lootbox crafting elements, is utterly bizarre. It doesn't fit the game at all, which is much more at home at being a tightly designed shooting romp through Bauhaus architecture with supernatural abilities spliced into it. Shooting your way through a climactic scene? Here's a full screen notification that you can kill 10 low level enemies in a previously completed environment for a chance of a +2% accuracy bonus!

All of this is silly and only seems to be there to give the idea that Control is "a big AAA-game for grown-ups with all the latest features". Ironically it's exactly those features that makes the game drop to almost B-tier levels. The constant inventory management and dubious calls-to-action only manage to take you out of the game's atmosphere.

A terrific shame indeed as you can find audio logs, letters, reports, and videos all over the place. The building's interior decorations and all of their extrapolations are just grand and cohesive. It's a confusing mess, but at a certain point it does start to feel like home, or rather: a workplace.

There's a great and dark sense of humour involved as well, as the game makes it clear that everyday objects could house supernatural powers varying in usefulness and range. A floppy disk giving you superpowers. A fridge killing people the moment it's not being watched. A sticky note infinitely replicating itself until it covers every surface in the room. It's this weird and wonderful mess of tonal shifts that brings out the best in Control. Here's a tale of a bureacractic organisation trying it darndest to bring comprehensible order to misunderstood chaos, to actually exert control while often simply failing at it.

It's beautiful in its presentation even though many of its human characters fall into a weird uncanny valley in terms of looks. Luckily, the weirdness kind of fits in with the orderly chaotic nature of it all. But apart from that hiccup, the sounds and visuals do a terrific job at bringing everything together. There are vistas that are unexpected and genuinely surprising (even though 5 seconds later Jesse will tell you that and how to feel about it) and the level of destruction possible makes it all tangible.

Which makes it a bit sad that the tonal shifts deployed in audio-visual presentation don't really gel in game design. You could say the wonky RPG-lite sauce du jour and the solid and enjoyable gunplay are just as weird a mixture, but in that particular case, the sauce threatens to overwhelm the main course.

In a way, I'd almost wish there was less to Control. As it is, I'm more in love with its world and lore than the game per sé and kind of miffed the game threw the lid down so hard when it did end. Hopefully a potential sequel can iron out those weird game mechanics, so Control can happily lose itself in itself a bit more.

Now that would be awesome.