We Played An Hour Of Control And Still Have No Idea What’s Going On

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The picture of what to expect from Remedy Entertainment’s Control is slowly coalescing as the developer gives more and more looks at the upcoming title, but just because we’ve seen more of Control, doesn’t mean we’re any closer to understanding it. A recent preview of the game for journalists ahead of E3 2019, in which we delved into one early-ish level, left us with as many questions as answers. But it did give an impression of what the game will be like as it delivers the story of the Federal Bureau of Control, its directive to deal with all sorts of paranormal stuff, and Jesse, its new director.

The mission Remedy previewed was called Directorial Override. At the start of Control, strange creatures called the Hiss invade the Oldest House, the skyscraper headquarters for the Bureau of Control, possessing various employees and turning them into hostile, gun-toting creatures and monsters. That created a lockdown in the building that prevents Jesse from moving freely, so she needs to use her new director authorization to lift it. To do so, she has to head to the building’s maintenance sector, fight a bunch of monsters, and meet some other Bureau of Control characters along the way.

In the Bureau of Control, communing with ghosts is something they have the equipment to help with.

The preview only gave some vague hints at the story Control is trying to tell and the unusual ways it’ll deliver it. Jesse’s first day on the job as director of the Bureau comes after the death of Zachariah Trench, who previously held the position. But the supernatural nature of the Bureau means that Trench is not all the way gone. Navigating through the level, Jesse would hear Trench’s voice at times, providing her disjointed hints about what she should be doing or what her role as the director is. It seems that in the level preceding the one in the preview, Jesse’s task was to find an object called «the Hotline» that would allow her to hear Trench’s messages from beyond the grave more clearly. In the Bureau of Control, communing with ghosts is something they have the equipment to help with.

It’s from Trench that Jesse gets the names of several Bureau employees she should seek out, but they’re scattered throughout the facility and she can’t reach them without releasing the lockdown. As Jesse talks to various other characters, the game also presents her internal monologue with a closeup of her face. We learn that Jesse isn’t entirely trusting of all her new coworkers. As a narrative device, Jesse’s internal monologue shows how she’s maneuvering through the Hiss invasion by gauging who to trust, suggesting there’s a lot more to the interpersonal dynamic of the story than we’ve seen so far.

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In one conversation, Jesse reveals that she and her brother Dylan had contact with the Bureau of Control when they were children after they discovered a paranormal object: a slide projector that could open up doorways to what sound like other dimensions. Dangerous things came through those doorways, but Jesse and Dylan also managed to use one to contact some kind of entity that helped them deal with the situation. The Bureau showed up soon after; Jesse escaped but Dylan was captured, and she’s been searching for him ever since. It sounds like that’s what led Jesse to the Bureau to begin with, but as we learn from her internal monologue, there’s a lot more to the story that Jesse is holding back and that we haven’t heard yet.

Control also looks to boast some out-there characters for Jesse to meet as she moves through the building. The preview included Ahti, a janitor Jesse talks to as she’s looking for a way through the maintenance sector to reach the directorial override controls. Remedy’s known to take inspiration from the works of David Lynch, and with the headphones he never takes off and shock of messy gray hair, Ahti is an homage to the director’s character from Twin Peaks. True to his inspiration, Ahti is also a bit strange. He thinks Jesse is his new assistant, dispatching her to do some maintenance work. In practical terms, it mostly means clearing out Hiss enemies and removing an enormous fleshy, living mass from a nearby power generator before it explodes.

Remedy has offered journalists opportunities to try the game’s combat before, and this preview didn’t include all of the bells and whistles (and levitation) of previous looks at the game. It did give a sense of the ways combat can evolve, though. We faced off against various Hiss enemies (some of whom exploded like suicide bombers, others who were a bit smarter and tried to use cover or flank Jesse. Fighting in Control is about quickly mixing and matching the tools you have at your disposal, like picking up objects with your mind and heaving them at enemies before following up with a barrage of pistol fire. If the Hiss get too close, your shape-shifting gun can change into a shotgun that’s great for clearing some space, as is Jesse’s melee attack. Battles require a lot of adaptation as the Hiss flood in, requiring you to keep moving and addressing targets as quickly as you can before you get overwhelmed.

Luckily, there are things that can help with that. As Jesse explored the maintenance sector, at one point, a linoleum floor gave way, dropping her into a strange while and concrete hallway—a portion of the astral plane. These locations are puzzle areas where Jesse can gain new abilities by finding Objects of Power, and after completing some careful platforming, Jesse reached a plastic carousel horse that gave Jesse the ability to do a short-range dash move, useful for clearing large gaps and getting out of harm’s way quickly. When we got back out to fight the Hiss, dashing around became essential to keep from exploding or getting cut down by gunfire.

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Though the Control preview gave a sense of how the game will play—it feels a lot like Remedy’s last title, Quantum Break, but a little more fluid and adaptive—we’re still waiting to see how all these story elements will gel together into a cohesive narrative. Things like Jesse’s internal monologue suggesting she’s not exactly who she says she is, and Trench’s ghostly help for his successor, pique interest and give a sense that there’s a lot under the surface of Control, beyond its most apparent paranormal ideas and creatures. But picking the game up in the middle left us more confused than anything about all those things, and how they work together in the overall narrative.

This preview did show that Control is iterating on the gameplay ideas of Remedy’s past titles, Alan Wake and Quantum Break, to make combat that feels even more fast, intuitive, and responsive in the moment. And Remedy is taking things in even weirder directions than it did with a game about a writer’s words come to life and another about a time travel-induced end of the world, which is very enticing. Remedy has a strong history with telling stories in games, especially strange ones, and this look at Control did nothing but increase curiosity.

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