One of our best games of 2019, CONTROL, is a masterclass of both physics and worldbuilding. Slated for a release on PS5 and Xbox Series S/X in 2021, it’s worth having another look at this incredible title. The Ultimate Edition contains both expansions, The Foundation and AWE, as well as the Expeditions end game mode and a photo mode that makes it easier for you to capture beautiful screenshots to share with your friends.
CONTROL: Ultimate Edition is available on Steam, Epic, Xbox, and PlayStation for your regional pricing. If you are playing on console and have not yet upgraded, worry not – both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners buying the game now will be eligible for a free upgrade when it releases on the new consoles next year.
Story – Out Of This World
The game kicks off with Jesse Faden arriving at the Oldest House, the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC). Her search for answers about events in her past, as well as the location of her long lost brother, has finally come to an end. That’s what she thinks, anyway.
It soon becomes clear that not all is well at the Oldest House. The building is under some kind of lockdown for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious, and it isn’t long before things get weird. Really weird. The Oldest House has been overrun by some kind of malevolent, extradimensional entity that dubbed the Hiss. This is yet another stumbling block in her quest to find answers. The Hiss infects not only every living being within the Oldest House but corrupts and changes the physical structure of it as well.
Fortunately, Jesse isn’t exactly normal herself – she has powerful psychic abilities that she can use to repel the influence of the Hiss. She can also use this to cleanse various Control Points throughout the House. These serve as checkpoints as well as fast travel points.
Getting The Job Done
Due to Jesse’s special abilities, the source of which I do not wish to spoil, she is uniquely equipped to solve the myriad problems that are plaguing the Oldest House. Hilariously, she is appointed as both the Director of the FBC and as the Janitor’s Assistant, the latter title seemingly more appropriate as she spends her time cleaning up the mess left in the wake of the Hiss. Then again, she carves her own path of destruction while doing so.
Much of the story is told through various media left lying around – documents, recordings, and videos that paint a bleak and often humorous picture of this clandestine organization tasked with collecting, controlling and covering up what they call Objects of Power and the havoc they wreak in the real world.
These Objects of Power are seemingly mundane artifacts with powers that defy the laws of physics and reality. Each of the objects has an interesting story of its own and grant Jesse additional power if she is able to secure them.
The Bigger Picture
Overall, CONTROL has an intriguing and engaging plot that kept me hooked from start to finish. Sure, it gets a little convoluted and even wild at times. This is all part of its appeal. It all comes together nicely in the end in a way that does not feel forced.
One of my favorite things about the game is that it knows when to take itself seriously and when to lighten the load a little with a bit of humor. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the various recordings and poring through documents, many of which you could swear came straight from the SCP Foundation. Of course, the game did draw more than a little inspiration from SCP and is all the better for it.
Gameplay – Objectively Powerful
You’ll spend most of your time either exploring the Oldest House or fighting the Hiss. That is, when you aren’t poring through various documents and media because they’re all so darn interesting. I will talk about these gameplay elements separately, but first, I should mention that they rely mostly on similar mechanics.
Jesse accumulates a plethora of unique and interesting abilities throughout the game. These are drip-fed in a way that gives you time to integrate them, and it also keeps things interesting.
First up, our heroine receives a sort of psychically enhanced melee attack that isn’t all that interesting but is useful when you want to make your own doorway or are surrounded by enemies. She soon after acquires the Launch ability, which is arguably one of the best and most useful in the game.
Launch enables Jesse to pick up and (you guessed it) launch, or throw, objects that weigh probably more than she does. This is used for combat and also to solve various puzzles throughout the game. It can be upgraded so that you can pick up enemy grenades, and eventually much larger objects as well as the enemies themselves to launch them back at aggressors. I had a lot of fun with this ability, especially because of how much of the environment can be destroyed, but we will get to that a little later.
Some of the abilities are optional, like Shield, Seize and Evade. I finished the game with only Evade out of these, as it is useful for crossing large gaps and avoiding enemy projectiles. Levitate is self-explanatory, allowing Director Faden to reach heights previously unattainable and to alight gently when, say, jumping down an elevator shaft.
At first, I found the combat a little tedious, but once I had a few abilities under my belt, I looked forward to each encounter. These abilities are used in battle in conjunction with the Service Weapon for a dynamic and fluid experience like no other.
Early in the game, Jesse acquires the Service Weapon, which has origins as strange and concealed as the Oldest House itself. This paranormal sidearm is capable of morphing into several forms and is essentially an arsenal of weapons in one. You can have two of the six forms equipped at a time, each with a set amount of ammo. The ammo recharges over a short period of time in which you will have to use your abilities to attack or defend yourself.
Combat is fast-paced and hugely satisfying. The challenge these encounters present steadily increases as confidence builds, and I can’t say dying ever felt cheap or unfair. It was simply a matter of reloading and trying something different.
Almost everything can be destroyed, and the level of havoc you can wreak in each battle only adds to the feeling of satisfaction. When you’ve run out of desks and fire extinguishers to fling at your enemies, why not pull a chunk of marble out the wall? There really is nothing like it.
Possibly one of the most exciting aspects of CONTROL is the ever-shifting Oldest House. It can become downright disorienting when you swear you’ve just walked down this passage, but it’s somehow… changed.
There is always something new and exciting to discover around the next corner, especially when that corner might appear out of nowhere. This aspect of the House is best exemplified in an area called the Ashtray Maze. If you decide to or have played the game, you will know exactly what I’m talking about.
Each new area or department you discover holds new oddities and secrets that mostly defy the laws of nature. At times, Jesse even has to traverse the Astral Plane, where traditional physics go out the window entirely.
When all is said and done, the world-building and design is unbelievable and will have you chomping at the bit for more.
Graphics & Audio – As Good As It Gets
CONTROL is one of the first big titles that support ray tracing and, as such, will push even the most high-powered gaming rig to its limits. Unfortunately, I do not have a card that supports this feature, but I was able to run it on max settings, and the results are as good as one could hope.
The game is a visual marvel no matter how you look at it, whether it’s the fluid animation or the otherworldly and almost entirely destructible architecture. Even the characters’ facial expressions, while not perfect, are some of the most well-rendered and believable I’ve seen.
Speaking of the characters, the voice acting is also a highlight. The quality of which is honestly hard to match and makes for an immersive experience whether you’re watching a cutscene or listening to a recording you found in a damp basement that has not been explored for decades.
Expansions – It’s The Lore!
The Ultimate Edition of CONTROL, as I mentioned before, comes with two expansions – The Foundation and AWE. Honestly speaking, the game is already so good that I cannot really imagine what kind of gameplay elements they might add to improve it, but they managed to do this anyway for one of the expansions, at least.
Accessible after completing the main story, The Foundation adds several hours of content to the base game. Jesse is getting used to her role as Director and is informed of an event that threatens to destroy the House if she does not attend to it post-haste.
The event in question, the Astral Bleed, is just what it sounds like – the Astral Plane is leaking into and fusing with reality. This makes for some interesting, mind-bending new areas to explore.
In terms of gameplay, more of the same (not a bad thing in a game this good) for the most part. This expansion adds two new abilities and a meaty chunk of lore around hitherto forgotten experiments and the origins of the Oldest House itself.
If you get as invested in the lore as I did, then you will not want to miss it as it ties up some loose ends.
This second expansion is accessible before the end of the game and has Jesse tasked with exploring a sealed and inaccessible area known as the Investigation Sector. This DLC will be exciting for fans of Alan Wake since it expands on and ties in with the events from that game.
The events in Alan Wake fit right in with the CONTROL mythos, and I exclaimed out loud when I realized that there was a link between the two games nonetheless.
Once again, this expansion mostly adds to the story and lore, and it’s difficult to get into that without venturing into spoiler territory. This time around, the Hiss isn’t Jesse’s only problem – she now has to contend with the Dark Presence, a similar entity that escaped and resulted in the sector being sealed off.
If you, like me, have not played Alan Wake, your mileage may vary with this expansion, but it does add several hours of new gameplay and some new puzzle elements.
Both of these expansions add a hearty amount of new content to an already excellent game. For the full CONTROL experience, you will not want to settle for the Standard Edition. Check out the trailer below.
I reviewed CONTROL: Ultimate Edition on PC. The game keys for The Foundation and AWE were provided by HYPE.