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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Release Date: Aug. 27, 2020

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PC Review - 'Control Ultimate Edition'

by Andreas Salmen on Nov. 10, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Control (formerly known as P7) is a third-person action-adventure game combining Remedy’s trademark gunplay with supernatural abilities.

Buy Control Ultimate Edition

Control was released over a year ago and has since seen several awards, two expansions, and a fair bit of controversy. Control Ultimate Edition marks the anniversary of the title as well as the end of its exclusivity deal with Epic, so it's now available on Steam, PS4 and Xbox One. It's also the only version of the game that will get a free update for next-gen consoles, which rightfully didn't sit well with those who bought the game early. We'll be looking at the Steam version in this review, and Control is still a joy to play, although it makes a few odd decisions that hinder the fun in some ways.

Control follows the story of Jesse Fade, who enters the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) in what seems to be an innocent investigation into a childhood incident. As Jesse makes her way into the FBC headquarters, which is located in an eerie and lifeless gray building known as "The Oldest House," she encounters a janitor speaking in riddles and the director being killed by his own service weapon. Armed with the director's gun, Jesse goes deeper into the building as things spiral out of control. Previous employees hover in the air and chant verses, and some emit a red glow and start to attack. The FBC HQ has been taken over by the Hiss, an entity that devours everything. Jesse seems to be immune, so she tries to rid the FBC HQ of the Hiss invasion while figuring out how she and her lost brother fit into the strange events.

Control's story is enjoyable and interesting, but that's not due to its actual storytelling. The protagonist is actually The Oldest House, which shifts and corrupts itself, and it even seals off some areas until we can cleanse them. Pathways are blocked, but they may become accessible again if we find the source of the corruption, and some paths may remain inaccessible until Jesse learns a certain skill. Every area is rich in collectibles, which are mostly redacted documents that slowly piece together previous FBC incidents and protocols. Video tapes and sound recordings flesh out cases, while the architecture and the mood do the rest. It's the eerie mix of "Twin Peaks" and "X-Files" that keeps you invested in what weird or confusing thing might happen next.

What Control doesn't do well is writing engaging characters. Discussions between Jesse and other FBC members are wooden, with some weird facial animations on practically motionless bodies that end up unintentionally adding to the eeriness. Control also tells what should be an emotional story for Jesse, since she is trying to find her lost brother, but somehow, the characters in the game seem incapable of expressing feelings, making the premise far more interesting than the story content.

Of course, this isn't the complete story, since there are two DLCs included in the definitive edition. The two DLCs, The Foundation and AWE, have self-contained stories that fit the game's overall theme. Both play after the events of the main game and can be completed at will or even in parallel. The Foundation shines a light on the early years of the FBC and the literal foundation of The Oldest House as we explore the red sand caves below. It's not a very engaging story, but The Foundation delivers with beautiful environments and increased combat encounters and platforming sections. It should satisfy anyone who wanted more of the same after the credits rolled on the main game.

The AWE DLC is special because it directly involves Alan Wake as a character (sparsely in some cut scenes) and solidifies the connection of both franchises. Again, the gameplay is mostly more of the same, with some added light/shadow mechanics that try to mirror the Alan Wake gameplay. We chase down a horrific being in a previously sealed sector that stalks Jesse in the dark and can only be defeated in light areas. That's the main point to this DLC, and there's a clever ending if you were hoping for more Alan Wake on the horizon.

What makes Control interesting and fun is the way it intertwines its gameplay with an impressive technical foundation. It's the first game that properly showcased ray tracing across the board in what remains one of the best implementations of the tech. Shadows and global illumination are handled via ray tracing if you have a graphics card that supports it, but it looks nice even when the feature is turned off. The game frequently uses light to mark enemies and hostile areas, which are drowned in red light that bounces off the stone pillars of The Oldest House. It sets the mood perfectly, especially since the environments are completely destructible. Almost every item in a room is affected by physics and may be destroyed or moved. Bullets can chip stone walls chip, and explosions can destroy entire concrete patches. Being in a firefight in Control feels like sitting in the eye of a concrete hurricane as projectiles zip across the room in great numbers — mostly because you've thrown them.

Control's gameplay focuses on third-person shooting and supernatural abilities. Our service weapon is what the game calls an OOP (object of power), which means it recharges itself and does not need ammunition. It can also shapeshift into other weapon forms, so it's similar to a grenade launcher, shotgun, or sniper rifle. You'll encounter plenty of other OOP throughout the story. One of the first — and arguably best — abilities is grabbing and hurling objects at your enemies.

Throughout the game and DLC, you'll get additional powers, such as a momentary shield that explodes to damage nearby foes, recruiting weakened enemies to fight alongside you, and even levitation. Damaged enemies drop loot and health, so the title incentivizes offensive gameplay. Melee soon joins the fray, allowing you to single-handedly dominate and dismantle your enemies and environments. It's an impressive range to go from a shape-shifting weapon to a flying psychic warrior. Remedy knows how to build a satisfying and fun shooter, and Control feels very much like an all-in approach to deliver the best possible shooting power fantasy.

It isn't without flaws, though. The ability to throw concrete blocks and fire extinguishers at your enemies is probably the most satisfying of the bunch. The shooting mechanics also feel satisfying, and they're accompanied by the appropriate sound effects. The shooting feels impactful regardless of your weapon type or enemy.

I can't shake the feeling that Remedy bet too much on its great gameplay. I realize how weird this sounds when I'm talking about a game where you can fly, but if you peel away the supernatural layers, a lot of what you'll see and do feels formulaic: controlling enemies, enemies swarming you, and enemies that hurl things at you. There is some variety in the enemy design, but it establishes a formula that it then repeats again and again. As the game increasingly leans into combat encounters toward the end, it makes them feel much denser and more frequent.

Sometimes, it feels like there should've been room for more sophisticated puzzles and exploration. Most puzzles in Control revolve around connecting energy cells to outlets to restore power to an area so you can open a door. Your abilities play a role in puzzles and the level design, but a lot of it is voluntary. If you strictly follow the story beats, you'll do a lot of shooting.

Given the amount of combat in Control, you will find a few annoyances, such as in the boss fights. There are quite a few of them (and some optional ones too), but most boss fights feel tedious since some are just overpowered enemies that take a long time to defeat. Most of it comes from the environments, since the game has several areas where you'll fight on platforms above an abyss. Dodging, flying, and circumventing enemies can easily result in falling to your demise, which won't usually kill you, but it takes a chunk of your health. I lost boss battles an infuriating number of times because of a misstep, especially since Control's checkpoint system is not great.

As you go through The Oldest House, you'll have to cleanse and take over waypoints. You can upgrade Jesse, but we'll come back to that later. The last point you've activated is your restore point, and this is where you'll start over. Sometimes the restore points can be ridiculously far away, making you walk a considerable distance to return to the action. Even worse, Control has the habit of spawning random encounters in previously cleared rooms, so there is sometimes the chance of running into another encounter on your return to a boss fight. These annoyances were what quickly burned me out on the combat.

On the flip side, Control's difficulty is rather balanced. There are no difficulty settings and no New Game+ mode, so the experience is the same for everyone. I found the game to be fair, with encounters that cleverly use enemy types and shields to increase difficulty instead of merely increasing the number of enemies. This is also true for both DLC packs, which introduce new enemies that add to the difficulty — but never in an unfair way.

Part of the smooth progression is the way Jesse gets stronger throughout the game. Completing main missions and side-quests earns resources (part of which is lost upon death) and ability points. Resources can be used for weapon upgrades or enhancement mods, and ability points can be invested in skill trees to enhance Jesse's health, energy or skills.

Mods can either be constructed at waypoints or found by defeating enemies or opening chests. They grant further buffs on all aspects of our skills and weapon forms. You can only hold a certain number at a time, even though the game gives them out like candy. You will regularly need to spend time on organizing your mods, breaking down the ones that you do not like, and keeping the ones that you do. I am not sure about the purpose of this annoying mechanic. Inventory management just doesn't fit the Control experience, and it breaks up the action way too many times. The mods are helpful in combat, but I don't want to sort them every 30 minutes.

Even with their evident flaws, the story and combat are good, and I love the overall level design. The Oldest House, while perhaps in poor architectural taste, is a joy to traverse. It gets old after looking at the same concrete walls, but due to the amazing lighting and erratic proliferation of the building, there are a few great moments. The building is packed with chests, hidden rooms, and alternative passages that you'll discover over time. It's very close to a Metroidvania game and encourages exploration off the beaten path. The game and its DLC add at least five more hours of content to delve into the building's history and stories, while you gain resources and ability points to improve upon Jesse. The difficulty is balanced enough that you can ignore all side content and plow through the main missions, but you'd miss out on fun and interesting stuff.

Visually, Control is a treat due to its destructibility and lighting. If you have an Nvidia card, you'll be able to use DLSS and ray tracing to run the game with decent performance. Past updates have shown much improvement here. Our system with a 2070 Super was able to run the game with all settings maxed out (including ray tracing and DLSS) at around 60fps in 1440p resolution. It's a stark improvement compared to the toll that ray tracing took without DLSS immediately after release. We ran into some bugs during our time with the AWE expansion, where the final boss froze on us and required a reload. Otherwise, the game ran, looked, and played perfectly most of the time. The animation work outside of cut scenes is great, and the physics and light display is remarkable. There are a few blurry textures or soft artifacts when playing with DLSS, but the benefit usually outweighs the visual inconsistencies.

Control Ultimate Edition is a great title, especially since the DLC adds more enemies and gameplay mechanics into the mix. If you rush, the complete bundle will take you about 18 hours to complete, but if you take your time and explore and complete side-quests, you'll take at least 25 hours, which is quite meaty for a game of this caliber. If you have yet to experience Control, Ultimate Edition is the best way to do so on the PC. The combat is tight, over the top, and satisfying. The premise is so good that you want to dive deeper, but it doesn't always come together. While it's a great game to play, Control could have been an even stronger experience, and that takes away some of its thunder.

Score: 8.7/10

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