Control

I heard about the video game Control around the time it was released in 2019. I thought about getting it (I was still spending a lot of time at home recovering from medical stuff). But a little bit of research told me that the game was quite difficult (on the level of Dark Souls) and there was no “old folks mode” at all.

More recently, as I searched for games to play on my new PS5, I saw Control at a large discount. I still remembered how intriguing the game sounded a couple of years ago: the strong visuals and the good story. When I looked up the game again, I saw that the game now included options that made it substantially easier to play. I gave it a try.

The game-difficulty options page warned that turning these options on would make the game different from what the designers originally intended. Since I had no intention of glasschewing through various encounters in frustration, I turned on all the “make the game easier” options. As I played, I could almost hear the designers groaning at how trivial game had become. It was still possible for your character to die during the game, but only if you jumped off a cliff or something like that.

Here’s an example of defying the designers: In the later stages of the game, it becomes possible to take over the enemies when their health gets too low. However, I turned on the option to one-shot all the opponents. So this “enemy-takeover” skill becomes useless, because the enemy health goes to zero immediately. Oh, well.

Even in “super-duper old folk’s mode,” I found the game interesting to play. Despite what the designers may have wished, Control is more than just mowing down enemies. There are mysteries to explore and puzzles to solve. The bizarre story of Control is worth the time to play even without the visceral thrill of defeating an enemy that’s defeated you twenty times previously.

You play Jesse Faden, who’s been searching for years for her missing brother. She enters the building that houses the Federal Bureau of Control, who took away her brother seventeen years earlier. Almost immediately, she becomes aware that some malignant force has invaded the FBC. At the same time, she finds that she’s be assigned the role of the Director of the FBC, without understanding how, why, or what the job entails. Jesse dubs the enemy power “The Hiss,” and immediately everyone else starts referring to it by that name.

The building that houses the FBC turns out to be a manifestation of a mystical structure called the Oldest House. It’s tied into ordinary objects that have acquired extraordinary powers; e.g., an old Bakelite telephone that can contact the dead or other dimensions. Though it resembles an office complex for the most part, portions of the Oldest House twist into strange geometries or lead into rooms derived from the memories of current and past Directors.

Jesse roams through the Oldest House, rescuing FBC employees under attack by the Hiss and dealing with those who’ve been taken over by it. She must deal with the objects whose powers have suddenly grown or been mis-used. All the while she tries to find her brother somewhere within the building, understand why he was taken by the FBC in the first place, and why the job of Director was forced upon her.

Despite the weird environment and visuals, Control is a fairly standard example of the third-person shooter. Jesse goes up in level as she slays enemies and accomplishes missions; as she gains experience she gains new skills and statistics. She also picks up collectibles that can be used to purchase gear improvements. (In “old folks mode” many of these improvements are useless, such as more health points or increased weapon damage.)

I enjoyed the game. The story and visuals are interesting, though some of the special effects that accompany narrations become repetitive after a while.

My only bit gripe with the game was near the end of an expansion that’s only activated after you’ve reached the end of the main storyline. In that expansion, I had to face my ancient enemy: the timed platforming challenge. The difficulty options did not affect the speed required to solve the puzzle. I could not get past it, and so Control ended for me abruptly. (For anyone who’s played the game, it was the fourth Foundation key.)

Aside from that, this game is definitely worthwhile for anyone who likes third-person shooters, weird stories, or exploring non-linear environments.

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