When I bought Control back in 2019, I told myself I wouldn’t release a review until I’d finished the game. This wasn’t an unusual stance for me, as why would I review a game I hadn’t finished? However, 3½ years later and after countless attempts to revive my playthrough after taking multi-month breaks, I’m giving up. According to the Wiki I’m on story mission 7 of 10, and that’s where I’m calling it. Sorry.
I want to add a large caveat that my complaints with this game are extremely subjective. Most of my friends enjoyed it, and you’ll probably like it too. I have no major issues regarding performance, mechanics, or basic gameplay. In many ways Control reminds me of my Warframe review as a game that by all rights I should love but I inexplicably just do not find fun in the slightest.
After all, Alan Wake is one of my favorite games of all time, and the Alan Wake 2 announcement was what finally spurred me to reinstall Control for one final ill-fated attempt to slog through the main storyline. The premise sounded cool as well; a young woman visits an FBI-style bureau looking for her missing brother. There she finds a mysterious gun to protect herself from the eldritch horrors that have taken over the building.
My biggest gripe’s gotta be with that corporate setting. They tried to make it cool, with massive oaken desks and tons of physics objects and stylized chthonic degradation… But it’s still just an office. I can’t think of many locations that would be less exciting. And you’re stuck in these for basically the entire game. The only occasional breaks send you to an untextured virtual reality block platform or an abandoned 90’s motel, which are also pretty boring settings? I cannot tell you how badly I was missing Alan Wake’s alpine small town forestscapes by the end of it all.
So the raw gameplay itself is fun. I like how the main character gets infinite sprint and some light parkour abilities. The superpowers are great, their sound/visual design and feedback you get from firing your various attacks is punchy and satisfying. Though the massive skill trees to power anything up were something of a turn-off for me. I really dislike level-up trees because it basically feels like the game gatekeeping the fun parts instead of designing core abilities that grow through the player’s skill and self-proficiency. But that’s probably just a personal problem.
Speaking of gatekeeping, the storyline is needlessly choked with long laborious fetch quests or ‘go press the button’ odysseys for no real reason but to pad the gameplay length. You never can find something and it just works, you’ve got to go do eight things to get the door unlocked or the elevator online before you can continue the actual story. Plenty of times I completely forgot why I was roaming some labyrinthine maintenance hallway, just praying I eventually stumble across whatever lever or switch it wants me to pull.
Before we move from gameplay to story, one major problem I have is the complete lack of cohesion between them. At almost no point do the two ever intersect. Your superpowers are explained in-universe but they aren’t used to further or contribute to the narrative in any way. The combat is so superfluous that story NPCs literally ignore it, just waiting patiently for you to kill the mooks so the story can continue.
Outside that, the actual plot isn’t bad. Voice-acting is great, character design does what it can with everybody dressed in the same corporate uniforms. NPCs are somewhat hamstrung by how out-of-focus everyone except the main character is, but the devs at least instilled them with unique personalities.
I found the enemies really forgettable, basically just shadowy dudes in various uniforms you plow through by the dozens. Hordes will spawn even in rooms you’ve cleared before, and I started getting really irritated having to re-fight them multiple times while roaming some sector looking for the quest button to push. Another annoying aspect are the respawning office workers who just float in the air doing nothing. They don’t fight back, they don’t do anything, I’m not even sure why I have to kill them. And they’re constantly reappearing everywhere.
You only get one, and it shapeshifts to different forms and gets infinite ammo. This in itself is fine, but I didn’t find it nearly as fun as the superpowers. The starter pistol form seemed horribly inaccurate, lacked punch and had universally below-average stats. I first assumed the game expected you to level it up to make it more useful, but I’ve got maxed out Grade V modifications by this point and it still misses a ton of shots, and takes forever to kill anything. I also didn’t find the alternate fire modes (shotgun, sniper rifle, charged shot) worth using, meaning I’m mostly reliant on the superpowers to kill anything. It’s a massive saving grace that said powers are the highlight of the gameplay.
The music is fine. This section’s really just so I can voice the tiniest and most unfair complaint in this whole article. In Alan Wake, the game ended with Poe’s ‘Haunted‘ playing over the end credits, whose eerie cadence and unsettling orchestration was the perfect coda for the overall gameplay experience. So when Remedy announced their next game was called Control, I assumed they’d use Poe’s song ‘Control‘ in it since it’s from the exact same album. (A very good album, by the way, one of my all-time favorites.) These expectations only increased as I played through and saw the protagonist’s journey mirrors the themes, lyrics, and attitude of that song. But…then it didn’t.
I hate when reviewers gripe about ‘missed opportunities’ because it feels like they’re docking points from a real product against a fantasy version in their head, but in this case I’m just gonna embrace my hypocrisy. I really think they should have used that song and it’s weird that they didn’t.
I gotta be honest, I originally purchased this to play the [spoiler, hover mouse over to read]. But I have to beat the base game first, and I’m honestly really struggling to play long enough to do that. I might just go watch the ending on YouTube just in case it becomes relevant in later games. As for y’all, I recommend trying Control out and seeing if you like it more than I did. As you’ve probably noticed, these are mostly minor peripheral complaints. There’s a good chance they won’t bother you in the slightest while slaughtering swathes of shadowmooks as the lovechild of Scully and Supergirl.