There’s a fine line between “retro” and “dated.” While some things still feel fresh long after people stop doing that kind of thing, others are behind the times or out of step and thus feel like they belong to another, less interesting era. It is in the latter category that we largely find the third-person survival horror shooter Control (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC), which often feels like a relic from ten, fifteen years ago, and is far the worse for it.
you’re cast as Jesse Faden, the director of the Federal Bureau Of Control, which investigates and weaponizes the paranormal. It’s your first day of work, but instead of a congratulatory muffin basket, you get to deal with the fact that your new coworkers and office have been taken over by a supernatural force called The Hiss. Which is why the first thing on your to-do list is to cleanse the building and the people inside it.
Aiding you in your clean-up efforts are a versatile, multi-use pistol called a Service Weapon. Not only can it be reconfigured with different shooting options — changing it from a pistol to a semi-shotgun to a low-level SMG — but it also regenerates ammo in about the time it takes to reload a gun in a game where reloading isn’t unrealistically instantaneous.
When it is busy regenerating ammo, though, Jesse can use some special mental abilities. Of these, the most helpful in combat is telekinesis, which lets her fling chairs and other pieces of office furniture at her enemies. As with your bullets, it’s an ability that needs to recharge, but also does so quickly, making it effective when used in tandem with your Service Weapon.
Control also amplifies your melee attacks with psychic energy, making them more powerful than just smacking someone upside the head with the butt of your gun. Of course, this assumes that you can get within striking range — this is a shooter, after all, which means people shoot at you…from a distance — but given your enemies penchant for running right at you, it’s a lot handier than you might expect.
Together, the pairing of abilities and ammo makes combat in Control feel a bit different than most shooters. Well, shooters in which you don’t have Jedi-like powers, that is. And goes double when you learn how to evade, which gives you the ability to do a quick dash out of the way of incoming attacks.
The gun battles in Control also get some much-needed variety courtesy of their verticality. A number of them take place in multi-level areas, which gives you the chance to shoot from on high or down below. There are also enemies who fly — well, float, really — and this changes things up as well.
Control mostly does a good job…
with the horror aspects as well. Mostly. Not only does it use a variety of visual trickery, such as having bodies in unnatural poses floating everywhere, it also uses manipulated sounds to great effect. The almost constant murmuring, which is distorted and distant enough to be just shy of understandable, gives this a really creepy vibe.
But there’s a reason why I did the Aliens “mostly” thing in the previous paragraph. While the gun fights and atmosphere in Control may work well, they and other aspects could be much better. Or, more specifically, they could be much deeper and varied in ways that bring this in line with other recent third-person shooters, scary and otherwise.
For starters, someone forgot to teach Jesse how to duck for cover. Sure, she can squat if you tell her to, but she seems determined not to stay that way, and doesn’t know how to use cover the way that, say, everyone in Gears Of War 4 does. Or The Division 2. Or, really, almost every third-person shooter lately in which you don’t have some other way of defending yourself. Granted, she does eventually learn how to construct a shield, but even then it still seems like she, as a federal agent coming under fire, should know how to take cover.
Similarly, some of your mental abilities are also lacking the depth, variety, and versatility we’ve come to expect from Jedi-adjacent games. Take the dash move, which is rather helpful when you’re being shot at, but not if you ram into someone, since it neither hurts them nor knocks them down the way the same move does in Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Instead, it often leaves you standing with your back to a trigger-happy enemy.
Granted, most of your mental powers in Control can be upgraded, but some just make them more powerful as opposed to adding new aspects.
The controls in Control also feel loose, even if you adjust them. Even the most recent God Of War has better shooting controls and it’s not a shooter, it’s a tosser.
There’s a similarly loose feel…
to the way your enemies move in Control as well. The regular grunts not only come right at you, but do so rather haphazardly, like they have no sense of tactics or self-preservation. And while this would be fine if they were zombies or monsters or something else that’s not that bright, they’re supposed to be trained law enforcement agents, and should move like they have some modicum of training. Especially given that the bosses you fight do display both a knowledge of strategy as well as a desire to stay alive.
The gun battles in Control are also uneven when it comes to their difficulty. While some offer a bit of a challenge, others are noticeably easy while still others are disproportionately hard. And having the mid-level checkpoints / save points spaced so far apart doesn’t help, either. There’s also no way to adjust the difficulty, a bummer for both those looking for a challenge and those looking for a challenge they can do.
What also makes Control a bit dull is that it seems like you spend most of your time wandering around. Though it could just feel that way because this doesn’t make it easy for you to get where you need to go. Unlike so many contemporary shooters, this doesn’t have a map that lets you set nav points, nor on-screen indicators telling you where to go if it did. The map is also sometimes hard to follow, and doesn’t pause the game when you bring it up. There’s also not a lot of variety in the way the rooms look, but given that this is set in a government office building, that at least fits the fiction.
There are also times in Control when the cutscenes and other videos are live action, and not done with the game’s graphics. It’s something the makers of Control did in their previous game, Quantum Break, and as with that game, here it really takes you out of the moment, making these parts far less scary than they should be.
Together, these problems — especially the ones that make this simple and shallow — give Control a rather dated feel at times. Rather than recall such recent (and better) paranormal shooters as The Evil Within 2, this feels more like 2006’s 24: The Game, a third-person shooter for PlayStation 2 that was neither terrible nor terrific (though it did make players feel like they were Jack Bauer in an episode of the show). Even the recent remake of Resident Evil 2 feels more modern than this.
It’s this dated feeling…
that ultimately undermines Control, giving it a rather lethargic vibe. This doesn’t have the effortlessly fun appeal of the better games I mentioned earlier. Sure, when played in increments, it can be engaging and even a bit exciting, but the more I played, the more I noticed what didn’t work, what felt missing. Even getting through it for this review was a struggle. Which is ultimately why Control may not be a bad game, but it’s not a good one, either, no matter when it was made.