Control has it all for the first few hours. Compelling setting, story and acting from the main characters. There is a genuine interest in knowing what is going on and how the mystery relates to your character Jesse. Yet amongst the wonder and enjoyment in the game, something creeps in around the middle. I can only describe it as clutter.
It all starts so well taking cues from Alan Wake and a bit from Quantum Break the game sets a tone of unease, no more than when you see people just floating in mid-air, neither dead nor alive as you investigate ‘the hiss’ which turns some people into monstrous versions of themselves and gives others a desire to be cannon-fodder to your shooting skills. You traverse an interlocking building called the Oldest House, set in New York City yet otherworldly and separate from the rest of the city.
Even on PS4 Pro the effects and graphics are amazing as every item can be shattered and explodes into the relevant particles. Amid a serious firefight, the office setting will take a pounding as you use telekinesis and more to fight back against the hiss-infected former employees. Early fights are brilliant as your pistol or ‘service weapon’ makes you deal with enemies with precision and skill. Your gun is fuelled by a mystical power as are your other abilities on a separate gauge. In fact, for the first couple of hours, this game will be right at the top of your game of the year lists.
Unfortunately, there is a point in the game where there is too much of a good thing. Enemy variations are good and challenging but some come in and spam grenades and rockets at you. You can unlock a skill to throw these back and I’d recommend doing this as soon as you can. My main gripe, however, is the number of mods and powers your character can acquire and the lack of explanation as to which ones you should select. This is highlighted with the service weapon.
Starting as a pistol, it can change forms to a burst fire weapon, a charged sniper rifle, a machine gun and others which completely ruins the pace of combat and the game itself. Instead of simple variations on the pistol theme, the charged sniper shot and shotgun type weapon is out of place with the enemies you face. Normally I want all the guns but in this case, I miss the tight feeling of the first few levels. They aren’t even that useful for fighting normal enemies as your play style is more dictated by your powers than by your weapons.
The second issue is with the Telekinesis power. It simply makes the game a throwing simulator instead of a shooter. When you have the energy you simply don’t bother aiming and use this power to lift the nearest desk or even chunk of flooring and fling it perfectly at the enemy. Again it is very useful in some of the more difficult fights but at an upgraded level it makes the fights a chore as you simply wait for the bar to recharge before flinging another desk at the enemy. It just becomes very boring very quickly. The game throws all these weapons at you too quickly and none of them has the perfect feel of the normal pistol. For many, this will be a personal taste issue but I feel they had the game perfect then overcomplicated it with too many options.
The same could be said with the upgrade cards, these come in a variety of rarity and enhance certain abilities in your character and abilities with guns. It all seems great when you get the first few then you realise you get common drops multiple times in the same fight meaning you have maintenance to do on the inventory screen when you get the chance. Again this all distracts from the laser focus of the early game.
The final gripe is the amount of back-tracking needed in the game. It is pretty evident early on that this is going to be a Metroid type game with areas unlocked by getting the requisite level key card. This is fine in itself but there never seems to be a compelling reason to travel to the areas you need to go to. There’s no case of ‘You need to go to the boiler room before it explodes’. They are more that’s where you should check out next and on the way do some of these timed side events. While they do beef out the length of the game I can’t see how they help the narrative which is the strongest part.
It’s hard not to compare this game to Max Payne and especially Alan Wake. Both these games had a thread that kept pulling you towards the end. Control while superior in many ways just seems to lose you somewhere in the middle. Many people will disagree with this but for me, the game grabs you then just loses you every time it introduces new mechanics. It is a shame because the overall package is so slick. It’s still worth a play but wait for the price drop.