Ah… Control. Was supposed to be a big new hit from Remedy. Even won quite a few rewards. I tried playing it when it got released and dropped it in like 15 or 20 minutes. Don't remember what exactly I did not like at that time, but recently, I decided to play it thoroughly, because of connection to Alan Wake. I am still definitely not a fan.
Don't get me wrong, though, the game overall is decent, I even earned all of the Steam achievements somehow, while playing it. But when you start to look deeper you can see quite a few flaws and some lost opportunities.
The first thing, that caught my eye was the character or rather Jesse's movements. Somehow she felt completely weightless. Or at least heaving very little weight. And yeah, I know, that she probably would weight less than, say, Max Payne, but everything she was doing when under player's control felt as if she is a feather, not a human being. I did get used to it and later in the game I was not noticing this as much, but it still screwed with my perception a bit, making everything feel a bit more surreal, than it should be. I am not sure I can even describe this one properly, but if you played, say, Assassin's Creed games (preferably the first 3 or 4 games) the walking and running animation was able to show that there is an effort in moving the body. It is less noticeable in Odyssey, for example, but it feels normal their, because you are controlling a literal demigod. In Control, though, it feels... Simply bad. When accompanied with doors opening without Jesse touching them in any way (even those that are definitely not automated), it starts looking as if she is a ghost, which is not the case. Not saying, that we needed a button to open doors, but I think even in Max Payne games you had to "push" the doors with the character to open them.
But again, as mentioned, you do get used to it. Unlike the facial animations. To be honest they were atrocious. Especially mouths. It felt as mouth movements were over-pronounced. As if the models had teeth too large to fit in the mouth cavity, which did not allow lips to do subtle movements, thus they stretched them all over the place. Honestly, Mass Effect: Andromeda looked much better to me (after the patches, at least). At the same every other muscles in characters' faces made them look like a wooden idol or something, because there was not much movements. Max Payne 3 is much older, but looks way better in this regard, even though facial animations there are quite limited. They are consistent in expressions, though. Supposedly, Control even won some awards for this. Or maybe they were not for facial animations specifically.
You could forget the bad animations, if the story was good, though, right? Well... It's not that good here. At least for the main game. Jesse's motivation is totally relatable, but there is almost nothing through the entire game, that would show her emotional connection to... Damn, I even forgot how her brother was called. Had to look up, that it's "Dylan". Which proves my point. There were only a few audio records with her therapist, where the subject was somewhat touched upon, and maybe a couple of notes, that somewhat alluded to how broken she was after "losing" her brother and no one believing her. Which is already a bad approach: if you are put pieces of information crucial to the story (and it being believable) into missable notes or records - you are plainly doing the narrative wrong, since notes and records needs to expand the story, not tell it, unless the whole story is meant to be delivered through notes or audio logs.
But ok, maybe motivation is weak, because the story is not so much about Jesse, but about the Bureau and the mysticism and all that stuff. Well, maybe Remedy is not that big, certainly not a corporation, but having worked in Citi, I can tell, that this joint had no idea how to run itself. People in-game say that there are protocols, but it is clear, that there are none even with just the singular fact, that head of science is running unsanctioned prolonged and complex experiments on the premise of the organization without it being reported in any way and without anyone even knowing that he is doing that. Considering how "important" the Bureau is (I would assume much more important than a bank), it is amazing, that the world did not end as soon as they got inside The Old House. Things just do not work that way in huge organizations. No matter how stifling the procedures and strict hierarchy in corporations may seem, they exist for a reason, so that the whole organization does not collapse on itself and so that there is enough security to protect the assets. It would never happen, that some random person comes in, finds a gun and becomes The Director in real corporation, even if there is an unclassified entity behind that gun. Or maybe even because it is an unclassified entity.
But maybe this is because the organization is still new (does not look like that according to in-game notes), so maybe people develop somehow through-out the game? Not really. Random director, who did not want to become a director suddenly does want to become the director at the end of the main game, just because... Well, "just because". There is really no other reason. Or is it that people calling her Director provides motivation to be one? A crisis threatening whole world and her brother does? Dunno, I think if I was in such situation, I would agree to help restore things to an equilibrium, but not necessarily run the place. Especially, if I was supposedly very cross with the very organization, that I am supposed to lead.
But (yes, another one), maybe I just missed some important dialogue, which would explain things better? Well... Maybe. Because you literally can miss dialogues, that tell important information. For example, after the main game ends, there are several dialog options with Emily Pope, which tell you what happened during and immediately after the final fight. And they can be missed, because you simply do not go talk to her. And they are pretty important. Like really important. Could be done as a cinematic, but guess there was not enough money for a short movie. Oh, wait, there was an ending cinematic 😱 Why then?.. 🤔
I also did not like the... Not sure how to call these... Jesse zoom-ins? Mid dialogue with a character you can have a zoom-in (I mean like additional zoom-in) on Jesse's face, and she will share some thoughts about the particular conversation she just had. Camera can stay zoomed in on her mostly motionless face for like half a minute (maybe more, did not count) and it feels so off, because there is no indication that time somehow stopped. Meaning that another person is just staring at Jesse staring into the void. Granted, these thoughts do try to make Jesse a bit less flat, but they could have been done better. They could have somehow indicate, that this is a "still moment", for example gray-out the background, blur the edges, drop the extra zoom, muffle sounds or otherwise show the "time compression". Or maybe show her in her "mind palace". Or they could have just let her think those thoughts after conversation, while we are moving to another location. Or just say that out loud, since she already does not know when it's time to share or not (she did not want to share about Dylan during first conversation with Pope, but after it and completing 1 task, she suddenly does).
Other characters are even worse, though, because they are completely flat. The only characters that somewhat stand out are Ahti and Langston. Langston has some lines "AWE" DLC, which simply make deeper, show that he has a tangible and relatable past, which is not necessarily a cliché. Ahti... Well, he is better because this is a character which is meant to be weird and strange and mysterious, thus lack of information on him and lack of interactions with him kind of work in his favor.
Speaking of "mysterious" - this game is not it. And it's a big lost opportunity. Yes, I understand that it's meant to be a shooter, but Alan Wake was a shooter, too. Yet it was able to make you scared of what may be behind the next turn. In Control (in the main game) there is nothing scary at all, although, objectively, if a random person got into a world with Astral Plane and Hiss they would be scared of everything, even when things are not scary. Yes, a gun with unlimited ammo would give you some courage. Suddenly discovered (and perfectly controlled) paranormal abilities - probably, too (although I would start to question my sanity, similar to what my character in Simbiat's Elevation does), but still. There are even no jump-scares here. The loop inside Jesse's head closer to the end of the game was good, though, not mind-bending, but good nonetheless. There was also a dose of weird with "Threshold Kids" videos. Probably not enough, though.
Speaking of Hiss: how's the gameplay? Well, as a shooter Control is ok. Even though you have 1 gun, it has several modes, that do work differently, and in that regard my only complain is that we only have 2 "active" modes, through which we can quickly switch: for the rest you will need to go to menu and replace one of the "active" modes. That one definitely could become a radial menu. The way abilities work is also good, I definitely love the way almost everything can be highlighted, meaning, that you can pick it up with telekinesis and throw around. Levitation could use ability to adjust height after you start levitation, though: too many times I had a situation, when Jesse hit a "ceiling" (any object above her) with her head and then I had to drop from levitation and try again, because there was no way to go just a little bit higher.
The enemies were not particularly interesting, though. Essentially, there are regular ones, those with big armor (which is best dealt with abilities, not gun), and "fast" ones, who either move fast or teleport. Also flying ones, who could have the above attributes as well. What annoyed me about the the most is that sometimes regular one would hide somewhere (which seemed contrary to regular behavior to actively move in on me) and stay they there silently until I find and kill them. The problem here is two fold: they were required to be killed to be able to move to next location, and they hid in such a place and such a pose, that it was very difficult to notice them until your crosshair accidentally pass them by and highlight them.
Oh, there are also enemies, that homed-in on you and blew up on contact. Nothing special about that, other games have these kamikaze enemies, too, but in Control they blow up with specific red fog effect... And that one was annoying to no end. Don't get me wrong, I understand that its purpose was to be "smoke grenade", seen smoke in other games, too... But it was not like smoke. Not sure how to explain this, but smoke generally is somewhat uniform, it is... Consistent. This read fog, though, is actually of 3 colors: red, gray and black (although, maybe black is not exactly part of the effect, not sure). And the colors are shifting. Maybe not by much, but you can perceive it as movement, and since you in a fight, where you need to react to movement of objects to stay alive... It distracts a lot. And it also stretched out in almost rectangular (or oval) shape, which made the required distance to cover in order to get out of it very inconsistent. Which made it very annoying, even though the effect itself does look good.
I also can't say I am a fan of traversal in this game. Or maybe this is more about the map (and fast travel). Firstly, I would definitely prefer a mini-map on screen rather than a semitransparent map, which is not that readable, when there are several floors on it (I was also frequently pressing "B" on controller to close it, which does not close it). Then there is a matter of control points or rather moving between them. This form of fast travel is nothing new and in Control it even makes some sense from narrative perspective, but by the Old Gods of Asgard (which is really Poets of the Fall), it is so inconvenient to find a proper control point on the map to which you want to move. The order in the list is seemingly random (it's not alphabetical or in order of unlocking), their names are not indicative enough to be clearly related to an "area" on the map (I mean those areas with the names) and their icons on the map itself are also quite small, so it does require some eye strain to notice when the appropriate one is highlighted. It would have been better to give control of the cursor, so that I could select appropriate control point.
Now a lot of the stuff I've described above is about the main game: surprisingly, DLCs do get better in some aspects. For example, AWE manages to become more atmospheric, even though it still not a "horror" per say. The use of light mechanic from Alan Wake not just works perfectly, it makes sense. The way the story is presented is also much more consistent with Alan Wake appearing in thin air, reading out loud what he is typing, and then Jesse reacting to that. Plus a few cinematics in the Hotel. Some important stuff connecting the 2 games is still in notes scattered around, but it somehow makes more sense considering the premise of the DLC.
Foundation also tries to "catch up" with the lost opportunity of unique environments. You still can't find green fields or ice caps or volcano caves here, despite the game being based around multiverse, but at least the Foundation cave is... Less generic, I guess? I can see some bolder strokes on the map in places for sure. This DLC also tries to provide another angle at The Board (which should have been done in the main game), audio logs from Ash do show some reasonable character development, and then there is Former... Yeah, that's a strange one: I am pretty sure that it's the same entity that you can fight as part of several side quests in the main game, but there does not seem to be any mentions of these fights if they happened. But that may be my misunderstanding. What is not one - is the last cinematic, which starts with a void near The Nail and Former clearly seen in the relative distance, but it is immediately cut to something completely unrelated and everyone seemingly "forgets" about him. Even though he was a kind of a big deal and somewhat of an "antagonist" to The Board... He/it was just dropped from the story.
Wow, that's a long read, huh? I thought of doing this as I did inconsistencies for other games, but I felt like there is not enough minor details to make them into a list like that. So it ended up like this. Overall, I find Control to be more as a concept demo, rather than a proper game. When I look at its specific elements, they are generally fine or, at least, acceptable (besides animation, perhaps), but when I look at it as a whole and consider how things "overlap" and work together - it's not that good.
When I look back at Alan Wake, I think that maybe some of the complaints, that I have for Control, were valid in it, too, but there they worked out better. I think because this was the story of Alan Wake. It was a personal story, where a single person with significant back story, with his own fears and insecurities, was facing something paranormal. He did not know anything about the "world" he got into, there was no one to help him... If there was anything "clunky" anywhere it felt right, because it was just 1 person, who is imperfect and you could relate to him being "clunky".
Control, on the other hand, tries to bite off more than it can chew. It tries to tell a personal story and fails at it. It tries to tell the story of a big and old organization and fails at it as well. If Jesse was more egotistical and focused on her own goals, would confront the Bureau members trying to force her into the role of Director (and somehow order her around, as if she is not one) - it would make much more sense. If the Bureau had more... eh... "control" over its own bearings, if it was clear that the whole organization was preparing for something and not just professor, who was at the same time a dive and a recluse, apparently, - that would make much more sense.
But we have neither. And without a good coherent and consistent story this feels like a test of concept. If you think about it like that - it's not a bad game. I did enjoy its general gameplay. But if you consider a story-telling experience, which seemed to be Remedy's forte, - it's a fail in my eyes. As such I can't recommend it, unless it's on discount and you do want to know a bit more about Alan Wake's mythology.