For many of the attendees who saw Cyberpunk 2077 at E3 2018 it was the game that stole the show, but my hype ultimately went to a different demo: Remedy Entertainment’s Control. The dazzling combat I was shown, set against the juxtaposition of paranormal oddities and rigid brutalist architecture, had me hooked. And now that I’ve had the chance to play it and been further exposed to its strange secrets, I’m even more convinced of Control’s potential.
Remedy has a way with weird and has repeatedly proven that it knows how to stage a good fight. Control looks like an effort to double-down on these strengths. It puts you in the shoes of a veritable action hero with the power of levitation and telekinetic destruction. Her name is Jesse, and Control starts on her first day on the job as director of the Federal Bureau of Control. The agency is in charge of studying and containing that which defies the laws of science, but after a mysterious force known as the Hiss floods the halls of the bureau, Jesse will have to confront and take down possessed coworkers, demonic entities, and pulsating, corrupted masses of energy.
One of the most common sights in The Old House (the given name for the building that houses the FBC) are Hiss-infected office workers and other employees floating motionless in mid-air. Red flood lights color-in otherwise sterile environments, evoking a sense of foreboding evil. Odd rituals and dream logic are noted as central themes, and when confronted by their effects on people and places in Control, you get the sense that almost anything can happen under the Hiss’ influence.
Surprisingly, Jesse seems to take it all in stride, and with the power to control objects and a shape-shifting pistol in her hand, you have plenty of offensive and defensive options when the Hiss-infected entities turn on her. There’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to juggling telekinetic abilities and your weapon while steering Jesse mid-flight, but once it clicks, Control becomes a playground for destructive experimentation. This feeling was helped somewhat during my preview demo due to the fact that the basic enemy AI was a bit careless-a balance that remains in flux, according to director Mikael Kasurinen. But for the purposes of getting a feel for Control, at least, I appreciated the lenience as a chance to get my bearings.
Rather than flying freely, Jesse leaps and levitates, and then slowly drifts back down to the ground; you’re also capable of directing her trajectory on the way down or stunning an enemy with a targeted ground-pound attack. Though the factors therein will change as Jesse’s powers increase throughout the game. Even a moment of hovering overhead allows you to get a line of sight on objects and enemies in the distance, both of which can be remotely manipulated. You can take hold of a desk, for example, and fling it into groups of enemies or use it as a shield from incoming fire-you can also pull concrete from the floors and walls in a pinch. The most satisfying application of this move has to be snatching rockets out of mid-air and flinging them back at the shooter.
Jesse isn’t the only person capable of these feats, however. Several of the enemies I fought could also hover in the air and hurl nearby objects. These opponents presented a tougher challenge than the more traditional gun-toting bad guys mentioned earlier. One move in particular, Jesse’s targeted ground-pound attack, feels very intimidating when used against you.
New to the demo shown during GDC was the mind control ability, which effectively lets you turn an enemy into an AI-driven ally. There’s no word yet if enemies will ever be able to overpower Jesse’s mind in the same way, but I don’t imagine we’ve come close to seeing everything they’re capable of.
Jesse’s suite of skills will grow as she locates objects of power, but to acquire their magic requires you to journey to the astral plane, a stark white ethereal realm with minimalist, angular structures. If you’ve paid attention to Control’s marketing since its E3 reveal, you’ve probably seen imagery of Jesse floating towards converging black geometry hovering in empty space. More than just special locations designed to unlock new abilities, the astral plane can also be used to influence the state of things in the bureau, either to solve puzzles or to clear a path forward for Jesse.
Control is being designed with a Metroidvania-like structure that requires you to re-examine previously explored locations when new skills are unlocked, and the thought of incorporating an alternate dimension into this concept is very intriguing. Though I only got a small taste of what’s to come, I walked out of my demo with more questions than answers, pertaining to both the truth behind the strange happenings inside The Oldest House and to Jesse’s relationship to the Hiss. I honestly can’t wait to experience Jesse’s journey from the beginning and to see how strange and unpredictable it becomes as it unravels.