Control (video game)

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Control
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Developer(s)Remedy Entertainment
Publisher(s)505 Games
Director(s)Mikael Kasurinen
Producer(s)Juha Vainio
Designer(s)Paul Ehreth
Programmer(s)Sean Donnelly
Artist(s)Janne Pulkkinen
Writer(s)
  • Sam Lake
  • Anna Megill
  • Josh Stubbs
  • Clay Murphy
Composer(s)
Platform(s)
Release
  • WW: August 27, 2019
  • JP: December 12, 2019
Genre(s)Third-person shooter, action-adventure
Mode(s)Single-player

Control is an action-adventure video game developed by Remedy Entertainment and published by 505 Games. The game revolves around the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), a secret U.S. government agency tasked with containing and studying phenomena which violate the laws of reality. As Jesse Faden (Courtney Hope), the Bureau's new Director, players explore the Oldest House – the FBC's paranormal headquarters – and utilize powerful abilities in order to defeat a deadly enemy known as the Hiss, which has invaded and corrupted reality. Control was released on 27 August 2019 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.[1]

Gameplay[edit]

Control is played from a third-person perspective, and is built using Remedy's proprietary Northlight Engine, which was first used on the company's previous title Quantum Break. As Jesse Faden, players wield the Service Weapon, a supernatural firearm that can be adapted into a variety of different forms with different combat applications.[2] In addition to the Service Weapon, Jesse possesses a variety of supernatural abilities, including telekinesis, levitation, and the ability to control certain enemies. The Service Weapon and Jesse's abilities both expend Jesse's energy, necessitating a balance in their usage. The Service Weapon can be upgraded throughout the game via a skill tree; in order to gain new powers, players must locate various Objects of Power - ordinary items acted upon by supernatural forces - hidden throughout the Oldest House. Due to the versatility of the game's loadouts, Control's combat system can be customized and balanced to each player's personal preferences.[3] Health in Control does not recharge automatically, and must be picked up from fallen enemies.[4]

Control is set within the Oldest House, a featureless Brutalist skyscraper in New York City, which is referred to in-game as a "Place of Power". The Oldest House's interior is far larger than its exterior, an enormous, constantly shifting supernatural realm that defies the laws of spacetime.[5] Control is built in the Metroidvania format, with a large world map that can be explored at a nonlinear pace, unlike Remedy's previous titles, which were primarily linear. As the player unlocks new abilities and clearance throughout the game, new areas of the Oldest House can be explored, opening various side-quests. Certain areas known as Control Points can be used to fast travel throughout the building after they have been cleared of enemies. A new A.I. system known as the Encounter Director controls interactions with enemies based on the player's level and location in the Oldest House.[6] Enemies in Control are predominantly human agents of the FBC possessed by the Hiss, an otherworldly force. They range from standard humans carrying firearms to heavily mutated variations which possess a variety of superpowers. Some of Jesse's abilities allow her to seize control of enemies' minds temporarily, turning them into her allies, and allowing their abilities to be used for the player's benefit.[7]

Synopsis[edit]

Setting[edit]

Control revolves around a clandestine U.S. government agency known as the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), which is responsible for the investigation of "paranatural" phenomena which defy the known laws of reality. These phenomena manifest in the form of Altered World Events (AWEs), intrusions upon perceived reality shaped by the human collective unconscious. These AWEs affect archetypal objects and give them unique properties; referred to as Altered Items by the Bureau, they are contained within their headquarters at the Oldest House, an enormous Brutalist skyscraper in New York City. AWEs produce Objects of Power, which are unique in that they grant certain individuals (referred to as "parautilitarians") paranatural abilities. Objects of Power are connected to the Astral Plane, an alternate dimension housing the Board, a pyramid-shaped entity which ordains the Bureau's leadership through a ritual connected to the Service Weapon, an Object of Power. Whomever the Board chooses to wield the Service Weapon is considered by default to be the Director of the FBC.[8] The Oldest House itself is referred to as a Place of Power by the FBC; on the interior, it is an infinite, constantly shifting paranatural space connected to various alternate dimensions through rooms known as Thresholds.

The protagonist of Control is Jesse Faden, who arrives at the Oldest House seeking the whereabouts of her younger brother, Dylan. Seventeen years prior to the game's events, Jesse and Dylan were involved in an AWE in their hometown of Ordinary, Wisconsin involving a slide projector Object of Power capable of opening portals to other dimensions. After the Slide Projector's paranatural properties resulted in the disappearance of Ordinary's adult population, the FBC apprehended Dylan and the Slide Projector while Jesse fled, burning all but one of the slides. Jesse arrives at the Oldest House through the guidance of Polaris, a paranatural entity which rescued her and Dylan during the Ordinary AWE.

Throughout the game, Jesse encounters various allies in the FBC, including research specialist Emily Pope, security chief Simon Arish, Head of Operations Helen Marshall, and Ahti, a mysterious Finnish janitor. She also learns of the FBC's former Director, Zachariah Trench, and finds various informative videos created by Dr. Casper Darling, the Bureau's missing Head of Research.

Plot[edit]

Jesse Faden arrives at the Oldest House under the telepathic guidance of Polaris, finding the building seemingly devoid of people. She bumps into a Finnish janitor, Ahti, who directs her to an elevator for her "interview." Through the elevator, Jesse discovers that the Federal Bureau of Control's Director, Zachariah Trench, has seemingly committed suicide with his own sidearm. Picking it up, Jesse learns that it is an Object of Power known as the Service Weapon, and is transported to the Astral Plane, where she completes a ritual and is selected as the new Director by the Board. Jesse emerges from Trench's office and finds that the Oldest House has been invaded by a hostile force she dubs "the Hiss," which has possessed most of the Bureau's agents and corrupted the building's shifting topography. Jesse uses an Object of Power known as the Hotline to listen to the lingering presence of Trench, who relays that his former management team knows the secrets of the Bureau, and Jesse hopes they may be able to tell her the whereabouts of her brother, Dylan, who was kidnapped by the FBC years prior.

Jesse aids Emily Pope and the other remaining agents of the FBC, who have survived by donning Hedron Resonance Amplifiers (HRAs), devices developed by Casper Darling that protect their wearers from the effects of the Hiss. Pope explains that the Oldest House is on complete lockdown until the Hiss can be eradicated. Seeking to release the lockdown and access other sectors of the building, Jesse enters the Oldest House's Maintenance Sector and is guided by Ahti to repair the building's electricity and plumbing to prevent a major meltdown. Jesse then uses a Directorial Override to reopen the other sectors, and enters the Research Sector in search of Marshall, whom she believes knows about Dylan. Jesse aids Marshall in retaking the Research Sector and facilitating production of more HRAs. Marshall then reveals that Dylan, known to the Bureau as "Prime Candidate 6", was brought in as a candidate for the role of Director due to his special parautilitarian abilities, but after he proved unstable and killed several Bureau agents, he was detained in the Containment Sector. Jesse rushes to the sector to find Dylan, only to learn that he has appeared suddenly in the Executive Sector and surrendered to the FBC agents there. Dylan tells Jesse that he has embraced the Hiss, which he believes will set him free of the Bureau, and that their invasion was made possible by the Slide Projector Object of Power that the Bureau recovered from Ordinary. Dylan warns his sister not to trust Polaris, but Jesse resolves to find and deactivate the Slide Projector.

Jesse investigates the Prime Candidate program and learns that both she and Dylan were considered for the role of Director, and that the Slide Projector is contained in the Research Sector. Ahti gives Jesse a cassette player which enables her to navigate an elaborate maze protecting the Slide Projector's chamber. In the chamber, Jesse finds the Slide Projector missing. She learns that Darling led several expeditions into the dimension accessed through the only surviving slide the FBC was able to recover (the other slides having been burned by Jesse years prior), discovering a polyhedron-shaped organism he named Hedron, which is the source of the HRA resonance. Jesse discovers that Hedron is Polaris, who called out to Jesse to save her from the Hiss; however, when Jesse reaches Hedron's containment chamber, the Hiss attacks and seemingly kills it.

Jesse's mind is invaded as the Hedron resonance falters; however, she is able to rediscover Polaris's essence within her and restore control. Jesse learns that Trench fell under the Hiss's influence during one of Darling's expeditions; he stole and concealed a second slide and used it to let the Hiss into the Oldest House to destroy what he perceived to be the threat of Hedron's takeover. Jesse finds the Slide Projector in the Executive Sector and, through it, enters the Astral Plane to confront Dylan, who is attempting to take over the Board through the Hiss. Jesse defeats the defending Hiss and cleanses Dylan, who falls into a coma. Finally accepting her new role as Director, Jesse resolves to defeat the remaining Hiss in order to restore order to the Bureau.

Development[edit]

Control is one of the first games to support new graphics cards with real-time ray tracing. Here, the bottom image, with ray-tracing turned on, shows reflections of lights and other surfaces in the marble floor, compared to the more traditionally rendered version, shown on top.

Control was developed by Remedy Entertainment. As their first major release since their initial public offering in 2017 and separation from Microsoft as a publishing partner, Control was developed using more efficient development strategies to keep costs and time low. In contrast to Alan Wake and Quantum Break which took seven and five years to complete respectively, Control was completed within three years with a GB£30 million budget, lower than the typical costs of a triple-A game.[9]

Mikael Kasurinen, who worked on Alan Wake (as lead gameplay designer) and Quantum Break (as lead director), was Control's director and Sam Lake served as the game's writer and creative director alongside narrative lead Anna Megill.[10][11] Development of the game began before the release of Quantum Break.[12] As they were finishing Quantum Break and deciding on the next project, Kasurinen recognized that that game rested heavily on full motion video and other cinematic elements, and suggested they look at a more open-world game where the player would drive what they experienced.[13] Instead of focusing on creating a large and complex story, Remedy wanted to put more emphasis on creating a game world and universe that is rich enough for players to craft their own stories.[12] The team still wanted to leave narrative elements for players to discover to help flesh out the world, and added optional documents, audio logs, and live-action video footage that the player could review at their own pace.[14] Another goal for the team was to create a game that has high replayability.[12] They still stated that they wanted to make a strong narrative, one that is "narrowly focused" according to Kasurinen.[15]

The first concept down was creating the fictional FBC, a realistic setting that would serve as a basis for paranormal events and a catalyst for events in the story.[13] This enabled them to consider multiple stories they could tell, not just about the player-character but other individuals in the FBC, but this also created the challenge of how to present the stories of the other characters in the open-world format.[13] The gathered writings of the fictional SCP Foundation ("Secure, Contain, Protect") website was a major influence on Control. Stories on SCP Foundation's site are based on singular objects with strange paranormal impacts, and as a whole, they are narratively linked by the common format of reports written by the fictional SCP Foundation, which catalogs and studies the objects. Control was built atop this, having the various Objects of Power and Altered Items, along with numerous collectable writings about these objects or other stories in line with SCP.[16] They fixed the story in the genre of the new weird, a modern variant of weird fiction with stories that combine science fiction and fantasy often with a bureaucratic government agency involved in these events. In Control, they reversed the role to make the bureaucracy at the center of the story. Narrative Designer Brooke Maggs stated "there is an invisible, assailing presence of bureaucracy in the corporate office setting that is in itself, unsettling".[17] The mundane features of the Oldest House helped to contrast against the paranormal aspects of the game, thus well-suiting the new weird, according to World Design Director Stuart MacDonald.[17] The design team's goal in using the new weird approach was not to create terrifying moments as one would do in a horror game, but instead create a continuing sense of dread for the player.[17]

A further challenge involved creating an environment that would encourage the player to explore, get lost in, and learn about these stories by observation. Kasurinen felt they did not want to include a traditional heads-up display for the player, with mission markers or other clutter, and instead have the player use mission descriptions in their log and careful observation of the environment to figure out where to go next.[13] This further led to the decision to only tell player critical information via some means, leaving the player to fill in the missing parts with their own observations and imaginations.[13] They also wanted a fluid environment, where nearly any object in it could be used as part of the player-character's telekinetic powers, so that the game world could be both a weapon to be used by the player, or a weapon against the player-character. To achieve this, Remedy replaced the Havok in their in-house engine with PhysX and improved their artificial intelligence for enemies to be able to take advantage of these changes.[13]

The everyday objects that would become Objects of Power in the game also were selected to be within the concept of the new weird. One such Object of Power is a floppy disk. MacDonald said he was drawn to use a floppy disk in this manner after reading a story about how many of the United States national missile defense sites had only recently transitioned off floppy disks, and prior to that, these disks could be seen as proverbial weapons that were held with high reverence.[17] The copious presence in the Oldest House of 1960s and 1970s technology such as pneumatic tubes, slide projectors and monochrome monitors, and the absence of modern-day technologies such as cell phones, is explained in-game as the result of the tendency of newer technologies to fail or malfunction within the boundaries of the Oldest House.

AT&T Long Lines Building served as inspiration for the Oldest House.

The Oldest House setting was based on brutalist architecture, a style utilizing large concrete blocks popularized in the 1950s and used in many government buildings at the time. The game's world design director, Stuart Macdonald, described brutalism as a good science-fiction setting, as it has "this sense of power, weight, strength and stability to it", and when the Oldest House's geometries are affected by the Hiss, "it makes for a really good contrast with the impossible architecture".[18] The relatively-flat colors of the background walls made it an ideal canvas to showcase other design and lighting effects in the game, It also served well into the telekinesis powers of the game, as the concrete walls would be used in lieu of a target object when the player throws debris at foes via telekinesis, and the initially pristine spaces end up showing the results of a large, destructive battle.[18] Among real-world influences in the game's architecture is 33 Thomas Street, formerly known as the AT&T Long Lines Building, a windowless building in the center of New York City. Macdonald used this building as a modern example of brutalism, and created the Oldest House as a "bizarre, brutalist monolith" to house the FBC.[18] Other real-world locations used as inspiration included the Boston City Hall, the Andrews Building at the University of Toronto Scarborough, and the Met Breuer.[18]

Other real-world architects inspired the game's structures. Carlo Scarpa's work was used heavily in designing stairways that ascended with other parts of the structure, while Tadao Ando's focus on lighting and spiritual spaces were reflected in other parts of the game.[18] Additionally, the design team turned to film for other inspiration. Films of Stanley Kubrick, particularly A Clockwork Orange, as well as films featuring oppressive government agencies, such as The Shape of Water, served as part of the design basis.[18] Other films, like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, evoke the concept of repetitiveness, process, and ritualism in these agencies, and that was used to define some of the internal artwork and architecture.[18] Art director Janne Pulkkinen stated they also looked at real world churches and other places where ritualism is common, as lighting and design of those spaces are often used to draw attention to specific points of interest.[18]

Certain areas of the game feature full-motion video sequences. Most of these are of Dr. Casper Darling explaining parts of the Oldest House and Objects of Power within it, with Darling played by Matthew Porretta. Another set of videos are short episodes of a fictional show called "The Threshold Kids", a puppet-based show seemingly aimed at children that may reside within the Oldest House. "The Threshold Kids" were written by narrative lead Anna Megill and produced by their senior cinematic designer Mircea Purdea.[17] Poets of the Fall, an alternative rock group that are close friends of Remedy, provided songs for the game, including "Take Control", in-game stated to be by the fictional band "The Old Gods of Asgard", itself an allusion back to Alan Wake.[19] Remedy used this song as part of the game's "Ashtray Maze", a section where Jesse fights through a ever-changing set of room set to the song. Remedy worked with Poets of the Fall so that they could incorporate the song dynamically as the player progressed through sections of this maze [20]

Control represents one of the first major games to be released after the introduction of graphics cards that support real time ray tracing (RTX), and considered the first game with a nearly-full implementation of all possible RTX features.[21] The game also supports more standard rendering techniques suitable for less powerful graphical hardware.

The game includes Easter eggs referring to Alan Wake, which shares similar paranormal themes with Control; one such Easter egg discusses the aftermath of Alan Wake as part of the FBC's case files, which considered what happened in Bright Falls, the primary location of Alan Wake, to have been an AWE.[22] A secret area includes a vision of Alan Wake. The past event in the town of Ordinary was alluded to by a backmasking track in the credits sequence of Alan Wake: American Nightmare, with an unknown speaker stating "It will happen again, in another town. A town called Ordinary."[23][19] Kasurinen said that the inclusion of such references helps to establish a type of continuity between its games, elements to be found and shared by its player community, but not meant to necessarily establish a shared universe between the games.[24]

Cast[edit]

The game's main voice cast was announced at New York Comic Con in 2018, consisting of various stars from Remedy's previous games. Courtney Hope, who played the character Beth Wilder in Quantum Break, stars as Jesse Faden, while James McCaffrey, known for his roles as the title character of Max Payne and Thomas Zane in Alan Wake, plays the role of Zachariah Trench. Matthew Porretta, famous for his role as the titular character of Alan Wake, is also featured in both voice roles and live-action videos as the character of Dr. Casper Darling.[25][14]

The game also includes a voice cameo by Hideo Kojima and his English translator Aki Saito; in one side mission, a recording by Dr. Yoshimi Tokui, voiced by Kojima, relates a dream-like experience in Japanese, with the English translation given by Saito.[26]

Marketing and release[edit]

In May 2017, Remedy announced that they had partnered with 505 Games to publish the game, then codenamed "P7". 505 provided marketing and publishing support and a fund of €7.75 million to assist the game's development, while Remedy retained the intellectual property rights to Control. In the press release, Remedy revealed that the game will have complex gameplay mechanics and that it will be a "longer term experience" than its previous games.[27] P7 was being worked on by Remedy alongside two other projects.[28] The game was officially revealed at Sony Interactive Entertainment's E3 2018 press conference.[29]

In the months leading up to the launch of the game, it was featured in a significant campaign as one of the first games to use Nvidia's ray tracing features from the company's RTX graphics cards.[30] The game was bundled with sales of graphics cards supporting the RTX technology.[31] Nvidia created or hosted nine videos, including an exclusive gameplay trailer, to display the game's ray tracing integration.

The Microsoft Windows version was released on the Epic Games Store platform; under the terms of this exclusivity, platform operator Epic Games paid Digital Bros, 505 Games' parent company, 9.49 million (US$10.5 million).[32]

Post-release[edit]

Remedy has affirmed plans for at least two additional content expansions to Control, titled "The Foundation" and "AWE", both narratively set after the main game with Jesse taking on her role as the FBC Director. However, at the time of Control's launch, the specifics of this content had yet to be determined, according to narrative designer Brooke Maggs, as the team's focus was on addressing performance issues for the console version of the games.[14] "The Foundation" is planned for release on March 26, 2020.[33]

Additional smaller, non-narrative content is also planned.[14] The first, "Expeditions", was released as a free updated on December 12, 2019, and presents standalone missions of various difficulty with power-up items for their character.[33]

Reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate score
AggregatorScore
Metacritic(PC) 85/100[34]
(PS4) 82/100[35]
(XONE) 84/100[36]
Review scores
PublicationScore
Destructoid9/10[37]
EGM5/5 stars[38]
Game Informer8.75/10[39]
Game Revolution4.5/5[40]
GameSpot8/10[41]
GamesRadar+4.5/5 stars[42]
IGN8.8/10[43]
PC Gamer (US)88/100[44]
VideoGamer.com8/10[45]

Control received positive reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic.[34][35][36]

IGN chose Control as their "Game of the Year", along with other awards including "Best Action-Adventure Game", "Best Video Game Art Direction", and "Best Video Game Story".[46] Game Informer,[47] Electronic Gaming Monthly,[48] and GamesRadar+[49] awarded Control as their "Game of the Year", while Polygon[50] and GameSpot[51] list Control among their top 10 games of 2019. PC Gamer[52] chose Control as "Best Setting" for their Best Games of 2019.

Digital Foundry and Polygon considered Control on PC to potentially be a "killer app" for Nvidia's RTX graphics cards, citing it as helping to enhance the game's visual style.[53][54]

Awards[edit]

Year Award Category Result Ref
2018 Golden Joystick Awards Most Wanted Game Nominated [55]
2019 Game Critics Awards Best Original Game Nominated [56]
Best PC Game Nominated
Best Action/Adventure Game Nominated
Golden Joystick Awards Best Storytelling Nominated [57][58][59]
Best Visual Design Nominated
Best Audio Nominated
Critics' Choice Award Won
Ultimate Game of the Year Nominated
Titanium Awards Game of the Year Nominated [60]
Best Art Nominated
Best Game Design Nominated
Best Narrative Design Nominated
Best Adventure Game Nominated
Best Soundtrack (Petri Alanko) Nominated
The Game Awards 2019 Game of the Year Nominated [61][62]
Best Game Direction Nominated
Best Narrative Nominated
Best Art Direction Won
Best Audio Design Nominated
Best Performance (Courtney Hope) Nominated
Best Performance (Matthew Porretta) Nominated
Best Action/Adventure Game Nominated
2020 New York Game Awards Great White Way Award for Best Acting in a Game (Courtney Hope) Won [63]
Visual Effects Society Awards Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project Won [64][65]
23rd Annual D.I.C.E. Awards Game of the Year Nominated [66][67]
Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction Won
Outstanding Achievement in Character (Jesse Faden) Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction Won
Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition Won
Outstanding Achievement in Story Nominated
Outstanding Technical Achievement Nominated
Action Game of the Year Won
NAVGTR Awards Game of the Year Nominated [68][69]
Animation, Technical Won
Art Direction, Contemporary Won
Control Design, 3D Won
Direction in a Game Cinema Won
Game, Original Action Nominated
Graphics, Technical Won
Lighting/Texturing Won
SXSW Gaming Awards Video Game of the Year Pending [70]
Most Promising New Intellectual Property Pending
Excellence in Art Pending
Excellence in Design Pending
Excellence in Narrative Pending
Excellence in Technical Achievement Pending
Excellence in Visual Achievement Pending
20th Game Developers Choice Awards Game of the Year Pending [71]
Best Audio Pending
Best Narrative Pending
Best Technology Pending
Best Visual Art Pending

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