If I showed you a cube you probably wouldn’t think twice about it. But if I told you that cube contained a mysterious object, I’m willing to bet your imagination would kick into overdrive. Our natural inclination to try to explain the inexpiable is part of what makes us human, and it’s a major part of why I’m excited for Remedy Entertainment’s new game, Control. Based on what we saw at E3, it’s set in a world that plays by strange rules, where hauntingly beautiful distortions wreak havoc on the fabric of reality. I have don’t have a firm grasp of what’s going on, but I can’t help but be drawn into the mystery of it all.
Remedy’s reputation as a developer of great action games with compelling stories has never quite faded; even Quantum Break, despite some complications, had many redeeming qualities that its biggest detractors (like me) couldn’t ignore. Chief among them was the combat system, which gave you control over time itself, allowing you to slickly thwart swarms of enemies in unusual and flashy ways. These same qualities are echoed in Control’s announcement trailer, but what you won’t find in that video is the mind-bending series of events I saw during a private gameplay demo at E3.
I’m looking forward to games like Cyberpunk and Death Stranding as much as most people, but Control has quickly become my most anticipated game at the show. Circling back to combat, Control gives off similar vibes to Quantum Break, but a key difference lies in the sort of powers at your fingertips. The two abilities we saw allowed the main character, Jesse Faden, to grab objects strewn around the environment and hurl them at enemies, or bring them close to create a temporary shield. Performing these moves results in chaos as other objects get caught in the crossfire, making each encounter look messy (in a good way.) An eye-catching flurry of special effects helps complete the chaotic spectacle. These are just two of many powers Jesse will acquire throughout her harrowing journey.
Jesse also wields a gun known as the Director’s Pistol, and as you could see in the trailer, it’s composed of many small components that can break apart, and we realized in the demo that this was a hint at the gun’s ability to change its shape and function. The Director’s Pistol, like King Arthur’s Excalibur, was described as a weapon that can only be properly wielded by someone worthy of its power. Remedy’s devs on location at E3 2018 wouldn’t say much more about what it’s capable of in the long run; surprises for later, no doubt.
Enemies in Control are–based on what we’ve seen so far–varying levels of corrupted federal agents, though what exactly has corrupted them in the first place remains one of the game’s great mysteries. Some look like typical gun-toting sentries, but the more tainted beings resemble human-like ghouls–pale skinned and erratic, they are far more unpredictable and help sell the strange atmosphere Control’s going for. Though all things considered, Control is plenty weird as it is.
Most of the gameplay demo was focused on exploring The Oldest House, which is really just another name for the brutalist headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control. As Jesse moves from one room to the next, unexpected scenes sharply contrast the harsh angular structure of the building. Whatever has corrupted the agents has also screwed with the compound itself. You will stumble into ruined corridors where missing walls give way to a vortex of clouds and geometric shapes that pulsate and shift, for example. It doesn’t make sense, and that’s the point. Remedy wants you to forget about logic and embrace the dreamlike construction of the bureau. Jesse’s powers extend beyond combat. In our demo, which took place roughly halfway through the game, she could also levitate, and it was astonishing to watch the player soar into the aforementioned clouds, through the surrounding black cubes, and emerge in a new section of the building.
Jesse has to earn the ability to levitate by acquiring a particular Object of Power, items that are spread throughout the massive and crazy building. These can be found or earned by taking on sidequests. The one example of a sidequest opportunity we saw was disturbing, and it felt awful to see the player move Jesse along for the sake of keeping the demo rolling. She had come across a man behind glass staring at a refrigerator, and when he noticed Jesse, he cried out for help because the only way to prevent the fridge from “deviating,” and presumably doing something awful to him, was to look at it. If he fell asleep or looked away, that would presumably mean the end of him. The threat of deviation was obtuse, but the man’s fear and stress was clear despite the fact that he was being threatened by an inanimate object.
The level of tension throughout the demo was matched only by the wonder I felt as I watched a predictable setting twist and reform before my eyes. My imagination ran wild, as did questions resulting from the dreamlike series of events that played out before me. Control is a game meant to inspire wild theories from fans about the cause of the world’s corruption and how Jesse fits into the bigger picture. I walked out of the room completely impressed by what I’d seen. It was such a stark contrast to the controlled sheen of Quantum Break, such an untethered display of creative madness, that I can only look forward to diving in headlong when Control releases for PS4, PC, and Xbox One next year.