For the first time in its nearly quarter-of-a-century history, Remedy is making a game with a woman in the lead role. How that came to be is as much a product of the game’s inception as it is a reflection of modern society.
“Control” is an interactive take on new weird, a sort of Cthulhu meets “Annihilation” warping of horror and science fiction genres, that sets players in a world steeped in ubiquitous but hidden supernatural phenomenon.
At the center of these secret, powerful forces is the Federal Bureau of Control, a government organization that tracks, captures, and examines the unknown. Control is located in a massive, Brutalist skyscraper in Manhattan known as the Oldest House and led by director Zachariah Trench.
“It’s a place of power, a place that is shifting,” said Remedy’s Sam Lake. “The inside is much larger than the outside would lead you to believe, you could keep traveling deeper into the building, maybe forever.”
As the game opens, the Bureau is in a crisis, its headquarters invaded by an otherworldly, supernatural force called the Hiss. Jesse Faden (Courtney Hope) finds herself in the Oldest House, seeking answers of her own about unexplained experiences she had as a child and encountering something that changed her.
“Now she finds her way to the Oldest House, thinking that the Bureau has something to do with the things that happened to her,” Lake said. “She comes from the outside and very early on she finds a body, the previous director, dead on the floor with a gun lying next to him.”
Picking up the gun to protect herself from what’s going on, Faden is thrust into a challenge to determine whether she is worthy to wield the gun — a great weapon of power known simply as the director’s gun. When she passes the test she becomes the director of the bureau.
“Jesse doesn’t know what that means, the player doesn’t know what that means,” Lake said.
The creation of “Control,” it’s gameplay mechanics, strange setting and lead character came about in as an unusual a way as the opening moments of the game.
“Coming out of ‘Quantum Break,’ we wanted to go back to the basics,” Lake said. “So we decided to figure out the gameplay mechanics first and very soon we came to the conclusion that we wanted to make a deep action game featuring a deep world that people can keep exploring.”
To support the gameplay mechanics they wanted in the game, and keep players engaged with all of the supernatural possibilities, the team settled certain elements of the world, Lake said, and the notion of crafting a story that would fit neatly into the mutable, disjointed New Weird genre.
“In the process of creating the story, the first character that came out of that was the director,” Lake said. “That was Trench, this older guy. This cynical, hard-boiled sort of person who as a young man used to be a man of action, maybe a cop, maybe a fed.”
That, in turn, lead to creating his replacement and the lead of the game.
“It’s all about ‘Contrast’ in control,“ Lake said. “Starting with architecture, the bureau represented by this very harsh brutalist architecture and yet the supernatural forces are very fluid and gas like. In the same way, for the story, we wanted a lot of contrast. If Trench represents the existing Bureau, we needed a hero that is something different, a distributing force.”
Lake said they selected a woman as the protagonist also because they wanted to try something new, and that having a woman as lead was something they always wanted to do.
“It also helps in creating the story, to make the hero feel modern and relevant and current,” he said. “On the one hand, we have the bureau that has been around for a long, long time. We have our previous director, Trench, played by James McCaffrey (“Max Payne 2 and 3,” “Rescue Me,” “Jessica Jones”) and Dr. Darling (Matthew Porretta), who have been running the show for a long time, an old boys’ club, and that’s going horribly, horribly wrong. And now Jesse Faden is having to come in to deal with this mess.”
Is that a metaphor for the current state of entertainment and things like the #MeToo movement?
“There’s always metaphors,” Lake said. “A lot of inspiration comes from popular culture, things that excite and interest me, like the fragmented, dream-like approach David Lynch took in the new ‘Twin Peaks,’ ‘Mr. Robot,’ and ‘Legion,’ which is something that is very stylized. It’s an assimilation of all of that. But at the same time, this never happens in a vacuum and a lot of things are happening in the world that you can’t ignore. Just to be current and relevant, you can’t shut that out.”
That being said, “this is entertainment, that’s not the point” of the story, Lake added.
The story, he said, is meant to be a loose sort of hero’s journey, Jesse’s journey, a “very weird hero’s journey. Maybe if all goes well at the end, Jesse finds her place in this world and the player has been brought into the depths of this world and it’s not simply game over or game complete.”
While this is the first time Courtney Hope (“Quantum Break,” “The Bold And The Beautiful”) has been the star of a video game, it’s not the first game in which she played a key role. Her performance as “Quantum Break’s” Beth Wilder, had her acting as a sort of partner to game lead Jack Joyce.
The significance of capturing the voice and movements of Remedy’s first lead woman in a game isn’t lost on her.
“I’m very honored to be the one they chose for this new exciting experience and journey,” she said. “I just want to do justice to what that means, to have a female lead and be the hero. To have the strength and ability, but also to show her vulnerability. It’s important to encapsulate all of that.”
Hope said that Jesse Faden’s story is in many ways about what it takes to come from a strong background of individuality and independence and step into a leadership role.
“What’s that mean for her, that is something she isn’t used to,” Hope said. “She has to be this staple for an entire organization in the midst of figuring it out, so she’s very run and gun.”