For Remedy Games, “Control” is more than a title–it’s a theme that permeates nearly every aspect of its new game. During a hands-on preview at the Game Developers Conference, director Mikael Kasurinen described a world where order is preserved by the Federal Bureau of Control. Maintaining that order, and subsequently losing control is the core tenant that ties together both the story and gameplay.
It was important for Remedy to ground “Control,” which hits PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on Aug. 27, in our world, where the laws of physics are known and apparent. Here, the paranormal has a startling impact and allows for a layered world where scientific discovery is up for debate.
“Newton and Einstein had different ideas about what gravity is,” Kasurinen said, emphasizing the point.
The demo takes place a bit into the game, with lead character Jesse Faden exploring Central Research, a small wing of The Oldest House, the enormous building that the Federal Bureau of Control calls its headquarters. The architecture in The Oldest House is brutalist in nature, and made almost entirely out of concrete in simple, blocked shapes. Kasurinen said this design reflects the Bureau’s penchant for order and organization. And control.
As the demo opens, Jesse is searching Central Research for someone named Helen Marshall, but is quickly confronted by enemies called The Hiss. That’s not their actual name, just the one that Jesse gave them based on the sounds they make. The Hiss, according to Kasurinen, is an otherworldly anomalous force that has invaded The Oldest House and possessed many members of the Bureau. They open fire on Jesse, and she quickly sets about dispatching them.
Jesse wields the Service Weapon, a shapeshifting gun that serves as the identifier for the Director of the FBC. Jesse didn’t necessarily earn the rank of Director, however–she picked up the gun from the dead body of the previous Director and it granted her the position.
Where other shooters would offer the player a host of guns and weapons, “Control” has just the one. The Service Weapon’s default form is an auto-firing pistol, but in the demo it can be morphed into a slow-firing configuration that deals more damage. In this way, the Service Weapon stands in for standard shooter fare such as shotguns and sniper rifles.
In addition to carrying the Service Weapon, Jesse is also endowed with paranormal powers that let her bend the laws of physics. For instance, she can use telekinesis to pick up objects and hurl them towards enemies. This proves an effective strategy for the first wave of Hiss, but more mobile enemies require a shift in tactics.
One of Jesse’s signature abilities is flight. Not full-on Superman-style flight, but the ability to hover in the air. Pressing and holding the jump button sends her upwards, and releasing the button lets her linger in place. She can then move around that plane and fire on enemies from above. She can also come crashing down to deal area damage in a satisfying dive attack.
Kasurinen said that the idea of “hold and release” is central to the gameplay philosophy of “Control,” that it felt natural and intuitive during playtesting. This can be seen across most of Jesse’s abilities, including flight and telekinesis. With the latter, you’ll hold the left bumper to pick objects up and release it to throw them at enemies.
One of the gameplay pillars for “Control” is the idea of sandbox combat. Kasurinen said his team wanted to encourage players to play their way by providing the tools and letting them approach combat however they want. Central Research is filled to the brim with objects to pick up and throw, but it was also designed with verticality in mind in order to take advantage of Jesse’s flight.
The fallout of Jesse’s skirmish with the Hiss is strewn about the ground. Items and chunks of concrete litter the area, a contrast to the ordered, brutalist nature of The Oldest House. In this way, the combat itself is thematically tied to the subtext of control. The Bureau is founded on the very concept of control, and the Hiss is an upheaval of that.
Once she’s able to freely explore Central Research, Jesse comes across a bizarre hallway that’s been architecturally morphed. Chunks of concrete jut from the walls and an eerie glow bathes the space in unsettling light. It’s not clear what exactly caused this anomaly, but the design emphasizes the themes of control and chaos.
Once Jesse squeezes her way through the hallway, she encounters a shifting, morphing mass of energy that’s damaging everything in its path. This…glitch, for lack of a better term, must be dealt with in order to proceed. Jesse lures the glitch into an adjacent room and uses her telekinetic abilities to lift batteries into a pair of empty power nodes. This activates a shutter that traps the glitch in the other room. Remedy said that this sort of environmental puzzle solving will be present all across The Oldest House.
Next, Jesse stumbles upon a room of people who all appear to be hypnotized by a glowing screen. Remedy describes the screen as an Object of Power, which is capable of granting Jesse new powers. Approaching the Object transports Jesse into the Astral Plane, where she must prove her worth in order to inherit the new power. In this case, it’s “Seize,” which allows Jesse to possess enemies to fight for her.
After testing Seize on some virtual enemies in the Astral Plane, Jesse is returned to The Oldest House. Now, dead bodies litter the room where the Object of Power was. “Their brains must have been fried when I used the object,” Jesse says to herself. Between the Seize ability and the nature of the Objects, Remedy is reinforcing the theme of control.
Objects of Power will not just grant combat abilities, Kasurinen said. Abilities that facilitate exploration are central to “Control,” and will allow Jesse access to new parts of The Oldest House “Metroidvania” style.
The way the themes and gameplay of “Control” are tied together speaks to Remedy’s dedication to its layered world. Thematically, it’s one of the most fascinating games I’ve played in recent memory.