Hitbox First Impressions: Control — An omnipotent janitor and a sentient building walk into a bar

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

Control is a third-person shooter game that takes elements from TV shows and implements them into a video game. It uses the mystery of its setting to intrigue and lure the player into the same “what will happen next?” cycle that great TV shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” do. 

Developer: Remedy Entertainment

Initial release date: Aug. 27, 2019

Platforms: PC [played], PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

Price: $59.99

The player controls Jesse Faden, who begins the game knowing very little about the Oldest House, the primary setting of Control. The Oldest House is the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control. The FBC collects supernatural artifacts and responds to supernatural events. It is a top-secret government agency, similar to the “Men in Black.” The Oldest House looks just like a typical skyscraper and blends in perfectly to not draw any attention to it.

When they were kids, Jesse’s brother Dylan was taken by people from the FBC after they experienced a supernatural event. Jesse, now 28 years old, has spent her entire life searching for her brother. Her journey brought her to the Oldest House in New York City. 

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After entering and searching the lobby of the Oldest House, Jesse meets a janitor named Ahti who lets her go further into the building while he rambles about some kind of job interview. Jesse stumbles upon the director of the FBC in his office, who appears to have taken his own life. After picking up the gun, called the Service Weapon, the player experiences visions of The Board, who seem to instruct the director on different matters and offer advice. The Board is represented by an inverted black pyramid and communicates in cryptic messages saying, “only the director can bind the Service Weapon and live/die. This is your ritual/challenge. You must choose to be the Chosen One.”

Jesse Faden sometimes receives guidance from Zachariah Trench, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Control, through visions. Screenshot courtesy of John Novotny.

After the vision and a short tutorial, Jesse sets off to explore the Oldest House and find any clues as to where her brother might be. She quickly learns that the Oldest House is engaged in lockdown after a mysterious force called The Hiss took control of people in the Oldest House who weren’t wearing a special harness device. 

The player must capture control points taken over by The Hiss to fast-travel to different areas in the Oldest House and upgrade the Service Weapon and their powers. Screenshot courtesy of John Novotny.

During Jesse’s exploration of the constantly-shifting and restructuring Oldest House, she meets members of the FBC team, such as Emily Pope, head of research, and Simon Arish, security chief. During conversations with FBC staff, the player learns what Jesse is thinking through her inner monologue while the in-game camera tightly focuses on her face and eyes. 

When Jesse encounters a soldier taken over by The Hiss, the standard third-person shooter combat begins. The Service Weapon starts as a pistol, but more weapon forms can be unlocked throughout the game, such as a fully-automatic and shotgun form. The Service Weapon shifts its parts around to become a different weapon type when switching forms. Also, instead of reloading, the ammunition for the Service Weapon recharges after a short period of time.

The player can hide behind cover, such as desks and stone pillars, to avoid getting shot and duck out to fire a few shots at the enemy before waiting to recharge their ammo. That’s all the combat would devolve into without the supernatural abilities that the player unlocks, anyway.

Jesse finds supernatural Objects of Power in the Oldest House. These are common objects, such as a safe or a floppy disk, that were recovered by the FBC during Altered World Events, where the object displayed supernatural properties that violate the laws of nature and reality. 

There are light role-playing game elements in Control, such as weapon form and personal mods that drop from containers, which provide bonuses to different attributes including weapon accuracy and power energy recharge rate. Screenshot courtesy of John Novotny.

I was able to unlock a few powers in the first four hours of Control. First was a telekinesis ability, which allowed me to grab any nearby object or rip a chunk out of the ground and throw it towards a target. The second was a dash ability, where I dodged incoming projectiles and crossed distances in a short amount of time. I also unlocked a shield ability that grabs any object in the immediate area and levitates it in front of me, forming a protective barrier against bullets. All of these powers draw from an energy meter. This means that the player can only use a few powers before needing to let their energy recharge. 

The combination of the Service Weapon and powers leads to a balancing act of managing resources that makes the combat come alive. The player may burn through all their ammo and need to let that recharge, so they use the telekinesis ability until they deplete their energy, then switch back to the Service Weapon. This balance feels completely natural and helps the combat flow and encourages the player to take advantage of everything at their disposal. 

The best part of Control is finding documents and cassette tapes strewn about the offices and maintenance areas. This media explains more about the Oldest House and the FBC through memos, field reports and live-action videos presented by the former head of research, Casper Darling. These collectibles are fantastically written. In one memo, an office worker angrily complains to their supervisor about the bathroom disappearing due to the Oldest House’s routinely-shifting rooms.

I love these small windows into the lives of the regular office workers of the Oldest House because it shows that they’re just trying to do their jobs and just happen to work in a building that might have a mind of its own. The documents Jesse finds and conversations she has with the upper management of the Oldest House reveal that there’s a hierarchy of secrets in the FBC. The head of research might know why pulling a certain light cord teleports the person to another room, but an accountant certainly doesn’t.

Control’s best features are absolutely its story and worldbuilding. The combat is fine and does its job, but learning more about the Oldest House and the Federal Bureau of Control is why I want to keep playing more.