It wasn't so very long ago that we went to the Barbican in London for a first proper look at Control; the brutalist architecture of the area makes it the perfect location to show off Remedy Entertainment's next big third-person actioner. The game takes place in a strange, ever-shifting building called The Oldest House, a building that has a similar concrete-heavy design to the one we were sat in for a second time.
Our latest hands-on afforded us the chance to play a full mission of the build that's going to be playable at E3 later this month. The mission in question is called Directorial Override, and it's the third in the campaign. With that being the case we had limited abilities, but we did get to meet some new characters and learn a bit more about the setting of this most intriguing title.
We've already given you an overview of the game, so we'll keep this one brief. Playing as the new director of the Federal Bureau of Control, Jesse Faden, we've got to work out what the hell has happened to this already strange place. For this mission we were sent into the bowels of the building to flick some switches, repair some stuff, and get the generators back online. To be honest, it's all fairly typical video game stuff when looking at your objective in purely clinical terms, but when you delve a bit deeper or veer off the beaten path, you see a different side of Control, one that makes it feel much less like a generic third-person shooter.
During our mission through the building, we encountered the janitor, Arish, a man who babbled a lot of nonsense that we really didn't understand. At least he sent us on our way with some useful directions and we were able to resume our exploration of the area after having been treated to some nuggets of Finnish wisdom. We assume that we'll encounter this odd little man again, as his appearance in this demo was nothing if not enigmatic.
It was then on to the matter at hand, specifically, repairing some pumps and getting everything back online; a task that in essence boiled down to little more than exploration and some very light puzzles. It's obviously not that simple, though, and it wasn't long before swarms of enemies were descending on us. Using her firearm and a telekinetic ability that lets her throw items into baddies with devastating speed and power, Jesse must tackle some relatively hardy opponents. It's not just a case of shoot first, think later; the player must manage their attacks as both are on cooldown timers.
A pistol on a cooldown timer? Yup, you read that right. Control isn't your typical run 'n' gun shooter, it's a bit more cerebral than that. For example, your sidearm is more than just a gun, it's actually a so-called object of power (you encounter these throughout the game and they're tied to the strange goings on at The Oldest House) and it's part of the reason why Jesse is put in charge; the gun only responds to her - kind of like Arthur was the only one who could pull the sword from the stone - and so Jesse is made the first female director of the Bureau.
Jesse has a very personal reason for being there at the Bureau, which we discovered in the cutscene after the mission was played, and she's certainly motivated by Mulder-esque reasons. The supernatural element is front and centre and if you are a fan of shows like The X-Files, The Outer Limits, and The Twilight Zone, you'll certainly enjoy the theme. Remedy certainly knows where to go shopping for great source material engaging inspiration.
Both before and after the mission we're with Jesse as she talked with her colleague, and during the second scene she recalls a traumatic event from her youth. The director remembers how as a child she used a projector to access different worlds, and how this otherworldly encounter left her with some unfinished business. The cutscene also highlighted a rather unique visual style, whereby we get sharp and intense close-ups of Jesse every time we retreat into her mind and hear her inner monologue. After blending live-action and third-person in Quantum Break, the studio is continuing to build around cinematic themes.
As mysterious and enigmatic as the story and setting is, in terms of gameplay, Control feels a bit more traditional. Remedy constantly encourages you to play aggressively, and you'll have to kill enemies for health to keep yourself alive, which means it's often best to push on and take your chances, rather than play conservatively and hold back. Simply put, it's not a cover shooter, and you'll have to use your dodge/dash ability to both move out danger and traverse the environment, all the while keeping your guns trained on your opponents and hurling a steady flow of items at them to keep them at bay.
During a Q&A after the event, Remedy communications chief Thomas Puha described a metroidvania approach to level design, where skills unlocked in the game, such as levitation, can get you into previously inaccessible areas that have been encountered earlier in the game. The studio was also keen to point out that Control isn't linear, and while there are chapters to play through with a defined ending, it's not as simple as advancing from A to B to C.
Apparently, there's lots of additional content hidden away, with surprises to discover all over the place. We were exploring as we went (there's no convenient objective marker, you've got to use your map and in-game directions for reference) and during our travels we found a couple of different side missions. One saw us transported to a different dimension filled with cubic grey platforms that we had to traverse and, at the end of it, we encountered another object of power, this time a horse from a merry-go-round. We were also told that these distractions will build out the world and flesh out the cast of supporting characters.
To that end, Puha reckons the game will take around 15 hours to complete at a steady pace, although those who take their time and explore every nook and cranny could easily extend their play time by several more hours. There's also going to be just one difficulty setting, and no New Game + (for story reasons, apparently). According to the man from Remedy, the director's job is never over and there will be things to do once the credits have rolled on the main campaign, including two planned expansions. Moreover, Remedy sees this as a potential franchise and the plan is to build on these foundations if everything goes well at launch.
Control doesn't really reinvent the wheel in any respect, but it does offer a most interesting blend of ingredients. The supernatural story elements certainly have us intrigued, and the gameplay, while not particularly innovative, seems solid and engaging. We can't wait to see how the different mechanics interact once more of them are unlocked, and we look forward to finding out more about this engaging universe and the people who exist in it. We don't have long to wait either, as Control is heading to PC, PS4, and Xbox One on August 27.