Remedy gave us a glimpse into life at the Federal Bureau of Control, with both a guided tour and a hands-on demo.
Remedy's newest game Control was revealed all the way back at Sony's E3 conference, although one might argue that it was kind of buried under the other heavyweight names present at the show. Ever since then the heat of anticipation has slowly been building with the odd trailer here and there, and this week we were invited to the Barbican Centre in London to get a taste of the game, a fitting venue considering its hallways match the brutalist design that Remedy is aiming for with its own Federal Bureau of Control.
When communications director Thomas Puha started the hands-off demo for us, this brutalist style was the first thing we noticed, as we have done in the trailers released so far. The giant hallways in the game are packed with angular and straight edges, and it's a striking design choice that really leaves an impression. Even the UI and the font with the titles are in a similar style, although don't expect everything to be this clean and smooth.
Our mission - set a little before the halfway point of the game - took us to the Department of Parapsychology, where we got to see some of the oddities that have invaded the bureau. You see, protagonist Jesse Faden is the director of the bureau at the start of the game, but a mysterious force known only as the Hiss has taken over and started some strange occurrences. We saw one of these in action, which was a giant ball of mysterious energy called an Astral Spike, sucking up debris and spitting it out. Puha led it into a containment chamber before sealing it off, and we were on our way to the next area.
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After this we found what's called an 'object of power' - a mysterious relic that transported us to the Astral Plane; an alternate dimension aside from our own. This is where the Astral Spike came from, and here we were greeted by a mysterious humanoid boss that couldn't be damaged by us. Instead, we needed to shoot the grunts that came out to attack us elsewhere, possess them when they were low on health with an ability bound to the square button (we were playing on a PS4 Pro), at which point they attacked our new foe. Puha told us during this fight that we can expect to visit the Astral Plane a fair bit, including these sorts of boss fights.
Once we'd dealt with that threat we looped back into the main hall we started in, where we were told that the bureau has several different interconnected pathways (similar to a Metroidvania, as Puha put it). He said that the "open world" tag is a dangerous one because it implies something along the lines of Grand Theft Auto, but it's not a linear game either, and there are fast-travel points, secrets, and side missions for us to discover. We can also expect environmental storytelling with videos and documents, although he told us that the studio has learned their lesson from the extensive notes provided in Quantum Break.
Puha then gave us an insight into the design of the world, which helped our understanding of the visual style around us. All of the technology in the game is rather archaic, which is a conscious choice because the supernatural entities of the game find it harder to take old technology over, and this means that you often feel like you're walking through buildings built in the '60s, especially since this is when brutalist architecture emerged. There's a nice mix of styles in here, with sleek modern interiors alongside projectors and dated monitors, and that blend helps Control stand out.
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At this point, we were dropped into the game ourselves for 20 minutes of the sandbox mode, and that really is the best word to describe the combat. As we've seen in the trailer there's an openness to the levels, and the grandiose hallways help facilitate the style of combat Control is encouraging. Puha told us that this isn't a cover-based game, in part because the only way to regain health is by picking up the essence dropped by fallen enemies, which forces you to be aggressive.
You have several skills at your disposal via the abilities you pick up as you progress, but we had many of the abilities unlocked in this hands-on demo. Flying is a core part of the experience, as not only does it allow you to access secret areas, but it also gives you the edge over your opponent. This is enabled with a double-tap of the X button, and while it doesn't last forever, it does let you get a new angle in combat and perform a slam attack with R3, pounding your foe into the ground. Dodge is also assigned to Circle, using a stamina meter, and you can use L1 to make a shield out of debris, with R1 letting you throw debris for very satisfying hits.
Of course, you also have guns to take down enemies, and these take on many forms. The two we saw were akin to a regular pistol and a heavier rifle, providing a quicker rate of fire with less damage and a slower but more deadly variant respectively. The former was better for spraying and peppering enemies with bullets, while the latter was good for critical hits, and was even able to pierce objects.
Both of the guns we saw can be upgraded with weapon mods to tailor the experience, tweaking factors like damage output and rate of fire, and these can be found throughout the world as you progress. Character mods are also available for Faden too, affecting things like health and fall speed. Then there are more impactful changes that can be made at fast travel points, providing permanent effects aside from the mods, which can be swapped in and out on the fly as you go.
Our free-roam demo also encouraged us to explore, where we found that Remedy had tailored little nooks and crannies in the Research area of the bureau to reward curious players, like boxes tucked away in corners you had to fly to, and rooms that gave you extra lore hidden around the world.
We also got to see just how diverse the environments can be. While the overall style is obviously very clear, the corruption of the supernatural presence has changed certain parts of the building, meaning one area we saw was overgrown with flora, while another had jagged pieces of stone protruding from the walls and floor. That's without talking about the various rooms untainted by corruption too, like a mysterious walkway where we could hear the disembodied voice of the old director of the bureau, as well as a 'mirror maze' which consisted of hallways opening and closing to disorientate those looking for the secrets within.
Everything we saw in Control looks good in terms of the visual style we've mentioned, and in terms of the mechanics at your disposal, but we're not without questions even after both of these demos. We saw a lot of entertaining set-piece battles in well-designed rooms, but with Remedy keeping the narrative so close to its chest, it's hard to gauge how strong the overarching thread is going to be. What will Faden's quest be? And will it have the same level of quality with regards to the narrative as we've come to expect from the studio? Puha did mention that it's gameplay-driven, but we'll have to wait and see whether this is enough.
For now though we're eager to see more of the secrets that lie within the Federal Bureau of Control, as Remedy has already proven that it has plenty of surprises up its sleeve. It's reassuring to get our hands on it and know that it plays well and that it has a lot to show us, but we want to see how much substance it can offer past the brief glimpse we've seen. Until then, colour us optimistic with regards to Control.