STAFF REVIEW of Control (Xbox One)

Monday, September 16, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Control Box art Remedy has always been one of my favorite developers. While The Matrix may have ‘invented’ bullet time, Max Payne was really the pioneer of showcasing it on the gaming front. From there, and a Max Payne sequel, we were given Alan Wake, an extraordinary narrative that still has fans begging for a sequel to this day. Later, Remedy tried something completely different with Quantum Break, a mix of action gameplay with live action TV show elements. While I was a fan, it got mixed reviews. Now, in 2019, Remedy’s newest release is finally here, titled Control. Having built upon their previous releases, Control feels like the pinnacle of their efforts, and it shows.

Narrative has always been Remedy’s strong suit, even if it can get a little crazy at times with its supernatural elements; Control is no different. The Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) is a government agency, much like our real world FBI, but they focus on paranormal events and phenomena. You are Jesse Faden, searching for answers at the FBC, only to be greeted by the Janitor. Even finding the FBC headquarters isn’t possible by normal means, so it’s clear that Jesse has some sort of deep connection to what’s taking place.

Jesse’s mainly looking for her lost brother Dylan, but she’s being guided by someone, or something, that she can converse with in her head. There’s also a major threat from an invading enemy known as The Hiss within the FBC walls, known as the Oldest House. The Hiss can corrupt nearly everyone it comes into contact with, as the vast majority of FBC workers have been possessed and turned into hostiles with super abilities.

Jesse is special though, and regaining control is a job that she’s thrust into as the new Director of the FBC. I’d love to go into more narrative detail, but the story, lore and how it plays out really is Control’s greatest strength, and I won’t want to spoil much else. It’s also at times absolutely crazy, so trying to explain it in simple terms would also take a dozen more paragraphs.

Played in third person, much like their other games, you’ll feel at home if you’ve played Quantum Break previously, as you’ll also have access to supernatural abilities as you progress. You’re able to freely search the Oldest House, but certain pathways will not allow access until you find specific keycards, granting you access. So while it’s somewhat an open adventure, you’re confined to a linear progression that’s narrative based, though there are a few branching paths with more than enough collectibles to seek.

Normally I’m not one to hunt and find out collectibles, but there’s an absolute truck load of them within the FBC walls. You’ll find memo’s, posters, notes, recordings and more, each of which expands the lore of Control’s world, almost to a point of being overwhelming. While I don’t want to spoil anything, there are ties to other Remedy games like Alan Wake, and more than a simple Easter Egg as well. Find enough of the collectibles and you might figure out how Control’s world is actually related to the one in Alan Wake. This alone excited me enough to seek out more of the hidden items.

Because the FBC deals in the supernatural and paranormal, the building itself is also very deceiving. From the outside it looks like a standard building you’d see in any downtown core, but once you start exploring within, you’ll realize that the innards are much larger than its walls. Walls will shape shift, move, extend and more as you progress, adding some very cool sequences along the way. Speaking of, one of the absolute best sequences actually occurred during my playthrough near the final chapter of Control. I won’t spoil what happens, or how, but make sure you make it through the Ashtray Maze at some point. Enough said.

Much like any government building, there are signs everywhere that show arrows of how to get to certain areas, rooms, sectors and more. This is how you’ll generally navigate your way from objective to objective. While there is a map you can pull up with a press of the D-Pad, it was completely unreliable for me throughout my whole time with Jesse. For some reason, the map would constantly fail to load properly, only showing me the icon of where I am and the labels of certain areas, but the actual map layout wouldn’t load. Since there is no breadcrumb trail leading to you where you need to go, you need to rely on this map heavily at times, but when it fails to load most of the time, it became quite frustrating, leaving me lost at times.

The somewhat saving grace of this frustration was the inclusion of waypoints, cleverly referred to as control points. The main areas and hubs of the Oldest House need to be cleansed of all Hiss infecting it, and once done, Jesse can revert the area into a safe zone, also allowing it to be used as a fast travel point, helping with exploration as you’ll need to backtrack many times to reach newly unlocked areas as you gain more clearance levels as the Director.

Jesse is chosen as the new Director, proven by wielding the Service Weapon. This paranormal gun may seem like an ordinary pistol at first, but there’s much more to it that you’ll uncover during your adventure. The first few firefights will feel like any other third person shooter, but eventually Jesse will come across Objects of Power, granting her new abilities like flying, telekinesis and more. Once you start to blend in abilities with the shooting mechanics, Control really starts to feel like its own experience, one that I enjoyed more as it progressed.

Your Service Weapon starts out as a basic pistol, but will eventually be able to be morphed and changed into having other properties, like a charge up shot or rapid fire akin to a SMG. Interestingly, Jesse can equip two forms of the gun at once, able to freely swap between their forms, but they share the same ammo source, one that refills automatically when not being used or shortly after its clip being emptied. This took me a while to get used to, as pressing ‘X’ switches your gun’s form, not reloading like practically every other game, as that’s done automatically. Eventually you’ll become accustomed to it, but it’s certainly not the norm. Also not what I expected was that your health doesn’t replenish automatically, so you’ll need to pick up glowing sprites from defeated Hiss to refill your health; something that can be quite dangerous during a massive battle.

Because of this shared ammo resource, you’ll also need to rely on your abilities to take out Hiss as well. I heavily relied on my telekinesis throw ability, allowing you to pick up nearly any object, or even debris, launching it at great velocity at enemies. Your abilities also share a resource as well, so you can’t freely dash everywhere or launch items without needing a rest period, so you’ll need to balance their usage.

Enemies vary as well, so some will be nearly immune to bullets, yet can be killed easily with a thrown object, others will fly around, making it nearly impossible to hit with objects, so gunfire is your better option. While there’s not a vast variety of enemies, knowing how to defeat them individually and how to prioritize targets is how Jesse will survive large battles. Once you see these orb-like Hiss, you’ll need to make those priority number one, as they can heal enemies, but they move incredibly fast so it’s a cat and mouse game of being mobile and interchanging weapon fire and abilities. This becomes quite chaotic later on, especially in the last few battles, but it’s also what makes Control shine and feel unique.

There’s also an upgrade system in place for Jesse to improve her Service Weapon and abilities. You’ll be able to craft a handful of different forms for the weapon, and even be able to upgrade them much later on, adding more mod slots. Defeated Hiss will drop random mods now and then, which can either be for your weapons, some for specific forms, or for Jesse herself as a personal mod, like more health, energy, quicker dashing, etc. You’ll gather numerous types of resources from enemies and hidden secrets, eventually unlocking all the way up to tier 5 mods which cost an extreme amount to craft, but add some huge bonuses. These upgrades really open up Control to play how you want, as you can boost headshot damage, reload speed, less ammo when floating and a ton of other mods to suit your playstyle.

Visually, Control is impressive, but I had some major slowdown at times, some screen tearing, and honestly, just expected a little more. Facial animations from the main characters were impressive in cutscenes, but I wasn’t blown away. The environment was actually the most impressive, especially when walls start moving and shape shifting when you take over a control point. As for its audio, the voice acting is flawless due to Courtney Hope’s portrayal (whom you’ll recognize as Beth from Quantum Break), weapons and explosions explode with power and the soundtrack is very fitting for the setting, especially the sequence I alluded to above.

Control has that signature Remedy feel to it, from its unique combat to its completely out there narrative, something only Sam Lake could be a part of. Although the story is Control’s strongest asset, it will take a lot of concentration and thought to piece it all together, as I’ve still got many questions even after the credits have rolled. Luckily you can continue Jesse’s journey once completed, allowing you to finish up any sidequests and other activities as we wait on the upcoming DLC that will hopefully answer more questions. Welcome to the FBC Director.

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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