Welcome to The Oldest House, the mysterious, cement-walled headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Control, where your break room has probably shifted to another dimension, and your printer has supernatural abilities. And that's what passes for normal around here.
You play as Jesse Faden, the seemingly inevitable protagonist, who searches out the Bureau to find her long-lost brother. At first glance, it sounds like your average familial motivation, but from the opening moments of the game (and much earlier than that, as we discover), Jesse is caught up in the middle of a frantic conflict between the Bureau and the Hiss, an extradimensional entity that has invaded the facility and possessed many of the employees within. Almost predestined, Jesse is thrust into the position of director of the Federal Bureau of Control after the sudden and strange suicide of former director, Zachariah Trench.
Jesse stumbles upon the scene: sprawled, dark-suited body on the floor, blood pooling on the carpet, service weapon still in hand. She's drawn to the weapon, something urges her to pick it up, and when she does, we realize that this simple weapon is more than just the sum of its parts. Touching the Service Weapon pulls her into the Astral Plane and into direct contact with The Board, the shadowy upper-management presence that, like boards in our world, help guide and give authority to the current director. These first few scenes function to inform us that there is much more to this game than the austere building and endless bureaucracy, much more, and this is where we see the incredibly creative capabilities of developer Remedy Entertainment.
We're quickly dropped into a classic conflict vs. the unknown. It's a conflict whose pervasive tendrils reach from the story, all the way down to the excellently-written collectibles: redacted documents of supernatural events, audiotapes of their propagandist radio show, America Overnight, written letters from paranormal witnesses. Each one emphasizes the desperate lengths the FBC goes to contain what they can't control. Searching out these collectibles never felt like a grind and seemed to make sense with Jesse's rush to discover the truth.
This atmosphere has become Remedy's calling card after the critical success of Alan Wake, their 2010 supernatural thriller game. Whereas some developers might hide easter eggs alluding to previous titles, the events and characters of Alan Wake are canon in the Control universe, and mentioned directly in some of the documents you find throughout the campaign.
The character performances bring this conflict out even more. While Jesse can seem vapid and lethargic at times, the supporting cast of NPCs provides substance to the game's narrative. Some of these characters you meet in-person, such as Emily Pope, the eccentric scientist, but others you "meet" indirectly, such as the live-action video documentaries of Emily's boss, Dr. Casper Darling. Quick factoid, Matthew Porretta, the actor who portrays Dr. Darling, is the voice of the titular character in Alan Wake.
One of the most mysterious items in Control is the Service Weapon Jesse receives at the beginning of the game. The weapon transforms in your hand, allowing you to alternate between two of the five different Service Weapon modes depending on your playstyle. Each mode has its own set of tiered-upgrades you can find and equip.
The remaining Objects bond Jesse to a new psychic power. This psychic element of combat was by far the most fun I had with the game. Launch, the first power you receive, is your strongest and most useful. By the endgame, I had leveled the skill to max, allowing me to grab forklifts and other huge objects and launch them at enemies.
As much as I enjoyed the combat, I was disappointed that the strongest set up in the first hour remained the strongest option throughout the game. I even forced myself to use alternative gun modes and psychic powers to ensure that I had experience with what each one had to offer. While I had endless fun throwing cabinets and desk chairs like some corporate, white-collar Jedi, the remaining psychic powers felt underpowered in comparison.
Obviously, all this chaos comes with destruction and Control's highly destructible levels bring a potent sense of realism and gravity to combat. It does come at a cost, as my Xbox One suffered frequent framerate drops during some of the more intense action sequences. However, from the subtle effects, like a stack of papers sent flying as an enemy dives for cover, to the spectacular sight of psychically yanking a copier-sized chunk of concrete from a pillar as you prepare to strike a final blow, the environment feels dynamic.
Overall, Control's strengths heavily outweigh its weaknesses and the game quickly envelops you in its story. You'll rush to find the truth behind the layers of mystery and, on your way, slowly start to question whether or not you'll find the final door or if it even exists.