Taking Control
Official Xbox Magazine|June 2019

OXM HEADS TO REMEDY’S HELSKINI HQ TO GET HANDS-ON WITH ITS LATEST ACTION-ADVENTURE GAME, CONTROL, AND CHAT ABOUT THE COMPANY’S UNIQUE APPROACH TO MAKING GAMES WITH NO LIMITS AND LEADING THE WAY WHEN IT COMES TO SINGLE-PLAYER GAME EXPERIENCES

Chris Burke

Jesse Faden’s workplace is undergoing a bit of restructuring. Not the kind of management restructuring which may result in a few redundancies for middle-management who no one knew what they did anyway. No, the entire fabric of reality inside the office of the Bureau Of Control, where Jesse’s just arrived for a job interview, is literally restructuring itself all around her – the very fabric of reality is shifting and phasing in and out of whack, and things are generally getting weirder by the second.

On the upside, not only did Jesse get the job, but she’s also immediately been promoted to director. Apparently, it comes with dental, a parking space and a unique shapeshifting superpowered gun – and she’s going to need all of that, especially the dental plan, to deal with an invasion of a group of transdimensional beings hellbent on eating our reality. As far as bad first days in a new job go, it’s up there with Leon Kennedy’s.

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Control, the latest action-adventure game from Remedy Entertainment, and OXM has been invited to Remedy’s headquarters in Finland to get hands-on with Jesse’s story and talk to the lead creatives about a game that promises to be weirdly unique, and uniquely weird.

Remedy’s Espoo, Finland, office, located just up the road from Helsinki (turn right past the fifth frozen lake), is thankfully a little more normal than that of the Bureau Of Control, remarkable only for the banks of state-of-the-art PCs and game creation tech within, and a mo-cap studio and VO recording facility in the basement – an investment that’s paid dividends for Remedy when it comes to keeping it all in-house. No, the only things that are unsettling here are the shorter daylight hours, due to the northern latitude, and the shocking price of a beer in Helsinki’s bars.

Remedy is still guarded on many of Control’s key story beats, but what we do know is that, having turned up for an interview at the Bureau’s New York offices, Jesse finds herself promoted by means of a paranormal selection process that means the title of director, and a personal service weapon known as the Director’s Pistol, becomes hers. All this just as the Bureau has become the focus of an invasion by some kind of evil transdimensional beings. The Bureau exists to collect, catalog and indeed attempt to control Objects Of Power, sources of supernatural, paranormal, otherworldly forces – and it keeps it all here at its New York office. This office, it turns out, is considerably larger and more ancient than its ordinary office block facade would suggest. This is The Oldest House, and it’s way bigger on the inside. This TARDIS-like quality creates a sandbox world where the mundane (the usual trappings of a government agency HQ, complete with office furniture and oddly vintage-looking technology) meets constantly shifting walls and floors, frequent visits to the Astral Plane and the kind of trippy visuals you might find still rattling around inside the brain of a ’60s hippy.

Fortunately, the core of the game is comfortingly familiar – Control is an open-ended third-person shooter with Metroidvania-style progression. But since this is a Remedy game, you can bet it’s also going to push the boundaries of just what a single player game can be. Remedy has been rewriting the book on videogames since Max Payne, a revolutionary shooter whose use of bullet-time turned our heads. Microsoft exclusives followed later from the Finnish game studio, including the brilliant supernatural thriller Alan Wake, in which your only useful weapon was the light from your torch; and Remedy was back pushing unusual game design again with the time-bending Quantum Break in 2016.

This time, it’s reality itself that’s being tested and twisted in Control, in a story that’s influenced by ‘new weird’ fiction, and involves central protagonist Jesse using her newly acquired telekinetic powers, the surreal environment and her aforementioned shape-shifting gun to repel the invasion of beings she comes to name ‘The Hiss’.

Ice to see you

First, we watch a brief hands-off story demo where Jesse must locate and help a high-ranking Bureau employee who’s got a problem with an escaped paranormal research subject, and we also get to see that guy with the fridge again, in a demonstration of how the game’s side-missions will work. We’d already seen Phillip the fridge-watcher in previously released footage, but here we witness Jesse interact and actually try to help him. The fridge doesn’t just hold the office vegans’ soya milk, it is, in fact, a supernatural object, which has to be constantly watched by someone or it’ll most likely eat everyone, a bit like Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels in white goods form. It’s one of the many things that demonstrate the weirdness afoot in Control’s world, something the game’s developers are not at all afraid to embrace. In fact, they revel in it, as well as the influence of new weird fiction such as Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and China Miéville’s Kraken, with maybe a dash of David Lynch thrown in.

Side-missions such as Phillip and his fridge have enabled the team to turn up the strangeness to 11 while enabling players to more deeply explore the lore of Control’s world.

“Gameplay-wise you’ll also discover a lot of very interesting and strange gameplay experiences and events,” confirms lead game designer Paul Ehreth. “A lot of them give you the bigger rewards in the game, and so wondering what’s down this hallway can lead you into a whole other narrative experience that is beneficial from a gameplay perspective. We get real weird with it!”

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