Control hands on review

Control is what you get if you crossed X-Men with The X-Files

What is a hands on review?
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Image credit: Remedy Entertainment/505 Games

Early Verdict

Control seems to be a fun supernatural adventure, but we're hoping it's got more substance beneath the surface.

For

  • Combat is balanced
  • Lots to explore
  • Can adjust mods to suit playstyle

Against

  • Enemy waves grow tiresome
  • Supernatural novelty may wear off
What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a game based on spending some time with it ahead of our full review. In this case, we played for 15 minutes and watched half an hour of gameplay. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee

Remedy Entertainment has a legacy to reclaim and, considering the criticism previous flops Quantum Break and Alan Wake received, it’s not going to be easy. But that's exactly what the studio hopes to do with its upcoming supernatural action-adventure, Control.

Control sees you stepping into the shoes of Jessie Faden, the newest director of the clandestine Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) - a Government agency which researches, and ultimately aims to control, paranormal activity. But Jessie’s new role has a few issues not exactly laid out in the job description, including the uprising of a paranormal force known only as the Hiss.

We attended a hands off preview of Control, and got a little bit of hands on time too, and here’s what we thought of Remedy’s latest offering.

Move over, Jean Grey

Jessie can grab and launch grenades back at enemies.

Jessie can grab and launch grenades back at enemies.

We kick off our demo of Control with 30 minutes of hands off action, hosted by Remedy Entertainment's communications director Thomas Puha, followed by 15 minutes of hands on time. The demo jumps in  about half way through the game, with Jessie exploring the Central Research section of the FBC's 'Oldest House' - the Bureau's New York building. 

Alas, the FBC's personnel have been corrupted by the allusive Hiss, so exploring the facility isn't as simple as you would assume - even for the boss. Straight off the bat, we get a chance to see the game's unique combat mix in action - a balance between supernatural abilities and firefights.

Jessie's primary weapon is the service weapon, a standard issue gun for the FBC's director, but as you progress you unlock weapon mods (of which there are five) and forms that allow you to find a combination that suits your playstyle. For example, the Pierce form delivers a devastating energy blast to any corrupted enemies in your path and, when combined with a buff mod, it proves almost unstoppable.

These bad boys certainly aren't hissing about...

These bad boys certainly aren't hissing about...

Jessie is pretty over-powered for this demo, to make it easier to showcase, so obviously things won't be quite as easy come full release. And while shooting up employees is a thrilling experience it's Jessie's supernatural powers which prove to be the most exciting.

After experiencing a trauma in her early years, Jessie is blessed/cursed with having some badass supernatural abilities. These include levitation, telekinesis and creating energy shield, among other things. It's only when we get hands on ourselves that we realise how much fun this actually is. 

The switch between paranormal abilities and gun combat is fluid, and its not long before we're soaring through the concrete maze seamlessly hurling sofas at misty-headed workers. A red-head causing supernatural havoc? We couldn't help but feel like X-Men's Jean Grey when she goes full Dark Phoenix.

If that's not enough power for you then you'll be glad to know that you can unlock character mods that add buffs to Jessie's core attributes such as stamina and health. These are particularly helpful as Remedy expects you to play Control aggressively, only rewarding players with health after defeating enemies and collecting their essence. There is no hiding. 

Through the looking glass

The 'Oldest House' is a concrete maze.

The 'Oldest House' is a concrete maze.

There's a Resident Evil-like aspect to The Oldest House's endless winding concrete corridors. While the game is restricted to the one building, the various rooms and explorable areas don't exactly make it feel claustrophobic. Perhaps it's the verticality of the Oldest House, its hidden areas and items, but we still find ourselves able to get lost in just one section. 

Control is almost a Metroidvania in that regard, urging you to return to previous areas as you progress, reopening old doors and solving puzzles that make sense when you unlock a particular ability. It creates dimensions that Remedy's previous titles arguably lacked - encouraging exploration with side quests and ability-rewarding puzzles.

At one point we find ourselves in a Mirror Maze that sees walls disappearing and reappearing in an unpredictable fashion, and it's a challenge we want to conquer. 

Similarly, we found ourselves seeking out snippets of information on Control's story (which Remedy remain pretty tight-lipped about), in an effort to become more engulfed in the supernatural world we were inhabiting. We found very little, and that's purposeful, as Remedy feels they've created a much stronger narrative (and characters) than we seen in Alan Wake and Quantum Break. 

As such, the studio doesn't want to spoil the story, but assure us that character's storylines (and the main plot itself) is fleshed out through side quests, the main quest and general exploration of the facility. They really want you to explore.

Early verdict

Jessie is not the boss you want to annoy

Jessie is not the boss you want to annoy

We didn't get long with Control, but what we seen (and played) was a pleasant surprise. Remedy Entertainment may have been tainted by past titles, but it seems the studio has taken on board the feedback from those titles and put time into trying to create a game with a dimensional story and characters, along with a combat system that is easy to pick up and just fun to play.

Without more time with Control's story, it's hard to assess how well Remedy has succeeded in this attempt - and a lot relies on the narrative. While telekinetically pummelling enemies is fun we're concerned about whether, when the novelty fades away, Control just leaves a husk of a game that can't shake the shadow of titles past...

Control is due for release for PS4, Xbox One and PC on August 27, 2019.

(Image credits: Remedy Entertainment/505 Games)

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.