Electron Dance
10Nov/1927

Behind the Poster

This is the first in a series of short musings on Control.

When I want to write about a game I like, it takes way longer than you might think. There’s an obsession to assemble an artwork of words that befits the title, something that feels as unique as the experience it delivered. That process never feels like a natural consequence of a great game; it’s not as if a game is an untapped seam of minerals and all I had to do was mine it for words. I’m looking for an essay that gives me peace, that looks like I've bled the memory directly onto the page. Write. Delete. Write. Delete. Go to bed. Format the drive. Start again.

I feel some remorse over my brutal carelessness towards a game which inspires derision. I can be cavalier with the words as all you have to do is swing that axe and the job is done. But what about the shrug game, the “meh”? How much brain juice needs to be expended on something that’s, uh, okay, I suppose? I will send my finest soldiers to the four corners of the world in search of exotic prose that conjures the most average of reactions. Now that’s real tricky, I think, as I write up my feelings after three hours of Control (Remedy Entertainment, 2019).

I am not a big follower of $$$ games. When Control punctured my Twitter filter bubble, it earned my curiosity and, in time, my money. Control seemed right up my street – a secretive agency that takes care of “objects of power” and deals with “altered world events” - and I hadn’t really dabbled in chunky, high-powered game fare since Prey (Arkane Studios, 2017) which I adored for the superb freedom it granted explorers.

I bought Control a month ago but my current long-term project is Stephen’s Sausage Roll (Increpare Games, 2016) a Sokobanesque puzzler that has overrun my mind with babble about the grilling and the rolling and the grilling and the rolling and that’s enough, thank you. Something allowed me to break free of their grip and install Control two days ago. More shockingly, I even play it.

It takes forever and a day to start but the surface impressions are good. I don’t have one of them fancy RTX cards so it was no ray-tracing for me – yet it still looks terrific. I make the mistake of using the high settings which leads to a juddering in the motion which I would not describe as cinematic, more of a Summon Vomit spell. I scale back to medium settings soon enough.

Control’s camera swishes us through the glass doors of the lobby and then Control hands us control of the protagonist, Jesse. I spend a long time just gazing out into the street. Those strictly off-limits spaces which are designed to the hilt and filled with activity are Electron Dance catnip. I know just beyond the farthest visual reach of the glass wall there is void; I’m permitted to see a studio lot with objects following through their well-rehearsed script. But I don’t care, I love that attention to detail.

And I scurry around the abandoned lobby, examining every small detail, the alarms on the wall, the items on the desk, the grooves in the ceiling. Are you the person who put that there? I am there for you. Thank you for your service. The quiet, detailed office environment reminds me of the opening segment of INFRA (Loiste Interactive, 2016) in which all you do is potter around an office, generally trying to find a way out as people block the way and electronic doors “malfunction”. Control begins to unpack a little story and I admit I liked the little flourish of “the real world is behind the poster” from The Shawshank Redemption which is then realised in Control’s level structure if you’re paying attention.

Control wastes no time suggesting this building, “The Oldest House”, has a fluid structure, as I find myself walking back the way I came despite having been walking forwards the whole time. This introductory section is not mindblowing but it is delicious with a side order of creepy. I spend too much time staring at the alarms. The alarms are wonderful.

But I cannot stave off my transformation forever; slowly I change from a student of environment design to a player with a mission. I cannot ignore the HUD forever and when I see the HUD, the HUD also gazes into me.

There is a gun. I have a gun. Possessed people are attacking me, I shoot them. And it’s fine. The first big surprise is that I die easily. The second big surprise is that the checkpoints – yes, sir, checkpoints – are, uh, a bit farther back than I would like considering how often I get bulleted to death. The third surprise is how long I have to wait while it reloads the checkpoint... I mean, Holy Rip Van Winkle, Batman. Are there more surprises? I’m not sure I would collate the other revelations under the surprise column.

The truth is Control is losing my attention. The environment continues to be lovely to poke around but some areas controlled by our designated evil enemy, The Hiss, are bathed in red and are not as interesting to study. When you kick out The Hiss, the space reverts to a normal office palette, looking more lived in and less Christmas lights overheating.

I need explain something about my recent addiction to The Magnus Archives. TMA is a podcast in which an archivist commits reports of supernatural happenings to tape, stories that were submitted to The Magnus Institute for posterity. And slowly, ever so slowly, it becomes clear these apparently separate tales are actually part of something much more sinister… TMA is complex and to identify and comprehend all of the connections between the various tales requires some effort – there is indeed a wiki which is too dangerous to consult as I am not even halfway through the series.

But both Control and TMA have something in common: an organisation which collects paranormal stories and, occasionally, strange objects. Control simply cannot possibly compete with the depth and slow burn of TMA. This is proving to be an issue. I rushed over to Control for the story... only to discover, after crawling behind the poster, I was already having a better time where I was.

And the HUD is full of collectibles, story snippets and upgrades – the administrative bureaucracy of the modern $$$ game, which I’ll get used to I suppose. It’s always a little daunting when you see rows of empty tabs and empty scrollable lists, eagerly waiting for deliveries of stuff from the player’s explorations.

There are many locked doors which I assume I will get access to later. This fills me with dread because a lot of Control looks quite similar and I am not sure I am into sweeping through old areas looking for locked doors. Prey had a similar setup which was wild because of its open design, but I had little trouble making mental notes about areas I needed to return to. I’ve barely made progress in Control and I am already having difficulty remembering where and what.

I could write more, but perhaps I would just end up saying less. You may ask me questions in the comments. Perhaps I will answer them, too. I will write more when I feel I have more to impart. I can confirm that Control is 100% in the shrug zone and, while that’s not great, it’s not a bad thing. It really isn’t.

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Comments (27) Trackbacks (0)
  1. If you’re looking for slow-burn supernatural mystery, Oxenfree is worth a go. You could finish it in a couple of evenings. No combat!

    Are you a big Remedial? How would you rank it alongside the Maxs and Alans of this world?

  2. EGAD I still have Oxenfree sitting in my Steam account. Jesus, I bought it before eveyone said it was FABULOUS!

    I have played Max Payne and it’s first sequel (do we acknowledge Max Payne 3?) but none of the other Remedy work such as Alan Wake, Quantum Break. I mean, it’s a really different beast to the Paynes. I have not enjoyed the combat so far. I’m hiding all the time and shooting at loose pixels of enemies over the top of stone blocks and walls. The camera is up high so I can seem to shoot over barricades; when I use zoom, the camera moves down and in – which means I have to put myself in the line of fire to make more accurate “zoomed” shots.

  3. I’m happy to acknowledge the existence of MP3. It was different, but there were still plenty of interesting things in there. It’s the game that convinced me that people who claim Dan Houser is a talentless hack are at the very least overplaying their hand.

    I don’t want to be too spoliery, and I haven’t played Control, but I’ve heard the combat is somewhat alleviated by focussing your upgrades on the cool offensive powers, while eschewing defensive upgrades like additional health.

  4. So… would you consider MP3 is worth going out of your way to play? Am I missing out?

    Yeah… I really don’t have too many upgrades yet. I haven’t played since Saturday and I’ve got more sausages on the menu before I’ve earned more Control time. In a way, this just demonstrates that Control hasn’t really grabbed me – at least yet – as I’m happy to leave it fallow for a few days. Hopefully not too many days, though…

  5. Fnhfntrf! Gung’f gjvpr lbh’ir zragvbarq gurz, V nz erfgenvavat zlfrys *fb uneq* sebz whfg gnxvat bire guvf guernq gb pbzzrag ba lbhe fnhfntr cebterff.

  6. I’ve enjoyed Control for the most part, but the combat quickly lost my interest and then the story went into the most predictable of directions. I’ll wait for your next post on the game to go a bit deeper about why the game didn’t click with me, to avoid spoilers.

  7. Hey Maurycy! I found myself disengaged with the story so quickly, it was shocking. Protagonist with “mysterious backstory” that we’re not going to find out about until much later. There is nothing perceptibly bad about it – it’s done with care – I just felt like I’d seen these beats a thousand times before.

    Matt – Tbbq jbex, fbyqvre. V jvyy fgneg n fcrpvny fnhfntr pbzzrag cbfg bapr V’ir pbzcyrgrq gur tnzr. V’z ubcvat vg’f abg gbb sne njnl abj.

  8. @Joel I’d probably suggest you to persevere – while I didn’t care much about the main storyline all the small things I did along the way were fun. The combat also gets much more satisfying after you beat the first boss, though with time the novelty wears off.
    I said the game didn’t click with me but I did enjoy the time I spent with it, though I do wish it was a different genre.

  9. Maurycy, I’m not planning to give up – it cost enough! However, not sure how regularly I’ll play, which will impact how often I do these posts. I did like that “melee” turned out to be an incredibly powered attack which the game didn’t acknowledge explicitly (unlike some of the narrative beats).

  10. Joel: *qvnobyvpny ynhtugre* (V ersenva sebz fcrpvslvat rknpgyl jung guvf qvnobyvpny ynhtugre ersref gb.)

  11. Matt, V qba’g yvxr lbhe vzcyvpngvba gurer

  12. I’d recommend MP3 if you’re looking for an example of two developers of comparable stature iterating on the same series. Often when one studio acquires the rights to another’s portfoilo, they do little with it beyond reissuing the original works for sale, if that. But Rockstar made Rockstar’s Max Payne, which is an interesting contrast to Remedy’s Max Payne.

    I keep stressing interesting, because it’s a divisive game that some people hate with real venom. There were bits of it I didn’t like but when all was said and done I found my ambivalence towards it invigorating, rather than frustrating, which is unusual. The story is nuanced in both its handling of Brazil and of Max as a (supposed) white saviour avatar in a foreign land. Sufficiently nuanced? That might be for a more qualified cultural commentator than I to say. It’s the sort of game that really makes you think about how the sausage is being ma- ALERT! DANGER! UNROTTED SAUSAGE COMMENT DETECTED ABORT ABORT

  13. Ru, lbh fubhyqa’g jbeel nobhg vg, ernyyl.

    re: last retweet, I am not taking any guff from British people about American chocolate, come ON.

  14. SO AS NOT TO CAUSE YOU UNDUE ANXIETY my diabolical laugh was that you were about to embark on Wobblecliff, which for me was the purest U Wot level. Where you are now, I endorse Tad Cordle’s comment that you got this.

  15. CA, I can’t say I will look out for it… but perhaps one day, you know? However it is safe to say you broke the seal on the sausage encryption

    Matt, yeah Wobblecliff was not my favourite. I started eliminating possibilities but it didn’t really draw me towards a solution. Clever level and all but serious Monte Carlo. I was looking for a different solution and out popped one by accident.

    Let’s not open the door to chocolate wars here, I’d rather talk about the duck penis.

  16. Congratulations on grilling all the sausages! Achievement Unlocked: You can read this old comment of mine now.

    I like Wobblecliff because of the sheer audacity. Can’t say I have any particular view on the solution though I’ve done it enough that I can rip it off pretty fast. In some ways it seems to me like the climactic level from a difficultly standpoint, which isn’t to say that it’s the hardest (honestly this is probably just conceptually confused as that part of the game doesn’t at all have the difficulty structure where it rises to a peak and then tails off with a couple of relatively easier levels; several of the levels before Wobblecliff are some of the easier ones too I’d say).

    I looked over and thought the game my wife was playing was a cool-looking exploration thing but she doesn’t game, she was looking at Google Street View for research purposes. The street names on the ground gave it a vibe of, uh, whatever that game was you were talking about in the thread I should be leaving this comment on.

  17. “Fnhfntrf!” is hilariously like the famous wee dog that was on the telly in the 80s because it could talk, by which they meant it could speak that one word just so.

  18. ^ has a “new browser whodis?” moment looking at own post ^

  19. Mr Behemo, you’re making me think of That’s Life, and that generally makes me feel dreadfully far away from my childhood.

  20. That’s the one, Joel. Sorry to do that to you.
    Now weirdly I can’t seperate the ghastly visage of Esther Rantzen from that of the last Prime Minister. I think my brain has gone wrong.

  21. I am late to the party, sorry.

    Aw, it’s a shame the story wasn’t what you’d hoped. One day I would like a game that delves into the kind of sublime, terrifying, unknown-yet-complex worldbuilding as TMA (which I’ve heard so much about but not got round to) or my beloved (if long-in-the-tooth) X Files.

  22. Hi James, no problemo turning up this late! The story is more like “The SCP Foundation turned into a game” and I’m not sure SCP works very well as a cohesive concept – it’s great as a home for all these ridiculous little stories. And so Control following that template also feels quite “random”. I enjoyed the story of the new Prey more even though that was nothing to write home about. I’m not going to be able to love Control, but I’m certainly going to get something out of it.

    TMA is fabulous. I’m in the 3rd season and it feels like a very different beast now. There are nasty, clever surprises in the show – the two end-of-seasons I’ve listened to have been deliriously good – and to contrast with the “environmental narrative” of a videogame, there are some lines in TMA than only have meaning if you’ve been following the show religiously.

  23. I started listening to TMA after Joel mentioned it above, and I’m just starting ep 36 now…. It’s fantastic and keeps getting better and better.

  24. I mean, there are a few mediocre ones near the start, but it improves hugely once the main story arc starts to emerge and you start joining the threads.

  25. MrBehemo – hope you made through the season finale. I’ve just started series 4. In some ways, it is an entirely different series this far down the Magnus rabbit hole.

  26. I did, then again with Mrs B. We’re about to start season 2.
    The finale was very enjoyable, but I feel like I enjoyed it specifically as a switch-up. The drama style of the penultimate episode was an exciting contrast to the past-tense narration of a typical episode. The more typical episodes were viewed through a documentarian, academic window, which gave an illusion of distance and safety, and was smashed by a big ole temporal brick. (Only a slightly bigger brick than the first time Jonathan is interrupted by Elias.)
    I liked how the final episode of season 1 returned as best it could to eye-witness statements. There’s a red-string board building up, which is fascinating, but I hope the series as a whole maintains the contrast between the real-time and the reportage.
    If it we were after The Archers But Spooky, I’m sure those are ten a penny.

  27. Oh it does, Mr B. I will say no more on that because things.

    I do miss the atmosphere of that first series because after everything that has happened and been learnt, everyone’s lives are never going to be the same again. I am travelling through the penultimate series and, boy, the first series was good times. I don’t mean the first series was better, I mean I feel bad for the characters and wonder if they can ever be as happy as they were in that first series again.

    (Incidentally I found the Q & A after the end of each series interesting. They are careful not to spoil anything.)


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