Electron Dance
4Mar/2015

Reverse Shock

This is the third in a series of short musings on Control. The first was Behind the Poster and the second was Use of Weapons.

There will be spoilers.

Black Rock Quarry in Control is a visual wonder. Few games get me to marvel at rock - caves were the worst part of INFRA (Loiste Interactive, 2016) - but, my God, I was screenshotting up a whole folder of rock formations. Here’s some rock. Here’s Jesse standing in front of some more rock. Here’s Jesse looking into the distance, by some rock.

Combat in Control was settling down, a little too much. I was comfortable with most fights and had become somewhat complacent. Bored, even. But the quarry threw a screwball into the process.

Once you’ve waded deep into the quarry and liberated a prism from the rock - a fetch quest required to forward the main plot - astral spikes then pop into existence throughout the quarry. Astral spikes are a slow-moving but invulnerable foe. If they spot you, they will inexorably drift towards your location - bullets and telekinesis will not dissuade them from ending your existence. Exactly why they like the quarry so much, I am unsure; perhaps there’s some narrative implication I am missing.

But the quarry becomes genuinely tense, because these spikes are so noisy you are easily ambushed from behind when watching one in front of you. Even worse, Control drops in a few Hiss goons as you head for the exit through a claustrophobic bottleneck of a cavern. You’re forced into a combat stance when all you want to do is get the hell out of there, with astral spikes rumbling towards you from all directions. It turned out the best solution was to just run through all the enemies and hope for the best - the Hiss will fight with the spikes, but it’s an unfair contest, so don’t hang around for the spikes to win out.

I was still stuck with two-minute loading times after death but, to my surprise, ALT+TABbing out of the game fixed the problem. ALT+TAB out, wait until you can hear Control play some music or ambient noise, then ALT+TAB back in. It never failed. Suddenly I had won minutes back of my life and I could hate the game a little less.

I’d come to the conclusion that Control was a sort of reverse Shock game (eg System Shock, Bioshock, Prey). I’ve suggested in the comments that Control is not an open-world game but a Shocklike: a heavily authoritarian/ideological environment, scientific overreach, something gone horribly wrong. The usual Shock formula, though, is either for a state of decay to persist (Bioshock) or deteriorate (System Shock 2, Prey). As Control progresses, Jesse never fails to repel the Hiss and the Bureau of Control gradually reasserts itself. The Central Executive area you clear first becomes a hub for Bureau staff to congregate in. There’s a genuine sense of positive momentum.

But sidequests were starting to bulge my mission checklist. I don’t like to leave sidequests until the end of a game, because they can feel a little narratively flat if the main questline is done. More importantly, they are useful for providing boosts and upgrades that will help power progress later on.

The first sidequest I tried was locating Dr. Underhill, which was easily done although I had assumed it was too dangerous to enter the area she was found in, because of the “mold”. Previous rooms I’d entered full of mold had proven to be bloody dangerous. But then she sent me deeper into the mold threshold on a fetch quest and I encountered some mold enemies who fired guided missiles. Trying to stay living was too much of an ask. I died again and again, no matter how slowly I went. I gave up on the mold and returned to the main storyline, heading into Containment…

...and pretty quickly I was offered another sidequest which was to head into the “clocks” threshold. Down in the mold area, I’d overheard some guards chatting about the creepiness of all the clocks so I had high expectations for this mission. Except it closely resembled someone’s Unity experiment, spawning two million copies of the same clock asset in featureless corridors. It didn’t feel creepy or eerie. It was just Control doing that Control thing again. A suggestion of strange which winds up feeling mundane because everything is strange.

This sidequest had two parts though. The first part was to bring someone back alive but the second part was to take on an altered item responsible for the clocks threshold - an anchor. Except there was no obvious way to get across a chasm to initiate a boss fight on the other side. I eventually gave up and turned to a walkthrough which told me I needed the ability to fly. Oh... that meant I was back on the main quest, then.

To acquire the ability to fly, I needed to overcome the notorious Salvador  boss. I had been warned that Salvador was trouble. Salvador is a new type of enemy, surrounded by a whirlwind of bricks and rubble. But he's also surrounded by a number of Hiss agents. So while he’s pinning you down behind cover, you can easily become flanked by his henchmen which can make the fight viciously short.

However, the player should have the Seize ability at this point, which gives Jesse the ability to turn a weakened Hiss enemy to her side. This was all the edge I needed and I defeated Salvador after maybe just two or three attempts. Occasionally, Control has that Dark Souls feel where all you need is the correct strategy and a boss fight becomes dramatically easier.

Now it cannot be overstated that Control is a different place once you can fly. There are plenty of nooks and crannies which are only reachable through flight and, wow, I began spending a lot of time re-exploring areas I had “finished”. I also found a few areas that Control had marked as secrets. But I wasn’t looking for Control’s approval to go to these places. I go where I want.

While these cool new powers are tangible additions to your combat options, all those tiny mods you can pick up feel like a joke. You acquire them at a fair clip, but comparing mods to improve shootyness by a tedious 1% percentage difference feels like a joke. The white symbols for these mods are difficult to distinguish at a glance - you tend to spend a few minutes during every Control session to pare down your finds. Apparently you can go on special missions for the Board to acquire more mods. Are you kidding me?

And that reminds me of the “Expeditions” sidequest. You can use the jukebox to jump into another Black Rock threshold location and be massacred by infinite Hiss foot soldiers while attempting to do some menial tasks like stand in one spot for awhile. The reward, if you pull this off within 20 minutes, is to receive a mod. I wasn’t bothered about the mod, so much, but I did want to complete at least the first tier of the Expeditions sidequest. I quit, reader. Combat is usually won through being careful and tactical but this sidequest continuously throws enemies at you and if you spend all your time fighting you won’t spend any time doing tasks. It’s not impossible but it’s also not fun if you haven't got a solid grasp of Jesse's abilities.

I was enjoying the combat, Control. But not that much.

Next: Slave to the Rhythm (coming soon)

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Comments (15) Trackbacks (0)
  1. “It turned out the best solution was to just run through all the enemies and hope for the best”

    See, Joel, there’s a Dark Souls player in you after all!

  2. Yep, that sounds like the Expeditions all right. Much pain for a shite reward.

    I did quite like some moments when Control would throw endless enemies at you – a few minutes of a high intensity fight where you’re pulling everything out of the bag to stay alive is great – but those expeditions were often only that, relentlessly, with never a moment’s respite to figure out where you’re supposed to go to stand in a circle, or destroy some nondescript object. At points you’re even supposed to survive waves of enemies, which I was overjoyed to discover could sometimes involve up to 20 seconds between waves, with the overarching expedition timer never halting its relentless march.

    Not sure who exactly the expeditions were aimed at – they were a post-release addition to the game, I gather – but they were mostly successful at making me frustrated with Control’s combat. I otherwise *liked* the combat. I’m sure if I went back to it I’d have more success, with a better understanding of the sub-objectives and environments, but I have absolutely no desire to do so on the off chance I could get a slightly superior mod.

    Anyway, enjoy the Mold boss when you get to it. It’s great.

  3. P.S. your “Use of Weapons” link is broken.

    P.P.S. if you’ve not been doing so, upgrade your gun variants. Most of them have utility. I may be wrong, but I recall you saying you stuck with Grip a lot? You will want Piece and Shatter for a lot of enemies, particularly the strongest moldy men. Some of them also benefit more from mods than others, which makes some mods more useful: Pierce is high-damage so raw damage boosts are great, Spin is very rate of fire so mods that enhance that or speed recharge are great. Charge is the least useful IMO.

  4. I think this discussion of the expeditions tugs at the question of when post-release updates might change a game to a point that tips into being detrimental to a new player. Ungrateful as it might be to turn my nose up at developers supporting their games with new and often free content, I sometimes find additions to games I come to several years after release make for a more confusing and poorly balanced experience.

  5. Hello Shaun. thanks for spotting the broken link. Something might weird was going down when I tried to select the link from the WordPress dropdown – had to type the URL which is so 1990s, man.

    I spotted your tweet about the expeditions and dropped this bit in here almost entirely for you, a sort of knowing nod. I completely forgot it was a post-release update, thanks for the reminder. There’s something weird about the balance of Control, like if you can get through an expedition intact you’ll have *no* goddamn use for a mod, because you’re so hot at combat. And you have to create jukebox tokens to attempt new runs! I tried all three possible paths and I found myself deeply lost in each one – I think I completed the furnace one once. The “stand still in this spot” mission was a disaster.

    Like CA says, it’s extra content that doesn’t marry well with the core game. But I’m not sure Control is that crazy well balanced generally.

    I haven’t spoken about the weapons but I was doing lots of upgrading. I hardly used Grip once I had other options (and *psst* between you and me, I’ve actually finished the game). I became quite attached to Charge and never quite got the hang of Pierce although later I found it very useful for heavy enemies. I was always tightening up my mods. I enhanced the Charge blast radius which, uh, was actually pretty dangerous when you ended up in close combat. I also had it fully upgraded. Spin was a lot of fun and I concur that the automatic reload was useful to keep that baby firing.

    Also, spoilers: I have seen the Mold boss but not yet defeated it.

  6. The Expeditions are in a weird place for DLC. I played shortly before they were released, and the room with the Jukebox was all but plastered with “DLC goes here” signs. But the tone the game uses when talking about Expeditions doesn’t match the reality. I feel like they wanted to do something more ambitious, with more variety (a mini Control roguelite?), but what they could actually make with their development resources was a postgame combat challenge for the theoretical player who can’t get enough of the combat.

  7. Hi Stephen! I must admit some disappointment upon discovering the expeditions involved, well, standing still in one place.

    I was expecting our own expedition rather then just “rescuing” existing expedition sites, if you get my meaning.

  8. Joel: ach, the “stand still in one spot” path was pretty bad, but the “recover objects from fallen agents” one was the worst. It’s just… an extremely ill-advised thing to combine standing still out of cover with flying enemies who lob explosives, you know? I don’t even get what one is supposed to do with these, except perhaps kill every enemy with unbelievable speed and precision, then hold down the ‘gather’ button for 15 frigging seconds whilst everything finishes respawning. Repeat three times. Uggggghhhhh.

    Anyway, thanks for the nod! Always nice to be remembered for something you hated in a game you otherwise really liked. ;)

    Congrats on *hushes voice* finishing the game. If you do care to defeat our moldy friend, the trick I used was basically flying in a circle around it during many of its moves, dodging the physical strikes (requires good timing), and using the push ability to fuck up its weak points.

    So, er, did you encounter the Former?

  9. Shaun, I don’t remember seeing any tweets of yours which spoke positively about Control – it was a surprise to see you turn up in the comments and say nice things about it!

    The mold boss feels very Dark Souls. You need to make a not-that-short journey from the nearest bonfire to the boss. I expected I would have defeated after a few attempts but it moves quickly and I seem too sluggish in response!

    I encountered the Former twice although failed to defeat the Former on the Flamingo encounter and then the game didn’t give me another chance at it.

  10. Curses, a reminder that I have to circle back to Control. At this point I should probably start over, since I’ve forgotten how to play and where I was and what I was doing and why and which thumb buttons I’d remapped controls (heh) to. Plus I feel like somehow, somewhere, I did something out of order and broke the game, which is a default statement I make when I’ve become frustrated and wish to blame something other than myself.

    Joel, forgive me if this is a facepalmingly dumb question that I should know the answer to, but have you played Rimworld? Have you written any words upon it? A search yields nothing. This question has nothing at all to do with your excellent ruminations on Control, it just popped into my head.

  11. Surprised to hear you didn’t get a second stab at the Former during the Flamingo sequence… I expected I would have died at least once, but maybe after falling through the damned floor so many times with the first fight, I beat the second encounter first time?

    The Mold Boss is a little like that, yeah! I saw on twitter that you finally beat it, and also what I consider the game’s toughest fight: Tomassi round 2. Congratulations!

  12. Steerpike I don’t feel like it’s possible to “break” Control so I don’t know what happened there. I can confirm, however, have not once played Rimworld.

    Shaun Thank you! Falling through the floor was also an issue with the Tomassi showdown – so many times I’d just wander too far back or forth on the gangway after all the rails had been blasted away. Towards the end of my attempts, this happened rarely and I was more confident about what to do and what not to do. I could still lose in a heartbeat though. I wasted too much time on trying to thwack the guy using launch but jabbing V to punch him when he was close was very satisfying. Christ, was an utterly terrible boss fight.

  13. Well, that’s what I meant when I said claiming I’ve broken the game is a statement I make when I want to blame something other than myself. Truth is I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, was annoyed by it crapping on my new $400 video card, and was lured by the siren song of Pathologic 2–which I’m still playing, with all due Covid-19 irony. The good news is since 2020 is shaping up to be a year when I have more time than work, I’m going to get cracking on my backlog.

    Any you must play Rimworld. Steam says I’ve played Rimworld for 487 hours. The game has it where it counts! I would love to read your words on it.

  14. Steerpike, I think Shaun already demanded last week I play Vanquish. And let’s not forget that Jonas Kyratzes said I should play Mass Effect eight years ago.

    I have a copy of both Vanquish and Mass Effect. But no Rimworld!

    I’ll be right back after I finish Outer Wilds.


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