There will be spoilers.
Let’s say Control isn’t working for you. It’s fine, it’s keeping you entertained but it doesn’t give you that rush. But inside this puzzle box of hype is another one.
They say: this is the actual good stuff.
They say: this is the real deal.
This is the real get hype.
And now you are here. You don your spacesuit ready for your first step on the surface of Planet Disappointment, because that’s where a free ride through hypespace usually ends up.
You enter the Ashtray Maze – and wait for the other shoe to fall.
Okay, that wasn’t a hypothetical, you got me.
None of the Bureau’s staff had asked me to brave the Ashtray Maze but, having discovered it, I saw no need to perform some Plot-Relevant Shit for another three hours to earn my visit. I’m a tourist and I paid the goddamn fee to go where the fuck I like.
I walk down a corridor and enter a room. Walls shudder and split apart in front of me, walls shudder and seal behind me. I’m thinking this is interesting but I’m not seeing anything hypeable. It’s amazing, they said, it’s amazing. I keep following through each new opening and soon realise I am going around in a loop.
I also notice there’s one particular opening that always seals when I get too close. It’s obvious that this is some sort of puzzle. That’s the path I need to take, but there’s a code to break. If I step in a certain way, can I keep this portal open? If I retrace my footsteps, do I surprise the walls and obtain access? Can I jam the walls with telekinetically hurled sofas? (Spoiler: No.)
This goes on for a while. I feel stupider by the minute. This is the most brilliant chapter of Control so I must be missing something rather obvious. I’m not even sure I trust my dissatisfaction. I mud-wrestled Stephen’s Sausage Roll and won, yet I can’t beat some little maze in a big budget third-person shooter? What is going on? Something downright paranatural.
Later I turned to a walkthrough and – oh my fanny. I’m not supposed to come here yet. That’s it. That’s the fucking puzzle. The Ashtray Maze is deliberately broken at this point. Deliberately. Broken. It doesn’t tell you it’s broken unless you’re sent here by a mission. Then it’s got signs telling you to keep out, Ahti doing a voiceover and a new mission to go seek What The Fuck Opens The Ashtray Maze.
Okay. Deep breath. Let’s just forget this episode ever happened until I write it up for Electron Dance.
After a real long-winded exploration to find Ahti in an underground canyon in the Black Rock Quarry, he hands you a walkman which will help you “navigate” the Ashtray Maze. Even better, the walkman seems to have the astonishing power of being invisible when Jesse puts it on.
Oh, holy fuck, this is totally different and is, wouldn’t you know it, actually pretty cool. Forget about a wall opening here and a wall closing there – the whole maze is a living thing, restructuring around me as I traverse its corridors and doorways. Rooms appear in glimpses before being snatched from view as the walls shift and gravity tilts. A noisy rock track floods my ears and I don’t need no stinking VR because I’m the star of a music video experience and yes I’m gunning down whole platoons of Hiss soldiers and it feels wonderful, I’m floating about like Bruce Lee if he had the power of levitation conferred by a haunted floppy disk, I’m slamming the bad guys into pulp, I can hurl big-ass rocks and –
And I’m dead. That’s okay. These things happen.
But it happens again a little too easily. I build that musical momentum, melt into the moment, let the bullets bop with the beat – but there’s no climax. I just die because I’m showboating in gun ballet rather than actually shooting infinite bad guys dead.
To survive the Ashtray Maze, I had to withdraw from the music and step through carefully like it’s some booby-trapped tomb from Indiana Jones. Control, you see, has never been very forgiving of mistakes and one too many will leave your vision glowing red. One more will leave you going dead.
I loved the concept but the Ashtray Maze inevitably left me feeling a little empty like Polis did back in Metro: 2033. Meh. Why do I always have to be right about the disappointment?
Next: Before the High Tide