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

There will be spoilers.

The first boss battle is with a floating person called Alberto Tommasi. Al pushed me to the brink. I considered quitting Control, despite the hefty sum I had exchanged for it.

Boss battles are often exercises in choreography where you have to improvise your footsteps against a partner who knows every move. Learning to dance through bruises and blood. Al would float around, throw a rock at Jesse and she would always get it in the face. The rocks came quicker than I could make Jesse dodge. After a couple of hits Jesse was ex-Jesse.

And then I watched the loading screen for two minutes.

After multiple repeats of this sequence had passed before my eyes, I twigged it was an assumption that let Jesse down. Jesse and Al’s faceoff took place in the Bureau’s imposing Mail Room which looked more like an opulent theatre lobby than a sorting office. This boss arena was vast, though, making me think Jesse would have to do a lot of running around. But when I finally headed up onto the mezzanine, I discovered hiding behind a pillar was the key to victory. No rocks hit Jesse behind there.

After I had frightened Al off with my mind blowing hiding maneuver, I began to settle into the combat. The best technique was to keep enemies far away while sniping and hiding – but also use rock-throwing as much as possible. Telekinetic attacks differed from the gun in one important respect: auto-aiming. Provided there were no obstacles between Jesse and her prey, rocks would always find their target.

The first reason to play Control is to witness its stunning visuals. The second reason is the telekinetic combat. Because you don’t have to be very accurate, there’s something raw and vital about hurling everything in the room at your foes, from extinguishers to sofas. The “launch” power has been tuned to such a spine-tingling degree that the resulting thump and seeing your enemy’s health bar wink out feels so good in your gut, like a shot of espresso on a gloomy Monday morning. Gravity gun combat sure has evolved.

And the carnage that Jesse leaves behind is bliss. Furniture upended. Floor and walls are torn to shreds. Graffiti art that speaks the truth of “Shit went down here.”

Now more relaxed moving around the Oldest House – although cleared areas will respawn on revisits – I find myself collecting small upgrades from hundreds of identical airtight containers scattered throughout the game. But being the ace explorer you know and love, my inventory is permanently full. Control allows you to convert the upgrades into points which you can use to build… upgrades. I have no idea how this maps to story. Typically, shops in games are exposed game design wiring, dedicated to player gating and a sense of wellbeing: it’s okay, you bought something new, you’re definitely making progress! Shops make scant narrative sense.

With all the visual treasure on display in Control, it is easy to miss where all the light is coming from. Artificial lighting is the flavour of the day but it certainly felt like I’d not seen the same light twice. However, the Oldest House is peppered with glowing white panels that look like windows but I doubt they look out onto Manhattan. Where this particular light harkens from… remains a mystery.

I don’t enjoy engaging with the dialogue trees. The graphical splendour of expensive facetech is countered with stilted conversation and overlong pauses. Control’s dialogue often comes across like an indie film in desperate need of editing. This is not unique to Control by any stretch. However, the Officially Mysterious Janitor Ahti is a unique joy. He has an offbeat quality which would feel at home in a David Lynch movie. He never feels quite present, often mumbling to himself, and yet is sharp enough to reply directly to your internal monologue during the opening section of the game.

Control has to deal with that old canard – is mass-murder justifiable? Almost every enemy I’ve dealt with in the game is a human possessed by The Hiss. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to kill the possessed because, well, maybe they could be unpossessed? But the first few Hiss guards shot Jesse to death pretty quickly and I realised I was supposed to do the same back to them. After I waited two minutes, naturally.

Jesse realises that if she can drive The Hiss out of a location, maybe she could drive it out of a person? And thus Control establishes – at least for now – that they are unsaveable: Jesse’s attempt to liberate one of the possessed kills them. Later, lore also suggests the possibility that the possessed could be animated corpses, puppets of the dead. So there you go. Narrative says it’s okay to blow a whole in their head, crush them against a wall or manipulate their mind into attacking others. They’re not really people any more, they’re the enemy. It doesn’t stop me from feeling bad when I kill one of the passive, chanting floaters by accident, who vanish in a disturbing puff of blood splatter.

I’m also having to contend with keyboard awkwardness as new powers are crowding the keys. The CTRL key, which makes Jesse do a quick dash, is vital if you want to survive certain confrontations. But I keep changing my weapon (F) when I want to throw rocks (E). It doesn’t help that my muscle memory atrophies rapidly if I spend too much time away from the game.

I cannot play for long bursts. Not because it is too intense for my meagre brain, but the story has no hold over me. Control’s take on the SCP Foundation is by-the-numbers and that SCP eerie is missing. The opener featuring an abandoned reception and darkened corridors with Ahti the sole occupant was creepy but then the focus shifted towards Jesse and her abilities. That means I don’t even get that Serious Sam dread when walking into an open arena; I’m more worried I’ll enter into a frustrating death/reload loop with two minutes of waiting between attempts. Control senior game designer Sergey Mohov tweeted to me that Control was never intended as a horror game.

Indeed, it’s a mystery-slash-action game. I enjoy parts of Control’s mystery – The Board, the mysterious Service Weapon, Ahti – but it is not absorbing. Perhaps game mechanics and collectible lore means too much of the Bureau’s story is quantified and explicit, rendering it more Men in Black than SCP.

The journey continues.

Next: Reverse Shock


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31 thoughts on “Use of Weapons

  1. I think I agree with you completely about Control. All the critique doesn’t mean the game is bad or I didn’t enjoy it. But the story never tries to challenge me, like a David Lynch movie would (to use your comparison), maybe with the sole exception of Ahti, but then his role is so small it doesn’t matter much.
    The game or its writing is not scary or even creepy, and often plays straight the most obvious tropes which robbed me of any surprise.
    Then there is combat, which happened too often for too long for my tastes. Just like You I enjoyed throwing things at everything but from about the halfway point I felt like I am solving the same puzzle every 3 minutes. And pray I don’t die because the loading times.
    And then the main storyline… but here I should probably stop to avoid spoilers.

    Yet despite all of this I’ve enjoyed the game. I wish it was different in many aspects because then maybe I’d have loved it.

  2. Maurycy, I suspect – like you – that I will end up liking Control overall. Not that much and it’ll be difficult to articulate precisely why. I had a foray in the Black Rock Quarry last night after writing this have me the Control bug – and enjoyed more than I expected due to the panic involved in escaping.

    I was also wondering if I would get bored of the combat. I’ve seen a lot and I really don’t know for far I’ve travelled through the game.

  3. “Not that much and it’ll be difficult to articulate precisely why.”

    I’ve seen people saying as much elsewhere. It could just be that we’re so used to the big games containing no surprises that ‘some surprises, but not as many as I’d have liked’ is a significant improvement in fare.

  4. I gather that the loading screen after a death lasts for two minutes? That seems like dubious design.

  5. @matt w Loading in general in Control take a lot of time. I think two minutes might be a slight exaggeration, but I played on PS4 and I believe it was 30-40 second when dying and maybe up ot 50 seconds when changing areas. I guess Joel might be playing on PC which could make the loading times worse.

  6. I measured the duration of the loading screen before I committed it to WordPress. It’s generally two minutes on my PC, sometime longer. The loading bar grows slowly and then stops for the longest time – as if something has gone wrong – then eventually starts moving again. I’m not the only person with this problem.

    “some surprises, but not as many as I’d have liked” is a high bar, CA 🙂

  7. I have a sinking feeling that I will get to the end of Control and still be waiting for the game to “get weird”.

    In particular what puzzles there are (generally in the motel) have neither attempted to be real puzzles, nor leaned hard enough into their weird-fiction staging to satisfy that itch. Rather they have (thus far) served up Zelda-style logic-less “light the torches”/”match the pattern” type busywork in a banal setting. Which I guess might feel a little spooky if I wasn’t so inured to that particular kind of dissonance already. The presentation clearly intends that pulling the lightswitch, ringing the bell feels ritualistic, but I just can’t feel it when the thing you’re expected to do is … the only thing the game lets you do.

    I guess my dissatisfaction comes down to one thing, mechanically and thematically – for a game about exploring the labyrinthine halls of a hidden bureaucracy, it’s impossible to get lost.

    One final combat-related gripe is that, due to the convenience of the “launch” auto aim, I immediately prioritised upgrades for that skill (because of course there’s an upgrade tree and random loot…) but then I “got to the top and I had to stop” and it’s mildly bothering me!

    But I’m still having a nice enough time, and it looks lovely, so I’ll probably stick with it and find out if it really does “get weird”.

  8. haddoncd – I was just saying to someone on Twitter today that Control is more “wacky” than weird and thus misses that sweet spot I was hoping for. I was expecting the whole setup with the Hotline and the Oceanview Motel to feel a lot more rooted in a moment of weird – but unfortunately I came away as if someone plugged a stream of consciousness into a game. It doesn’t feel like any of it means anything. We will see, of course.

    There is one part of the game later that everyone seems to agree is very good. But I imagine hearing that hype has already killed it for me :S

    I will admit I do get lost sometimes. Not lost in the sense of “I don’t know how to get back out” but I’m often wondering how to get to a certain B from my current A. Then I just hit a control point and fast travvvvvvel.

    (And wait for two minutes of loading.)

  9. Joel, just you wait until the *second* Tomassi fight. It is, at least, optional.

    I liked Control a lot, overall. A lot of the design and how the setting is realised worked for me. The combat remained fairly fresh and challenging, which is as much as I could ask for in an action game. And I think, based on the comments here, I enjoyed the story more than others! Ahti is indeed great (and unsurprisingly, quite a popular character here in Finland, right down to cultural in-jokes like interrupting his Summer holiday, and his relentless use of Finnish idioms).

    I also appreciated small but significant decisions, like the lack of %age trackers in a game with lots of collectible lore items to discover; a sense that there was a final point of completion would’ve entirely undermined the sense of mystery and of unavoidably limited knowledge that made these little lore tidbits entertaining. (On a side note, it was fun to find various Alan Wake easter eggs in a few locations, too.)

    All that said I completely agree that the premise is under-delivered upon, and the game sure as hell implied a lot more weirdness than you ultimately see, and the puzzles are barely worth of the descriptor.

    Aside from the opening segment there’s little real sense of the Oldest House being a place in flux, and too little was made of the Board and the Formers. I suspect more of the latter will appear in some story DLC, but I also hope it doesn’t, as I rather like knowing that something is going on and it’s not for mere humans to know more than that. But really, it’s the idea of the Oldest House as a place of impossible geometry and shifting space that disappoints me the most: an early promise that turns out to be just smoke and mirrors.

  10. I *think* I just played through that “good bit”. I’ll reserve my thoughts for when you get there, so as not to colour it further.

  11. I eventually had to give up on Control, at least for a while, until some graphical issues with my RTX 2060 get ironed out and something is done to balance certain boss encounters. Tomasi was a tough nut to crack more or less out of the gate, but like Joel, once I stopped moving and started hiding it became considerably easier.

    A later boss named Salvatore is where I drew the line. There are difficulty spikes and there are difficulty spikes.

    While I’ve always enjoyed Remedy’s somewhat bombastic, indie-film scripting, here it falls flatter. Jesse’s running monologue, and the habit of the camera to cut from a normal medium conversation shot to an extreme closeup of her eyes when she’s expounding to herself, were rather jarring. Over time “jarring” became grating.

    But the atmosphere and sense of place in the Oldest House are second to none, and there’s a wonderfully impactful feel to most combat. Yanking and throwing and blasting. It’s my hope that with some time, some patches, and some driver updates, I might be able to get back into this one.

    Looking forward to more thoughts Joel!

  12. Shaun

    Nice to have someone enthusiastic about Control around! Good point about lack of progress stats in the game. Control is very much a game of the System Shock lineage – a claustrophobic environ that projects corporate overreach, something gone horribly wrong, people corrupted, superpowers, exploration. They don’t tend to follow that stats footprint too closely IIRC. (It’s weird accruing so many mods. I’m hooked on max healing/max damage and the rest generally get forgotten.)

    Uh, I don’t know what a Former is.

    But it is keeping me engaged – just nowhere as much as the last game of this ilk I played: Prey.


    I did read about your Control troubles on Tap last year. I didn’t realise it was still on hold. I also sometimes get the low-resolution textures hanging around too long, incidentally.

    This is the second time someone’s cited Salvatore as a “problem”, now you’re making me nervous. I believe I have Salvatore at the end of the next section I’ve got lined up, the Panopticon, so of course I’m beavering away on a few sidequests instead.

    And, yeaahhh, I find the close-ups on Jesse’s face distracting. I don’t really find her internal monologues fascinating and I wonder if this game would have done better to have a lot less of it. I guess it’s there to (a) feed a little backstory and (b) to confirm for players that the mystery/weird stuff they sometimes see is real.

  13. You know Shaun, I would never have thought to compare Control with System Shock, but really you’re absolutely right in saying it. The gated open world design and structured, set-piece challenges, the oppressive, sinister weight of the place itself, the constant fear of that next corner. I suppose System Shock–SS 2, at least– had a more predictable difficulty ramp, though it was also MUCH harder from the very beginning; thinking about it, Looking Glass games must have been a major influence at Remedy. It’s so easy to think about the Metroids of Vania when looking for parallels, I missed one right in front of me.

    I reinstalled Prey last night and I’m going to give it another shot. It didn’t hold me the first time, but for very vague, immaterial, uncompelling reasons, like “I didn’t like the button you had to push to disengage from in-game screens,” and it deserves a fairer shake. So that’s what I’ll do in lieu of Control.

    At this point I’m pretty confident that more blame lies with nVidia than with Remedy when it comes to Control’s tech issues. I deserve scorn too: I’m the one who believed nVidia’s claims that so significant were improvements to the RTX platform’s memory bandwidth that RTX 2060 buyers would never notice that it “only” had 6GB of memory.

    In fairness I also didn’t want to take out a second mortgage to afford a video card, so I skewed cheap, but the 2060 was a raw deal and nVidia peddled bad product. What it comes down to is simply that Control looks really good; it looks 8GB of video memory good, in fact, so if you’re coming in with 6 you have a fundamental problem. When graphics settings are high, Control in particular fills up all available memory. Long before that, its horrific LOD bias has kicked in and visual soup results. I haven’t fired it up in a while, so maybe they’ve patched in some improvements, but the root cause of my problem is nVidia’s greedy, customer-alienating design.

    ANYWAY… yes, my friend, you are approaching the Salvatore battle. I can’t remember where it occurs, but it’s definitely right at the point where you’re making some early advances into the Panopticon. Good luck! If I had any advice I’d offer it, but honestly I don’t even know where to begin with that boss. In a just world you’ll steamroll his ass and be able to continue enjoying the game, rather than hit an unyielding Salvatore-shaped wall like I and some other Tap readers did.

  14. Whoa, Steerpike. I’m not Shaun. What even.

    I don’t think I twigged the Shockyness immediately – originally thinking it more like a third-person shooter-with-telekinesis – but at some point it just made more sense to see it that way. Good luck with Prey. The open exploration is wonderful until the last third when it inevitably has to narrow.

    If we’re going to complain about UI, then Control’s “reading lore you just picked up” is the worst. Sometimes it doesn’t just open the research I just found and I have to scroll, scroll, scrooooolll down. Other times, I’ll sweep the mouse to the left as I open the lore list and it’ll then show that – but the unread icon will disappear off the research I wanted to read because it was shown briefly. If I don’t remember the lore’s title, then that lore is as good as lost. I’m not clicking through every item to find what’s new… like I don’t even remember what I read on Twitter a minute ago, let alone some random lore in a game.

    Uh, I have a more underpowered card than that. The GTX970 which has 4GB. It seems to run… okay. I didn’t turn all the settings up and occasionally it has a freak out sludgefest, but on the whole it’s playable.

    I can report that Salvador was defeated last night on the first attempt. Uh, Christ. That was a shitty thing to say. But I’ve said it now. It’s done. Can’t undo that. Nope. Walking backwards slowly.

  15. Hi, everyone! Welcome to my website, Electron Dance.

    Ugh, the UI and badging for reading lore… yep. I spent a lot of time scrolling through huge lists to find The New Thing.

    Salvatore is a tough fight as he can deliver and take a lot of damage, but fortunately he’s also reasonably slow and his attacks are relatively simple to bait and dodge (or block with cover). I definitely found the ground-based enemies a lot easier to deal with than their flying dickhead friends.

    Regarding the mods, more damage and health are great staples. I also liked faster energy regen, which felt vital for maintaining mobility in some of the increasingly tough and busy fights.

    The mods system felt a little odd initially – random drops in a linear narrative game?! – but as the game has only one difficulty setting, and its combat encounters are a lot of fun, I actually rather liked being able to revisit locations for short side quests to earn some extra goodies. Grinding opportunities or micro-challenges; however you look at it I was on board. The exception was the Jukebox: I had one run at that and never wanted to try a second. About as tough as the hardest boss fights and not as fun.

  16. Oh, for anyone that has completed the game already, there’s a great GDQ speedrun on YouTube of the game being beaten in 70 minutes. The speedrunner covers a lot of neat tricks, including a whole swathe of out of bounds level skips and something particularly fun called “Slidey McGunny”.

  17. Argh! You are Joel and not Shaun! I see that now. I am covered in shame!

    It was the bold “SHAUN” text at the top of your response that messed with my mind. I have a cold. My brain is in shambles. Reality itself is in shards around me, swimming in a soup of nonsense!

    Please, please, please forgive me. Never would I accuse you of being Shaun on purpose. Oh, hey Shaun!

    I’ll just slink away and lie in a puddle now, until a suitable punishment can be invented for me.

    That said, your killing Salvatore on the first try proves that it IS a just world, and I am happy for you.

  18. Yeah, Shaun, my impression of game is shifting again as I move forward into sidequest mania and get to fly around. I reckon I already have enough experience for another Control musing. (I had EXACTLY the same reaction as you when it came to the expeditions. “Okay, let’s try first tier…” SMACK)

    It’s okay Steerpike, you’re forgiven. I’ve given you back your bread and water privileges.

  19. @Joel Completely unrelated to Control, but could you replace the existing `Content-Type` header with `Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8` in the emails sent from your site? That should make the HTML be correctly parsed, instead of seeing a very unreadable raw HTML :).

  20. I’m looking at a comment email I just got sent and it is there int he headers. “Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8.” I wonder what’s screwing up for you?

  21. “SCP in the Long Lines building” sounded like a winner to me, but I do share the criticisms of the past couple of posts, and could nitpick it for ages. Overall, it doesn’t seem finished on any level from story, to side content, to combat encounter design, to menu design, to navigation.
    For combat in particular, the narrative importance of the service weapon(s) never matches its utility. Moving, telekinesis and cover flows better than rapid, fine and repeated aiming, which would also leave you in an exposed position, all for underwhelming damage. And then there’s the endless trifles that’s “Oh, my inventory is full again, would I rather improve my reload speed by 2 whole % or enjoy a 6% bonus to damage against elves”. Rarely has a game rewarding you with upgrades felt so punishing. Some of the weapons are of marginal utility, but I’ll avoid spoiling here exactly why.
    I can name about a dozen specific well designed combat encounters throughout the game, a couple of “who thought this was fun?” and the rest are forgotten. They last too long, come back too often, nothing of interest happens during. The last bit was surprising, because you’d think highly destructible terrain would lead to memorable spectacle and/or improvisation. When the alert went off to entice you with more combat if you just traipsed over to the opposite side of the map, it felt like a joke. I think the forgettable nature comes down to the game allowing you too often to engage from the perimetre and maintain a front; this gets addressed late in the game in a graceless fashion which I won’t spoil either. As for the annoyance, I feel it comes down to the pedestrian nature of your input combined with high lethality: it’s exciting like driving a trailer truck at night on an empty highway or monitoring the blinkenlights at Sellafield.

  22. Hello hroom!

    You know what, I hate the invisible enemies, I just don’t find those fun at all. You just have to be ready to JAM THE CTRL KEY HARD which usually means I dash straight into the bastard. (Now I’m starting to fly out of dodge, instead of dodging out of dodge.)

    I understand what you’re saying about the gunplay vs throwing rocks. I fall back on gunplay when my energy runs low but it’s basically because the game has forced me to do. I’ve just picked up the “charge” form and that seems really cool but, once again, it seems underpowered. It’s **so** expensive to beef up the gun and I’m on the verge of maxing out rock which can kill simple enemies in a single throw. The gun requires concentration to aim and I rarely get eliminate an enemy with a single shot.

    It feels like this: they allowed you bulk out the powers quickly because it makes things fun. But then there’s little incentive to collect stuff. So the gun upgrade curve was stretched so there was always a “point” to collecting stuff. Which means it’s like collecting pennies when you’re saving for a Ferrari.

  23. Joel: “Perhaps game mechanics and collectible lore means too much of the Bureau’s story is quantified and explicit, rendering it more Men in Black than SCP.” Oh how I wish it had actually been more like Men in Black, with a real sense of humour. Control is way too serious with its setting and action, and especially the main plot. It’s not entirely unaware of the concept’s ridiculousness: the Altered Items seem intended to provoke amusement—but for me they fall rather flat.

    hroom: “Rarely has a game rewarding you with upgrades felt so punishing.” Oof yes. It’s weird though: I still feel a small elation when finding a hidden loot box, even though its contents are always disappointing. (And their gratuitous opening animation feels almost mocking). At least my compulsive exploration led to me finding a number of “hidden places”, which dole out one free ability point each; and they’re useful, even if not exciting.

  24. Hey, Andy. I’ve never been a fan for little comedy bits in the margins of games where everything is in meltdown – where you’re reading about “damn it, why can we not get coffee on time around here” in a place dedicated to holding the most powerful artifacts in creations, say. Unless that stuff is written really well but, generally, it isn’t. The joke is the contrast. It’s always the contrast. Some critic somewhere may write “it’s nice to see a bit of humanity, how people still moaned about their coffee while looking after the end of the universe” but they never nail this stuff like Lower Decks in ST:TNG. Prey had this stupid little treasure hunt sidequest and these people with RPG monikers and I’m like – I don’t give a shit. This still doesn’t feel real. I think Thief got away with this stuff but was always a lot more grounded, the fantastical stuff lived on the margins and crept inward.

    If it had ALL been MiB, of course, perhaps it would have worked. But Control’s narrative voice is incoherent.

    It’s like watching a big action movie where our heroes are in dire straits, and suddenly we’re in some casino caper light years away. Like, who would make a movie like that.

  25. I agree totally about comedy in the margins generally falling flat. I was wishing for Control to have had comedy at its heart (though comedy is probably not Remedy’s strong suit).

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