Control hands-on preview – Metroidvania gets weird
GameCentral gets to play the new game from the makers of Alan Wake and Quantum Break, and discovers a pleasingly odd 3D Metroidvania.
Considering how much major publishers whine about the difficulties of creating brand new franchises it’s odd how smaller companies never seem to have as much problem with the concept. Following the lukewarm reception to Quantum Break, Finnish developer Remedy would’ve been excused for playing things safe – making a sequel to Alan Wake or perhaps doing contract work for a big publisher – but instead they’ve created Control, and it may well be the best thing they’ve ever done.
We’ve seen Control a couple of times now, after its debut at last year’s E3, but this month was the first time we had a chance to play it. In gameplay terms Control is a relatively easy game to explain: a third person Metroidvania with similar third person combat to Remedy’s previous games and an expanding range of what amounts to Force abilities. We’ve seen hands-off demos that involve levitating and firing what seem to be magic missiles, but since our demo was from early on in the story telekinesis was the most significant ability available.
The much more difficult thing to explain is what’s going on in the game, which is… complicated. Control boasts of being part of the new weird genre of fiction that mixes Lovecraftian horror with more modern themes. You take control of the new head of a secret U.S. government agency called the Bureau of Control, whose Brutalist headquarters has been overrun by an entity, or entities, known as Hiss – which has corrupted many agents and infected the reality-shifting innards of the building.
Netflix movie Annihilation has been a clear influence on the game, in terms of both narrative and visuals but what we didn’t realise until we played it is that, according to Remedy themselves, the shadow of Dark Souls also looms large over the game. But although we were warned that death would come often, we didn’t actually find Control especially hard. We’re certain that wasn’t because of any great skill on our part, although it may have been that the mere mention of Dark Souls immediately made us play more defensively than normal.
The influence is very obvious when clearing out areas of enemies, which requires you to cleanse a certain spot from which you can then fast travel and upgrade your character with earned experience. A bonfire in other words. There’s an element of Metroidvania already in Dark Souls though, so the mixture makes sense. Although to be honest the mission we were playing, apparently only the third in the game, was fairly linear and revolved around fixing a broken generator in the bowels of the building.
We were able to tackle the various broken components in whatever order we wanted, which involved clearing out an area of enemies and then getting the machinery working again – achieved by levitating control boxes back onto pumps and, in one disgusting instance, destroying a clogged up sewage monster from a pipe. The majority of enemies were essentially mind-controlled humans, although there were other, weirder ones, which seemed to float on their back and exploded whenever they got near you.
One of the primary means of taking on enemies is with your magical transforming ‘Service Weapon’, which at this early stage could change into what is essentially a pistol and a shotgun – although neither needed ammo, just a few seconds to recharge. Each mode can be customised with collectable mods, as indeed can your character, while enemies drop strangely-named resources which we assume will be used for crafting of some sort later in the game.
Or alternatively you can use the levitation ability, which is extremely powerful and allows you to pick up any medium-sized object not tied down and throw it at enemies. A short side quest, taking place in an abstract, platform-filled spirit world, allowed us to unlock a dash move; while there’s also a shield you can find a little off the beaten track.
Despite how popular they are with indie developers, Metroidvanias are almost unknown as a genre when it comes to big budget titles. And one of our hopes for Control is that it can prove that a mainstream audience will accept them and that they work just as well in 3D as they do in 2D. Of course, we’ll have to see more of the game to know whether it’s good enough to achieve that breakthrough, as we have no idea how it handles issues like backtracking, but everything we’ve seen and played so far looks very promising.
We’re perhaps most intrigued to see just how weird the game gets, with the early stages only hinting at the oddness to come. Although we liked how everyone you meet seems to be slightly unhinged and there’s one amusing moment where you open a door to a janitor’s room which has a poster of him on the outside, and when you go in he’s in exactly the same pose. Like a riff on the Spider-Man desk meme.
There’s lots more to see in Control but considering it’s out in just a couple of months we don’t really want to know any more about it. We’re already sold on its weird take on 3D Metroidvania and we’re hopeful that it’s going to be one of the surprise hits of 2019.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: 27th August 2019
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