Attending Gamescom is something that I’ve been doing for years now. Cologne is not that far away from my hometown so the trip is fairly easy to make. What started with the urge to learn more about upcoming videogames gradually evolved into a yearly tradition to meet up with friends, partners and industry people. The event had over half a million visitors this year. With each edition, I manage to run into incredibly kind, passionate and interesting people. And with each edition, I’m amazed by the amount of support we’re receiving from publishers and developers all over the world. There’s one particular Finnish developer though, that always excels in this. It was a great honor when Remedy invited us over for a hands-off demo of Control.
Control is new, Control is exciting and perhaps also a little weird. Remedy is fully aware that the game’s concept might be difficult to comprehend for some and so the team has been very forthcoming when it comes to communication. Ever since the game was revealed at E3, the team hasn’t been shy in showing gameplay and talking about the game. As a matter of fact, Remedy has been giving countless of interviews, is producing a developer diary video series and interaction with the fans is at an all time high. While this all might be part of a new strategy the studio recently implemented to be more transparent, it’s still a remarkable change when compared to projects lead by bigger studios such as EA or Ubisoft.
Controlling Jesse Faden.
Control tells the story of Jesse Faden. Faden’s troubled past has led her to New York, to a huge concrete skyscraper known as the Oldest House. Within lies the headquarters of a secretive government agency known as the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC). Our demo of Control – running on PC but played with a PlayStation 4 controller – started roughly halfway through the game. Quite some time after things took a turn for the worse. Through mysterious, ritualistic events, Jesse becomes the new Director of the Bureau. The events causes the FBC to be invaded by the Hiss – an otherworldly force that can corrupt humans and objects – and for Faden to get supernatural abilities. One of the abilities we’ve got to see was Levitation, allowing Jesse to launch into the air and glide/fly. Another ability was called Launch, which enables Jesse to pick up objects in the world and move them or use them as projectiles. The final ability we’ve got to see was Shield. With this power, Jesse gathers small objects from the ground to create a protective barrier, allowing the player to venture into safety. She also carries what is called the Service Weapon, a special, supernaturally enhanced gun that only the Director of the Bureau can use. The gun can change form, allowing it to be used in a variety of ways; it can be both pistol (single rounds) and shotgun (explosive buckshots). Abilities are not unlocked from the start but gradually obtained; the player is required to track down so called “objects of power” in order to unlock and/or upgrade weapon and abilities.
Soon after the demo started, Jesse is being contacted by Emily Pope over radio. Pope is a researcher at the FBC and acts as one of Jesse’s allies in the game. She instructs her to go and find the head of security, Malcom Rooney. We’re not exactly sure as of why Rooney is important or how he can aid Jesse in her quest. Information we might have missed because Control’s environment is so beautifully distracting. Remedy’s Northlight engine has undoubtedly been improved to support Control’s trippy and hypnotizing level transitions. Not a single room or corridor can be trusted, as they are often optical illusions or will break down to reveal you’ve been in a much larger location the whole time. Quantum Break already managed to impress us with it’s visuals and particle effects, but Control clearly takes another leap forward and manages not to compromise between top notch rendering effects and smooth gameplay.
On several occasions while on our way to Rooney were we confronted by the Hiss. Jesse’s powers and ammunition both act on a cooldown timer. Meaning in order to be victorious, the player will often have to alternate between – or cleverly combine – Jesse’s gun and abilities. A certain type of Hiss, called ‘drifters’, are also capable to throw objects and levitate. When they move across the room they vanish into thin air leaving some sort of oily substance behind only to appear again and try to catch you by surprise. Not every character in the game is hostile. When we progressed deeper into the FBC we encountered a janitor. The man is listening to music, singing to himself while sweeping the floor barefoot. He doesn’t seem to notice Faden arriving nor does he respond when she greets him. I couldn’t help but wonder if the character was a nod to a similar character in Max Payne 2. Max too comes across a janitor that is singing and cleaning, seemingly oblivious to the player until Max reaches out to him.
Controlling the rituals.
Jesse continues to move forward but is being haunted by visions of Trench. Trench was the FBC’s previous Director and has perished due to, as of yet, unknown events. How Trench is able to communicate with Faden while he’s dead is also unknown at this time. He continuously mentions there’s some sort of ritual Faden has to execute in order to progress (I quote; “Rituals control the environment here. Dream logic is required for survival”). We’re at a dead end. All we see in front of us is a sign that says “Ritual required to enter. Black Pyramid Catalyst: Light Switch”. Hovering in front of us is what indeed looks to be a cord that could operate a light bulb. We flick it, turning the screen dark. We flick it again, turning back on the light but also revealing a path forward. The corridor we are now in looks totally different. There’s a door on the right featuring a black triangle – the black pyramid! We’re not exactly sure what the black pyramid symbolism means, but it sure is an integral part of the narrative. When opening the door Faden remarks: “The Oldest House is my house. I am a servant of the Black Pyramid.” The room features another light switch and a painting. The painting is showing Jesse in an entirely different area. We pull the cord and we’re immediately transported to the location of the painting. Woa!
When moving forward we notice there’s an enormous gap in the floor. The only way forward is to make use of our Levitation ability. Remedy’s community manager, who has been narrating information about the game during the demo, explains that this is a perfect example of how exploration in Control works. Through exploration you might come across side quests or areas that can’t be completed until Jesse has obtained certain powers. This forces you to track back sometimes later in the game, if you want to collect all the rewards or learn more about the events that happened. It was also stated to us that some events could be completed while missing the powers required, but doing so would make things unnecessary difficult.
The demo continues with Jesse arriving at a place where the FBC stores “altered items”. We see a man sitting in a confined space watching a red fridge. When we approach the character he calls out to us, telling us he’s been sitting there for an entire day and he can’t move or the fridge will deviate. Jesse replies to the man that she can’t help him now but will later return. A first glance at would could be a side-mission. To my surprise, there appeared no notification on screen. Actually, the whole game was HUD-less, nor did we got to see the menus or journal how to keep track of all your missions. Considering Control is still in early development, I’m sure the team is still figuring all this out.
Controlling the boss fight.
Her quest to find Rooney seems to be more important at this time. We do find him eventually, but he seems to be consumed by the Hiss. He seems a bit larger than other Hiss we’ve encountered, which could be hinting that this is a boss fight. After an intense fight, we manage to defeat Rooney and are allowed to move forward. We’re now in a room with an altered item called the “Benicoff TV”. As Jesse interacts with the TV, the object starts floating, launches itself across space, causing the entire room to crumble down and changes the entire architecture of the environment that remains. Jesse is hovering and starts to approach a bright white light. As we venture further in the white light we again see a big black pyramid. We’ve just entered the Astral Plane. Right after witnessing this, the demo ends. What the Astral plane is exactly, Remedy was not yet willing to reveal.
If you’ve been following Control for some time now, you might remark that the demo was similar to the one shown during E3. In case you might have missed it, click here to go and watch it. I believe the Gamescom demo did contain some new things though; the character of Emily Pope, the Malcom Rooney boss fight and a tease of the Astral Plane. Even though various places or sections were familiar to me from screenshots or bits of gameplay footage – the demo still managed to grab my full attention and suck me in. For about 20 minutes (that’s how long the demo lasted) I felt completely cut off from the outside world. The Oldest House is a super fascinating place and manages to leave you with an urge to learn more about this place. It might take a little while until that happens though. With E3 and Gamescom now behind us, it’s unlikely we’ll see new footage any time soon. Soon can’t been soon enough.