When I was a young and impressionable gamer, I latched on to a particular character and series, one that had compelling gameplay and fully personified the noir genre that is so often done poorly. I of course, speak of the first two Max Payne games (the less said about the movie the better), who Sam Lake was creative director on. He went on to delve into Alan Wake, a game my PlayStation loyalty kept me from fully digesting, but Sam and Remedy games are taking the plunge back into the weird and the strange with Control, an Inception meets Event Horizon meets Stargate mind fuck that has me craving to get my hands on a controller for.
The entire game centres around ‘The Oldest House’, a large, grey monolith in Manhattan. Everyone on the panel joked about how it’s ‘definitely not the NSA building no one knows is there’, which put a real world perspective on this game that immediately intrigued me. When something goes horribly wrong in The Oldest House, our protagonist, Jesse, must venture into the depths and discover who, or what, is the root of this oncoming disaster.
Drawing deeply from the Southern Reach Trilogy (which most will know by the Hollywood adaptation of the first novel, Annihilation) and the novel House of Leaves, the mind-bending sci-fi elements that force you to question reality, even as you’re trying to work your way through it are the pillars of Control. Jesse has had a traumatic encounter in her childhood with an unexplained entity and her adventure into the depths of this mysterious building will help uncover her backstory as she unravels the mystery going on around her.
The other main characters are Control’s director, Trench, voiced by none other than Max Payne himself, James McCaffrey. The hard-boiled director has met his untimely end when we meet him, but that doesn’t mean his time with Control is done. A part of him stays around to help Jesse as she navigates fighting possessed and even dead agents of Control, being used by the entity she combats against. As she plunges deeper and deeper, Trench reveals secrets he had been holding on to, even in death.
The other major character is Dr. Darling, voiced by none other than Alan Wake himself, Matthew Porretta. This is the doctor who has been dealing with the unknown for so long that he is the only one who has the answers for Jesse as to what’s going on. Unfortunately, he’s missing and you must follow the clues he’s left to find him in the labyrinth that is the Oldest House. Also, there’s a good probability that there’s going to be some singing from this character, though, a soundtrack was not disclosed as it would reveal too much information. Just one more things to look forward to.
The reasons that Sam Lake has veered away from his typical male protagonist is actually very encumbered his previous outings. His previous forays are replicated in the secondary characters, but putting Jesse front and center was to set the story in a more modern and thematic place. The hard-boiled nature and the somewhat deranged doctor come from a world that keeps its secrets in a ‘old boys club’, one that has brought disaster. Jesse, someone trying to break out of the secrecy and expose her own shadowy past is to be about us moving forward, leaving old and broken methods behind, and uncovering a new reality that has existed in the shadows.
As for gameplay, Control takes the route that Alan Wake was initially supposed to have, but it rolls it together with what Wake ended up as. It’s very open world with a more linear storyline, meaning you can explore as much of the world as you want and collect information along the way. Though, you don’t NEED to explore everywhere to progress the story forward, you will just find additional information and clues if you do. Ultimately, it’s up to the player to decide the truth in what’s happening, and it ultimately ends up with what ending you end up with. There’s not just a ‘good or bad’ ending, but there have been promised multiple endings that reflect the choices you make.
The other main thing to take away is that Sam Lake hasn’t shied away from his narration, though he’s taking a new approach to it. Where Payne and Wake where almost monologuing, Jesse promises to give an insight into the way she’s processing what she’s going through, narrating her thoughts instead of giving an overview of events. It stays with Lake’s telltale story design while offering a kind of new way to ingest the storyline. Breaking the 4th wall here may only fall second to Deadpool in its promise.
No MP Allowed
Full disclosure, I wasn’t completely sold on what Control could offer. It’s sci-fi elements and diving into the ‘new weird’ area of gaming was enough to give me pause. However, after listening to Sam Lake describe his vision and the cast weigh in on their takes on the script and what they had recorded, I’m actually very excited for this game. The videos shown on the panel, the insight offered, and the explanations of what gamers could expect pumped me up for this game. Oh, also, don’t expect any multiplayer. Only solo gaming here, an announcement that was met by cheers from the audience, and I don’t think it’s limited to the people that were in that room.
Whether or not you were following this game because Sam Lake was attached or you thought the concept or trailer was cool, Control is definitely a game to watch for. While many games promise much and deliver little, the videos I saw, the panel I listened to, and Lake’s stellar resume puts Control as one of the top games I’m following. Hopefully, we can all get excited about a multiplatform, single player game again!