Setup: Xbox One
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: 08/27/2019
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (Epic Game Store), Xbox One, PlayStation 4
FEAR THE MUNDANE
Folklore. Mythology. Urban legends. Conspiracy theories. Creepypasta. People are horrified and transfixed by the unknown and incomprehensible, and often we place that sense of inescapable dread at the feet of perfectly ordinary places and objects. Much of the best horror fiction is rooted in the idea that just behind the familiar world, the time and place we know and feel most comfortable in, there is another, darker world waiting to seep through.
For the most part, there is a well-defined line between fantasy and reality. But people are bad about maintaining that definition. What might start out as a relatively neutral “faked moon landing conspiracy” could turn into a full-blown whopper about the lizard people wearing human suits desperately trying to maintain their grip on humanity at large. For these folks, normal life IS the horror story, one they can’t escape from.
But what if they were… right? Not about the lizard people, necessarily, but about the… thickness of that line? It appears solid and dependable from a distance, but when you get closer you can start to see through it. What if our superstitions and urban folklore was, in fact, real? What if the stories kids told themselves around the campfire to scare each other could come true?
If all this was true, surely there’d be some kind of government agency devoted to studying these phenomena, and surely the public would know about it, right? Haha, yeah, I didn’t think so.
Anyway, I used to work in an office inside a massive, old and mostly unused printer manufacturing facility. You could see it for miles entering town from any direction. It was a stunningly white metal-and-concrete factory, and my company retrofitted its front offices, as well as an annex, for our work. Inside our office, things looked and felt mostly normal. If you saw a picture of the place, you wouldn’t be able to tell right away that our job was in anything like an old, mostly-unused factory building.
If you had to step away to the break room, you would walk down a long, dim corridor of metal, cinder-block and concrete. Fluorescent lights set to a timer and a motion sensor were positioned every few feet from each other; if a light went long enough without someone walking under it, it would turn off. At the right time of day (or night), this could result in a truly spooky hallway moment, where the only real light came from the break room itself.
Aside from the office, annex and break room, we didn’t have access to anywhere else in the building without special permission from our managers and the building manager. As it turns out, even in a mostly-unused factory building, it’s still not advisable to just run around the place without safety equipment.
One time, some colleagues and I got that permission.
We were transporting some unused office equipment to “storage.” The journey took us and our office supplies down a twisting maze of hallways and empty rooms. Some paths were blocked off by blast doors. Other paths seemed to lead nowhere. When we got to our destination, we happened upon a massive room filled with piles of chair arms and tables and other effluvia. In the dim orange light, I looked around, tried to see the other side of the room. It wasn’t immediately visible. I thought I heard growling. Might have been a pipe.
We left in a hurry.
I heard stories about the building from people who’d been there for a while before I started there. I’m almost positive none of them were true, but the whole building gave off a kind of… vibe. I’m not sure how to describe it other than that. The stories weren’t true, but you could almost believe them anyway.
I’m a big fan of the place where reality and (horrific) fantasy collide. There is something special happening in the liminal spaces, those dark hallways and empty streets in the dead of night. There is a certain look and feel I associate with this void moment, probably best defined by the one open gas station on the corner, a beacon in the pitch black, neon and halogen lights ablaze. Part of this has to do with working a night shift at a gas station for a while, of that I’m certain. But part of it stems from my love of weird fiction, of stories that might terrify us as much as they intrigue us.
It is in these liminal spaces where we get the urban legends, the folklore. The scary stories. And it is these liminal spaces that Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment, famous for games like Max Payne, Alan Wake and Quantum Break, perfectly encapsulates in Control. Everything, from the story to the soundscape to the absolute commitment to Brutalist design principles, is perfectly fine-tuned to elicit this very specific mood. And I for one am completely here for it.