CONTAIN THE UNKNOWN
When it comes to Control’s narrative, it’s honestly easier to name the literary genres the game is inspired by than it is to list off every author and filmmaker the game references. Your mainstays like John Carpenter and Stephen King are here, of course, but Control doesn’t just pay homage to them — it tries to encompass an entire literary and filmic tradition, not to mention an entire trove of internet creepypasta, the entire SCP Foundation’s body of work, and weird horror podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and No Sleep.
And you know what? It pretty much succeeds. Not every single time. But way more than it has any right in doing. There are hokey moments, and some of the protagonist’s running inner monologue is a little goofy, but I think Control strikes a stunningly good balance between exposition, visual narrative, and a healthy body of lore.
You can divide Control’s story up into three parts: a woman, Jesse Faden, searching for her long-lost brother, Dylan; a beleaguered government agency trying and failing to rein in a potential apocalyptic catastrophe; and the slow painting of a world in which the weird is real and reality as a concept is more of a suggestion than a hard rule. These stories run concurrently and often intertwine. You gain as much narrative in talking to certain NPCs as you do in exploring and picking up numerous documents scattered throughout the frankly massive Oldest House.
Speaking of talking to NPCs, one pretty neat aspect of the game that I haven’t worked on as much is the special timed side-missions that certain NPCs will give you. An alarm klaxon will sound and a mission objective will pop up, and you have a certain amount of time to complete the mission before it goes away. These missions seem to reward you with smaller bonuses and perks than main missions, but they’re easy to do for the most part.
Now let’s talk about spoilers for a second. I know I already put up a warning about them, but I really want to stress that until this point, I’ve remained relatively spoiler-free and that has to end soon. The more I talk about this game, the more I feel like I’m dulling the sense of wonder you’re going to feel as you boot the game up and play it for yourself for the first time.
I went into Control almost completely blind, aside from some praises for the game I heard on the Vice Waypoint Podcast. If I know I’m going to review a game, I generally try to go in blind. I want my experiences with a game to be as “mine” as they can possibly get. But by nature of my telling you about the game, I’m chipping away at your ability to also do that. Even if you’re okay with spoilers.
Are you, like, cool with that?