Remedy is one my favorite game developers. Their relatively small and exceptionally talented team is behind some of the best action games from the last two decades. Max Payne 2 remains a criminally undersold film noir masterpiece. Alan Wake’s dense and foggy forests are as haunting today as they were ten years ago. And Quantum Break was an awesome experiment in fusing live action TV and gaming in a way we might never see again.
But in 2019’s Control, Remedy pushed their action gameplay, storytelling, and audiovisual presentation to new incredible levels. The game launched with a few severe console performance issues, but that’s largely in the past. Now, just shy of its first DLC expansion on PS4 and PC, and a free general update on all three platforms, it’s patched up and much more marvelous.
Control plays with lighting, reflections, dynamic animations, and environmental physics in a way most games only dream of. Whether you’re running the game on a beefed-up PC with an RTX card, or a more modest current generation console, Control’s labyrinthine hallways and play spaces are bathed in realistic light, materials, and shadows. A new and startling vision of graphical excellence waits around every corner.
Normally, “this game is made out of hallways” would be nothing but a pejorative. But in Control, it’s a design strength, focusing the gameplay around fast movement and combat, and allowing modern hardware to still have the necessary rendering power. The smaller environments allow the game to do extra things visually. Every surface in the game reacts realistically to light, and most of them are destructible, something that wouldn’t be possible if the game had to render a vast land.
The constant flight of physics objects, particles, and dynamic debris during combat gives the action scenes in Control a frantic excitement that’ll make you smile even the hundredth time. The game has a level of environmental chaos rarely seen this generation, thanks to limited console CPU’s and a general industry trend towards wider open worlds.
Characters live up to the level of detail in the world, though sometimes their animations are so good they dip firmly into creepy uncanny valley territory. Most of the characters in the game are based on the appearances of real actors, and the facial animations capture a tremendous amount of performance nuance and expression. Protagonist Jesse Faden is wonderfully acted by Courtney Hope, and she animates effortlessly during combat and traversal. The crisp animation system has a Rockstar-level of enemy hit feedback and physical simulation, while also playing with a snappier controller response than either GTA V or Red Dead Redemption 2.
Control isn’t afraid to play with vivid colored lighting and stylized cinematography to push its aesthetic style into horror territory, something I wish more games would explore. Gaming graphics are somewhat akin to animated movies; they’re limited only by the imaginations of the artists creating them. Control understands this, frequently bathing its worlds in unnatural colors to heighten its themes and story. It makes extensive use of weird camera angles, morphing geometry, and cinematic framing to pull you into its world. And it also makes stellar use of fonts and typography, something I wish I could say about more video games.
Little sprinkles of live action video here and there are a fun callback to Remedy’s earlier games, and also an impressive showpiece for how close the game graphics come to recreating the real actors in those scenes. Several moments also seamlessly overlay video on top of the 3D game graphics without breaking the lighting scheme, which looks incredibly cool and was probably really hard to pull off.
This game pushes consoles to their absolute performance limits, whether you have a base machine or an upgraded model. The framerate now mostly holds to 30 frames per second, unlike at launch, and there’s also a powerful photo mode available. If you have a PC with an RTX card, you can switch from screen-space reflections to ray-traced reflections, further improving the already awesome material detail in the game.
Whether you want to see the exact limit of your current console, or try out something that justifies your recent PC upgrade, Control is an excellent choice. I am super excited that the game is still receiving support and content, and I have no doubt that the game is a prime candidate for a next- gen console visual upgrade. Remedy pushed out graphics that will stand the test of time for years, and they did so not just through brute force and expensive rendering effects, but also through smart scoping and game design.