Remedy Entertainment crafted a perfect blend of weird fiction and independent development power in Control.
In this weird world, an office building sits above a maze of underground caves housing a giant reactor running on supernatural power. Hallways can go on forever or cut off abruptly. Doors appear and disappear as players explore. In the Oldest House, laptops and smartphones are banned, because they could harbour contagious ideas or turn spontaneously into terrifying new objects of power. The title screams with pulpy unreality and may become the new benchmark of how developers approach weird fiction.
One of the most powerful aspects of Control is how weird fiction is embedded within the main quests and side missions. Some open-world games, such as Far Cry 4, will make players travel all over a map collecting quest items, often from previously visited locations where the quest item was not visible prior, rendering sandbox exploration frustrating. In contrast, The Witcher 3 has arguably the most engaging side quests of modern RPGs because the quests are elaborate, and the narrative design behind the dialogue makes each side mission a joy to complete. Meanwhile, Remedy created a new IP with Control and with that refined the very meaning of reality.
In this psychedelic new world, Remedy realised that any mundane object can become an Object of Power. Furthermore, the team also leaned into weird fiction with a segment of main missions where the end goal is to reach the Hotline, which is literally a ‘find the phone’ quest. Another weird quest requires protagonist Jesse Faden to defeat a stationary, evil, Hiss-possessed fridge, which is as absurd as it sounds.
One could argue that Remedy made simple objects so powerful because of the effects phones and fridges can have on society due to fewer social interactions and increasing obesity. Either way, Remedy gives significance to mundane objects in a way that rather than feeling like plot-fillers or pointless missions, the quests are weirdly engaging and meaningful.
Remedy’s venture into weird fiction with Control is not the studio’s first rodeo. The developer also produced Alan Wake and Quantum Break, which were equally weird at times. However, a crucial element that elevates Control to a new level is the fantastic cast.
Alan Wake actor, Matthew Porretta, puts in a fascinating performance as one of the game’s greatest characters—Dr Casper Darling. Darling’s lectures are captured on audio and video clips around the vast building, enriching the narrative design and providing key information about the game’s supernatural elements.
However, the most intriguing character is the Nordic janitor, Ahti, played by Martti Suosalo. Ahti is the first character Jesse meets and sets the tone immediately about how weird the game will be. His words reflect the confusing narrative whereby players understand lines spoken in English, but then he will switch to Finnish, which feels like players are missing the end of the conversation. Ahti is the embodiment of the narrative design because players do not really know what is going on and the answers are not available on a plate.
Control offers a unique story experience because at the end of the game everything is the same as the start, except that Jesse has learned new telekinetic powers. Jesse starts the campaign as the director of the Federal Bureau of Control and retains that position at the end. Remedy has created a game that almost mocks the player by indicating that they have had little impact on the world.
Remedy’s decision to create a weird and awkward dynamic with players adds to the game’s narrative. In the beginning, Jesse narrates to what seems like herself and the player, due to the personal language and engaging tone, but then she creates distance: the opening quote, “Why did you bring me here?” is confusing because, at this point, the player has not exerted any control over Jesse’s choices, so whom is she talking to?
Additionally, Jesse will deliberately restrict the information she reveals to NPCs and the player, hiding her intentions, which creates more distance because Jesse becomes an unreliable narrator. Players can only witness events from the perspective of Jesse and hear her thoughts on what she is seeing and hearing. This, coupled with the near-constantly muffled, audible stimuli that only Jesse can hear, influences players to take events occurring within the game with a pinch of salt. Whilst at times this leads to confusion in trying to work out what is happening, it also permits players to view events from their own perspective—enabling creative interpretation.
Remedy has utilised the power of independent development and its experiences with Alan Wake and Quantum Break to craft a weird fictional universe, a fantastic cast, and fascinating narrative design. Control offers players a unique ability to be constantly enticed and confused by a weird world with few rules.