Remedy Entertainment doesn’t do ordinary. Whether popularising bullet time in Max Payne, or blurring the lines between gaming and television shows in Quantum Break, the Finnish developer is always looking to try something new.
For Control, that new element comes as a departure from the studio’s tried-and-tested formula. Gone is the over-reliance on linear levels – in its place is a title that marries player exploration with typical action and shooter mechanics.
“I personally wanted to make a game that’s not as linear as we’ve done before,” game director Mikael Kasurinen explains. “It doesn’t mean that it changes the tone of the game necessarily; it’s just about having a different way of expressing the game to the player, to tell the story, and to give them more responsibility. It’s up to you to figure this out.”
In Control, players take on the role of Jesse Faden, a woman seeking answers over the supernatural powers that she inexplicably possesses. Her search leads to a secret US government agency known as the Federal Bureau of Control, which studies supernatural phenomena and prevents otherworldly threats from invading Earth. The usual, then.
Jesse’s arrival coincides with that of the Hiss, a paranormal force leaking in through an interdimensional rift, which kills the FBC’s director and possesses all but a few FBC employees. Installed as the FBC’s new chief – via, naturally, mysterious means – Jesse must defeat the Hiss and uncover the truth about her own past.
Control’s synopsis poses more questions than it answers, but that’s intentional. Unlike Remedy’s previous games, here it was the world that came first. With ambitions on branching into non-linear mechanics, Remedy had to rewrite its rulebook and come up with a new approach to the game’s development.
“When we started concepting, we didn’t actually create an identity for Jesse at all,” Kasurinen says. “We began with what the world was that we wanted to create and its status, and we came up with the Bureau, the Oldest House (the FBC’s headquarters), and the Hiss. It was part of the overall direction that was ‘Let’s not start with the story this time, but let’s start with the world.’”
It wasn’t until Control’s world and themes were established that attention turned to its protagonist. For Brooke Maggs, Control’s narrative lead, Jesse’s creation was borne out of a sub-topic the game explores, and one that reflects the discussion of gender parity in the industry.
“I think it’s interesting that a lot of the Oldest House directors have all previously been men,” she says. “We really wanted to have Jesse come in as this breath of fresh air and a new face off the street who’s experienced the strange and mysterious. She’s never quite been able to understand it and, now she’s here, she’s the director, and I think that gender dynamic is really helpful to convey that contrast.”
Like other Remedy titles, Control takes plenty of inspiration from other media. The ‘New Weird’ literary genre was one source Maggs took particular cues from, while TV shows – a medium Remedy has regularly been inspired by – also helped to develop Control’s story.
“We sort of cherry-picked from China Miéville’s work, and people who are really good at making us feel uncomfortable without over-explaining why,” Maggs says. “Storytelling is getting more complex in different media, and we need to be more complex too. I think looking at those things just from a storytelling perspective as well, such as what not to say, is really interesting.”
Control wants to make you feel uncomfortable, and its environments, enemies, and intentional mystery are supposed to make you nervous. Kasurinen, though, is at pains to stress that it isn’t Remedy’s desire to terrify players like horror titles do, even if fear becomes the overarching emotion at times.
“We didn’t want to go too far into horror,” he says. “The problem with horror is that sometimes it’s something that you can see and understand too easily and it becomes boring, so we wanted to find a balance between that kind of unsettling and scary feeling, and ‘weird’ that you don’t really understand. What’s happened to these people? Why do they do this? Those questions always linger.”
Control represents something of a risk for Remedy. Not only is the studio taking a detour from the linear structure it’s known for, but it’s also the team’s first major title since Alan Wake without Microsoft’s backing. The worry about Remedy taking a step into the unknown is unfounded, though. Moves like this are what it has become famous for, and its desire to put players in control of their own destiny is just the latest in a line of ambitious ventures.
“We don’t spoon-feed the story to the player,” Kasurinen says. “You have to invest yourself in it to really get the full experience. To me, creatively, those are the type of games that I enjoy a lot. I do enjoy linear story-driven games as well, or puzzles games and things like that, but sometimes I want to play games that are more open-ended and feel like it’s up to me to figure this out. We don’t say it out loud, but there’s this message of ‘pay attention’ – look into the world, and listen to what people are saying. It’s a puzzle and a mystery. It’s up to you to solve it, and that’s what we wanted to have with Control.”
Marrying gunplay and abilities
“It was important that the game didn’t become something where you could solve all of your problems with bullets,” Kasurinen explains, “You have to use your abilities to be able to survive. We want the (game) to be aggressive and force you to improvise and use your abilities. If you don’t, you will die, and that’s part of the experience.”
Admitting the approach is sometimes ‘harsh’, the director says it’s a very rewarding approach when the player succeeds. In other words: prepare to die a lot.
Genre: Action-adventure / Third-person shooter
Format: PC / PS4 / XBO
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: 505 Games
Release: 27 August