SANTA MONICA, Calif.—For nearly 20 years, Remedy Entertainment has put out a streak of cinematic, weird, memorable video games. But its Alan Wake series seems to be DOA, while 2016's Quantum Break was a low point. Does that mean the studio's glory days are behind them?
After my latest hands-on session with the studio's summer 2019 adventure game, Contact, I think I spot a bright light ahead for Remedy. That light is smothered in bold red tones and beams from a creepy underground lair, maybe, but it's still bright and promising.
From what I've played thus far, everything I liked about Quantum Break—jaw-dropping visuals, dimension-shifting weirdness, and telekinetic superpowers—has been paid forward to a new universe where mystery and plot don't get in the way of compelling action.
"Bad things from the doorways"
My hour-long session with Control came during a pre-E3 press tour where Remedy sat me down with a beefed up gaming PC, handed me a controller, and told me to go nuts. (The game is slated to launch August 27 for Windows 10, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.) The resulting mission, titled "Directorial Override," is the third in the final game, and that meant an abrupt and somewhat confusing landing into the plot. It was enough to confirm that Remedy is going for some kind of mysterious world-building story.
We've previously seen teases of a plot where a woman named Jesse tries to unravel a paranormal mystery while receiving eerie, telepathic clues from her missing brother. This week's new demo saw Jesse internally debate whether or not to reveal anything about her brother's identity, let alone their telepathy, while coordinating an information-gathering mission with a military overseer. "That's all she gets—the rest stays inside," Jesse says to herself in the mission's conclusion, only after she openly discusses childhood paranormal experiences (which included "bad things from the doorways" getting into the real world).
Between this military interrogation and a few chats with power-plant employees in the mission, Remedy has a lot of exposition in store for fans—including strange, Twin Peaks-ian tales from an odd janitor whom Jesse openly furrows her brow at. But there was also enough meaty combat strewn throughout an incredibly rendered warehouse zone to keep me delighted with the gameplay.
For the uninitiated, Control works a lot like other Remedy games—players explore 3D worlds, find hidden plot morsels in the corners, solve mild puzzles, and otherwise get into a bunch of combat. Instead of distorting time like in Quantum Break or Max Payne, Control's hero, Jesse, bends the rules of space and physics with her superpowers. Because this is an early mission, Jesse's supernatural powers are limited to telekinesis, instant dodge-warps, a temporary energy shield, and a transforming gun (pistol or shotgun) whose ammo slowly regenerates. Juggling these four powers was easy to do, as the game's special-ability meter didn't fully deplete during my playtime. A Remedy developer confirmed that later missions and higher difficulties will include more powerful energy-draining maneuvers, so careful use and smart juggling of the gun's slowly refilling ammo will come into play. (A screen in the below gallery hints to more morphing-gun attachments to come, as well.)
For now, that meant simply flexing the game's early superpower muscles, and gosh, did it feel good. Warp-dodging past enemies, aiming the morphing pistol, and using random physical objects as throwable weapons—I quickly hit a nice groove in zipping around like some X-Men character who'd been kicked out of Xavier's school for being too awesome. And Remedy's combat arenas are designed to emphasize Jesse's strengths by making sure attacks are always coming from above and below, thus forcing her to keep her wits and strategically consider which ability to bust out for each takedown.
The handsome lighting models and per-object motion blur from Quantum Break are back for this newer game, only with even more tantalizing distortion and color trickery. In particular, doing damage to the mutated humans who stagger-run in your direction will cut open some sort of dimensional hole, through which intense oil-slick rainbows flit to and fro until you kill a baddie in a technicolor explosion. The game's blur effects also figure in nicely with the levitation system: when you pick things up and violently fling them at foes, they move in a supernaturally ultra-fast way that looks like it somehow makes sense in a real-world physics system. Plus, like most everything in this game, those flung objects go "kaboom" in colorful fashion.
What's to come? More enemies? More plot?
While most of Control's environs resemble the screenshot gallery above, I found one "hidden" level that whisked me away to a black-and-white grid of solid, floating boxes. I had to hop along these boxes, sometimes killing floating semi-human creatures along the way, as a tutorial to learn how the game's quick-dash maneuver works. Other powers in the game will be taught to players in similar fashion, where you must go to a dream-like tutorial world to unlock them for general use.
But I didn't get a sense of exactly why these tutorial sequences whisk players away to an alternate plane, and I also didn't see much in the way of enemy variety. The game's battle rooms benefited from clever constructions. They all forced me to carefully maneuver in order to find throwable objects and clean sightlines, above or below me, to take out aggressors. But they were all pretty run-of-the-mill ghost-zombie things that either rushed me with melee attacks or stood back and shot lasers. Will Control introduce some wild boss battles or a greater variety of enemies that benefit from swarm-like artificial intelligence to really crank up the spookiness factor? That's not yet clear.
Nor is the story very clear, honestly; I went back through my notes from the demo, and they include a scribble in the margins that reads, "maybe this [plot] will make sense when I review it later." Nope. But that's fine; I'm hungrier for Remedy to get back to superpowers and beautiful worlds that combine to make players feel like they're in a modern, kickass movie. And Control's E3 demo has definitely gotten me excited about that half of the Remedy Entertainment equation.