I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t played Control until this review. Games will often reach a critical mass, with everyone carping on and on about how good they are, putting me off playing them until I have a long weekend to digest all at once. Inevitably that never happens, DLC gets announced, so I’ll wait until all the DLC hits. Suddenly, it’s too late: the next big thing arrives, and the cycle of procrastination continues.
The release of Control Ultimate Edition on the Xbox Series X|S has been a godsend, giving me – and likely others – the reason to play it for the first time. This is the definitive edition, in many different senses of the word. It’s complete, with The Foundation and AWE DLCs baked into the experience, and all of the quality-of-life fixes from various patches included as standard (including some absolute essentials, like an improved map and more prolific checkpoints). More importantly it’s fully optimised for the Xbox Series X|S, with all the graphical bells and whistles.
That optimisation poses one of the more difficult questions that we have ever had to answer on an Xbox console. Forget the ethical questions of a Fallout game, this is the real question: do you opt for the Performance Mode, which attempts to keep to 60fps at all times, making Control’s often bombastic and relentless combat more fluid, or do you choose the Graphics Mode, which sets a minimum of 30fps but offers ray-tracing and other graphical enhancements?
It’s worth noting that both modes offer substantial improvements over the often-lacking Xbox One release, regardless which you pick. We’ve only ducked into the original release to observe the differences, but it’s clear that it suffered from significant slowdown in combat and situations that pushed the engine, like areas with multiple reflective crystals, dropping to 15-20fps at its worst. We can’t understate just how de-janked these sections feel, and players who abandoned Control originally for its debilitating slowdown will be in their element here.
Having played substantial portions of Control Ultimate Edition in the two modes, we would suggest doing the same yourself, or take our advice and plump for the Graphics Mode. Control was made for ray-tracing, as it’s set mostly in the clinical and corporate Oldest House, which is full of washed floors, glass partitions and mirrored surfaces. It’s kickass to see yourself and the rest of the world reflecting ad nauseum in these areas, and it’s far more than the parlour trick that it might sound like. Performance in Graphics Mode never dipped below 30fps in our experience, and we noticed no visible slowdown in combat.
The graphical foundation of Control is fantastic regardless, thanks to the art direction. I’m coming to Control late, so many of you will know this already, but there’s so much to strike awe (AWE?) in The Oldest House: there’s the shuddering Hiss characters, the vast spaces that they often float in, the transformations that the levels perform, the basalt-looking Astral Plane, and that palette – all blacks, whites and reds. The Xbox Series X|S didn’t need to do anything to preserve the quality of these. Personally, the facial animations were still a little uncanny, like they were projected onto mannequins in a few instances, particularly in the DLC chapters where there was presumably less time to get them right. The Camera Mode, while a welcome addition to the Ultimate Edition, is also a bit limited in capability, having just hopped out of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. But let’s not dismiss what was achieved here: this is a nightmare corporate hellscape, and it looks brilliant.
Other Control Ultimate Edition benefits will likely be more appreciated. The map is both incredibly impressive and still not enough, overlaying the entire screen and offering sharp clarity on where you are and where you need to go. But Control works in a 3D space and loves tucking corridors under other corridors, so it can still lead to confusion. Reading up on the original, checkpoints were a common problem, particularly around bosses, yet we didn’t have much of a issue. More checkpoints have been slathered over the game, and we rarely felt we were repeating sequences over and over (and trust us, we died enough to test that claim out). Probably the change that made us the happiest was the loading times. Control Ultimate Edition wants to get you into the game as quickly as it possibly can, and we were never exposed to more than 10 seconds of downtime.
It’s a strong list of reasons to pick up Control Ultimate Edition on the Xbox Series X|S if you have or haven’t played it before. If friends and family ever return to our houses, then Control is the demo game to showcase the system. It’s bemusing and unfair, then, that owners of the original Control (the non-Ultimate Edition) have to pony up to get this experience. These are players that have supported the game through its DLC, so to shut them out will only make them less likely to support Remedy’s games in the future.
Should you have played Control but not its supporting DLC, then – as previously mentioned – they come complete with the Ultimate Edition experience. They both demand completion of the main Control experience and are, respectively, a little bit disappointing and sublime. The Foundation is the disappointing one, as it feels a bit detached and irrelevant, exploring the depths of the FBC and offering you some new abilities that you’ll soon discard for old favourites. New mobs are frustrating and erratic, too. AWE, however, is completely attached and relevant, a flip on The Foundation. Comparisons have been made to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in how it brings the rest of Remedy’s back (and potentially forward) catalogue into an extended universe, but it personally felt more like M. Night Shyamalan’s attempts to combine his characters with Split and Glass. It’s incredibly exciting to imagine the future that Remedy have planned.
It seems like every person and their dog has experienced Control in some form already, and we’ve spilled a fair amount of ink ourselves on it and its expansions. But, for the sake of completion, here’s my take on Control – the core game.
For the first few hours of Control, the whole thing left me a tad cold, as the storytelling was an opaque mystery box that gave me bad Lost flashbacks. Everything felt like a mystery for the sake of it, with capital-letter-nouns thrown about as if I should care, like The Board, The Hiss and so forth. But a few things became a gateway to me liking and then loving Control. The combat was one – a complete refinement on the slightly clumsy Alan Wakes of yesteryear. Once the abilities had layered on each other, and I fully understood that health was dropping from enemies because it wanted me to be gung-ho, then I learned to stop worrying and love Control. The rhythm of entering a vast room that was clearly made for combat, flying/walking in and shilling concrete slabs at enemies before turning to my Service Weapon, then watching as the room Rubik’s-cubed into its original form, was a hell of an experience.
The other gateway, weirdly enough, was the collectibles. While it started like the worst of J.J. Abrams, with far too many question marks, Control is actually pretty generous in revealing the cavernous plot. Reading the emails and notes, and watching Remedy’s trademark black-humour in FMV videos, allows you to piece everything together (admittedly not everything), and it uncovers one of the best examples of world-building in modern memory. Weirdly enough, it reminded of Dead Space 2 in layout if not tone, as we explored a vast complex that may as well have been a haunted house, picking up allies and creating safe zones as we went.
Having followed Remedy for some time now, not skipping a single episode of their weird madhouse (and finally I’m up to date!), it’s exciting to see them get their balances right. Control is cinematic without leaning on it, atmospheric without neglecting gameplay, and deep enough to swim through. It’s the game they were made to make, and – in the form of the AWE DLC – they have found a way for us to be even more excited about their upcoming slate.
Control Ultimate Edition on the Xbox Series X|S is just about every reason to play Control, conveniently stored in a plastic green box. If you’ve played before, the stellar AWE DLC, the stripping away of old infuriations, and the showpiece graphical improvements are convincing arguments for hopping back in (even if it demands that you pay extra for the privilege). If you haven’t played Control before, then you have the reassurance that this is a deserving Game of the Year, in its definitive format. Bring on the next in the Remedy universe.