Since the ninth console generation kicked off last November, several must-play games from the previous generation have been updated for the new tech. On the PlayStation 5, for example, the backwards-compatible PS4 exclusives Ghost of Tsushima and God of War received performance boosts locking gameplay at a smooth 60 frames per second, or fps. Control: Ultimate Edition, released Feb. 2, is a far more drastic undertaking than these comparatively minor upgrades.
The PS5 version of Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment’s 2019 action-packed, mind-bending paranormal thriller takes full advantage of the powerful new hardware, transforming Control into one of the best next-gen experiences currently available. It follows Jesse Faden, a woman who arrives inexplicably at The Oldest House, the multidimensional headquarters to a mysterious government agency known as the Federal Bureau of Control, in search of her missing younger brother. Finding The Oldest House infested with an otherworldly evil force called “the Hiss,” Jesse arms herself with a shapeshifting, physics-defying gun and assumes the office of director, slowly unravelling the various mysteries that the Bureau is intricately tied up in.
Control is set apart from a sea of generic third-person shooters due both to its stunning Stanley Kubrick-inspired art design — The Oldest House is a breathtaking brutalist maze that operates beyond the limitations of spacetime, realized in-game with paradoxical, constantly warping geography — and to its fast-paced, flexible, challenging combat. Jesse nimbly moves through these astonishing, strikingly-lit environments, using her dash and levitation powers to add dimensionality to each gunfight.
Though players only use one gun throughout Control, the weapon can take various forms that each fulfill a distinct function and feel completely unique, thanks to the groundbreaking DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. In the shotgun-esque scatter form, for example, each individual blast resonates distinctly, while in pierce form, the trigger resistance and controller vibration build to a peak, indicating the gun is ready to fire. Further, Jesse’s gratifying telekinetic powers add nuance to each battle, encouraging players to experiment with various combinations of weapon attacks and abilities.
Combat is all the more rewarding due to Control’s excellent destruction physics. Most environments are full of glass panes, wood desks or marble blocks that satisfyingly shatter upon impact with Hiss soldiers and scatter debris across the battlefield. Remedy’s implementation of environmental destruction is particularly impressive because each object can recursively be broken down into smaller and smaller segments. The next-gen consoles’ particle-rendering capabilities are also given a solid work-out — glowing smoke clouds react in real-time to characters passing through them and particles leave behind a dazzling shimmer as they’re displaced.
Unique to Ultimate Edition is the ability to switch between two visual modes. In Graphics Mode, the game utilizes ray-tracing to create realistic lighting and accurate reflections in the glass, marble and metal that composes much of Control’s environments, though gameplay is locked at a sluggish 30 fps. Despite lacking the superior lighting granted by ray-tracing, however, Performance Mode ultimately wins out due to its ability to maintain a flawless 60 fps even in the most intense, graphically demanding sequences. One of the few disappointments in Control: Ultimate Edition is the lack of a “Performance RT Mode” as seen in Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which offers a less intensive version of ray-tracing while still hitting the 60 fps benchmark.
Alongside the base game, Ultimate Edition also packages in Control’s two post-campaign downloadable expansions, titled The Foundation and AWE. Though both expansions add innovative gameplay features that keep combat fresh (in particular AWE, which has touches of survival horror), their extensions to the narrative serve only to raise questions beyond the scope of the original game. Remedy, previously responsible for one of gaming’s defining franchises in Max Payne, hints at an exciting future in which their previous series Alan Wake crosses over with Control, but this sequel bait feels out of place in an otherwise tightly crafted story.
Upon first release, Control was a sneak peek at next-gen possibilities, a boundary-pushing promise of the future of gaming. Now, with Control: Ultimate Edition, the promise has actually been realized.
This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of Control: Ultimate Edition.
Neil Haeems is a deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected].