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I really like Control, but I can’t stop thinking of all the missed opportunities

So I’ve been playing Control on and off since I got it almost on release. Well, more off than on, but I did beat it and the first DLC, the last time I walked away from it was midway through the second DLC. I have very mixed feelings about, and I mean truly mixed, not in a “meh” way. On the one hand, I feel like I’m supposed to love everything about it. I love Remedy, I adore narrative games, I’m into ominous, non-jumpscare horror, and I enjoy a bit of SCP every now and again. Control is beautifully designed, well-written, has gorgeous animation, voice acting, etc, etc.

But there’s a “but” coming, isn’t there? It amounts to this: almost everything Control does, I can’t help but feel could have been done so much better. First off, it’s simultaneously weird, but also very tame. Take your service weapon, for example. It’s ostensibly a shapeshifting gun that’s supposed to be a new incarnation of Excalibur and sodding Mjolnir, yet in Jesse’s hands it’s reduced to imitations of conventional ballistic weapons, and underwhelming ones at that. That shotgun mode is a disgrace, is what it is. Excalibur my ass. Even if you know what you’re doing and building for DPS the gun never feels as powerful as the lore suggests. For another example, take the much-hyped terrifying refrigerator. Now this thing is, on the surface, as SCP as they come – a weirdly ominous piece of kitchen furniture that should be watched at all times lest something terrible happens. Now, what actually happens once you touch it? You get to fight the most videogamey boss in the history of videogames – a huge frickin spider with a single glowing eye which is, get this, its weak point. How very kooky.

I can go on and on like this. I get that comparing Control directly to SCP might be a tad unfair, even though it’s practically begging for those comparisons at every point. But the thing is, it’s never as weird or mind-bending as the lore and the atmosphere seems to imply. Hell, it’s barely as weird as a New-York cop’s fever dreams.

Now, the gameplay. So, the gun is underwhelming, but the telekinesis is lit, so it should balance out, right? Well, kinda. If you want an action-heavy, bombastic style of combat, sure, it fits the bill. But does this style of combat fit the narrative and the atmosphere? You’re in this spooky-ass shifting house that’s being invaded by eldritch forces from beyond what we understand as spacetime, and yet the eldritch forces mainly manifest in decidedly non-eldritch commandos with weapons as boring as yours, which you face head on in explosive shootouts. Fun? Sure. But wouldn’t some sort of survival horror stealth-action affair fit the tone and the ideas so much better? Something like Evil Within 2, where you get cool, empowering weapons, but still need to sneak around and be careful because the monstrosities you’re facing are so damn dangerous. There’s a balance between power fantasy and horror.

Speaking of Evil Within 2, in that game you’re exploring a semi-open environment, and as you progress and clear out areas from enemies, those areas (mostly) stay clear. Wouldn’t something similar fit the idea of slowly taking back The Oldest House from the Hiss that much better? Do we really need the constantly respawning enemies that rob the game of any meaningful sense of progression? And since we’re on the subject of The Oldest House – it’s a wonderful place to explore, but what exactly are we exploring it for? Granted, sometimes you might find and interesting piece of lore, but often it would be yet another chest with some more randomly generated weapon and power mods. And don’t get me started on those – not only are they boring as all hell, they’re also tied into the mind-bogglingly clunky inventory system, where every time you need to get in there discard all the ones you don’t need to make room for more, most of which you aren’t going to need either.

Here’s the thing. I absolutely love the fact that Control exists and I’ll never regret having played it. It’s unique in the best possible way. But I find myself wishing that it were made by someone other than Remedy, even though no other studio could have possibly made it. Or maybe I just wish that Remedy tried to do something other than a third-person shooter. Maybe Control should have been made by Sam Lake and whoever is in charge of music and visual design at Remedy, but also some different gameplay designers.

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