Over the next few days, we will reveal what we believe are the 10 best games of 2019, organized by release date. Then, on December 17, we will reveal which of the nominees gets to take home the coveted title of GameSpot’s Best Game of 2019. So be sure to come back then for the big announcement, and in the meantime, follow along with all of our other end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best of 2019 hub.
Remedy Entertainment excels at creating deep worlds with each of its new games, but none is quite so fleshed-out and exciting to explore as the developer’s latest, Control. Set in a government office building that houses a department specifically geared at investigating, containing, and understanding paranormal artifacts, Control drops you in a strange and shifting world full of mysteries, and one that’s incredibly well-realized–the result of a confluence of writing, gameplay, visual artistry, and singular vision.
From the first moment you set foot in the Oldest House, itself a potentially-sentient structure whose corridors and rooms change and mutate of their own accord, Control revels in its sense of the supernatural uncanny. Its influences are immediately apparent: As much as it might draw on real science and history as a grounding for its extra-ordinary events, it also pulls ideas from the online creepypasta database SCP and leans into Remedy’s long-running fascination with the works of David Lynch. As the new director of the Federal Bureau of Control, Jesse, you’re tasked with both saving and exploring this world that even the characters of the Bureau don’t really understand. That gives Remedy plenty of room to make Control remarkably weird, but in a delightful way–it can be strange, fascinating, horrifying, and hilarious in equal measure (and sometimes simultaneously). It’s all thanks to well-drawn characters and strong writing throughout, which makes seeking out the inter-office memos and files that shed light on the inner workings of the Bureau a motivation to play the game in and of itself.
From a gameplay standpoint, Control often is a full realization of Remedy’s brand of action, culminating ideas that have been kicking around in its other games for some time. As you find various supernatural Objects of Power scattered throughout the Oldest House, you gain a variety of new abilities, like picking up and tossing objects at enemies with your mind, levitating around huge rooms, and using chunks of concrete walls and floors as shields. Control is a fast-action third-person shooter at its heart, but the gunplay takes a back seat to the combinations of abilities you can use to get the upper-hand on your opponents. And it’s often a blast, especially as you gain more and more ridiculous power. It helps that, graphically, Control is gorgeous; every camera movement looks like a planned bit of cinematography as you play, and shredding the Oldest House in combat is a delight of flying papers and bits of concrete that make the powers you’re wielding feel all the more fantastic–and believable.
Though Control’s gameplay lends itself to cool moments, it’s everything surrounding the action that really makes the game special. Every step through the Oldest House reveals something new about the game’s world, whether through Jesse’s internal monologue musings, her interactions with the other characters, or the many tidbits of story you discover through the files and documents that litter its halls. Remedy sets its game in a version of reality filled with a vaster and less understandable world hidden just beneath the surface, and it’s bursting with ideas that beg to be explored.
There’s the otherworldly motel filled with locked rooms, which links sections of the Oldest House together like a metaphysical conduit–and whose physical location can’t be pinned down. There’s the standout Ashtray Maze section, in which you fight through an ever-changing Overlook Hotel-like locale that expands and contracts in impossible ways, set to a kick-ass soundtrack. You’ll venture to the Astral Plane and have interactions with The Board, the vaguely menacing extradimensional presence that seems to guide the Bureau. All the while, you’re dealing with the Hiss, the evil presence that threatens to take over everything by literally possessing the Bureau’s employees to fulfill an unknowable agenda.
Just as interesting are the tidbits Remedy throws in that give Control a uniquely uncanny feel. Hidden throughout the offices are films created by the Bureau’s lead researcher, Casper Darling, in which he excitedly explains the paranormal entities and artifacts the agency specializes in–while constantly revealing how little anyone actually knows about what they’re dealing with and how dangerous it is. There are the Threshold Kids episodes, a series of low-fidelity puppet show videos meant to teach children living in the Bureau about its intricacies, all of which have an undercurrent of horror flowing through them. Even memos and messages sent between characters that you discover along the way are constantly challenging you to make connections and fill in gaps in the world yourself. Remedy’s consistently excellent writing makes each of these worthy reasons to stop and read in the middle of a game about flying around and using telekineses to smash monsters. It all works together to compel you to continually explore the Oldest House and try to understand its secrets–even as the whole point, made clear again and again, is that the people of the Bureau are in over their heads, fumbling away at something they’ll never sufficiently understand or, ahem, control.
More than any other game this year (and many others), I lost myself to Control. Its expertly crafted world is incredibly deep, vast, and intriguing, stretching out from the Oldest House like the gnarled roots of an ancient tree. Every time I booted up the game, I discovered something new, from Control’s links to Remedy’s past works that create an intricate universe of stories, to little tidbits that gave new insights on easy-to-miss story beats. Control is amazingly dense and lovingly constructed by a team that knew exactly what it wanted to make. It’s a game that is truly more than the sum of its parts, and you absolutely should wander its shifting, perilous corridors to see what you can discover.