STAFF REVIEW of Control: Ultimate Edition (Xbox Series X)

Wednesday, February 17, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Control: Ultimate Edition Box art The Summer of 2019 was great, as the long wait for Control was over and gamers got to experience a unique world crafted by one of my favorite developers, Remedy, best known for Max Payne, Quantum Break and Alan Wake. I ended up reviewing it and scored it quite well as I really enjoyed its narrative, combat and unique gameplay. For how much I enjoyed it, I did have a laundry list of issues with the game, such as map problems, major slowdown and screen tearing just to name a few.

Having released a year shy of the new consoles, many were wondering if Control would eventually get the X|S treatment to improve the game in numerous ways. The answer wasn’t so simple though. Many games will simply download the Xbox Series X version/update of a game if the developer and publisher has made it a free upgrade, of which the vast majority of games have done so free of charge if you previously purchased the Xbox One version already. While there are a few games that force you to rebuy the Series X version if you want the upgraded game, this isn’t common overall. Unfortunately, 505 has gone the route of making original Xbox One purchasers rebuy the newer Control: Ultimate Edition if they want access to the Series X version of the game. That’s right. If you’ve already purchased Control at its original launch but now want to replay the much better version, you’re going to have to pay for the Ultimate Edition to get access to it. There’s a whole bunch of PR speak of why this route was chosen, which I won’t delve into, and I have my own personal thoughts on this practice, but regardless of how I feel about the situation, Control: Ultimate Edition on Xbox Series X is the version I wish I could have played originally.

Full disclosure; we were provided a code for Control at its initial launch and one for Control: Ultimate Edition. Also, much of this Control: Ultimate Edition review will have content from my original review that pertains to the base game and its DLC.

Narrative has always been Remedy’s strong suit, even if it can get a little crazy at times with its supernatural elements; Control is no different. The Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) is a government agency, much like our real world FBI, but they focus on paranormal events and phenomena. You are Jesse Faden, searching not only for answers at the FBC but also your brother, only to be greeted by the Janitor upon entering. Even finding the FBC headquarters isn’t possible by normal means, so it’s clear that Jesse has some sort of deep connection to what’s taking place.

Jesse’s mainly looking for her lost brother Dylan, but she’s being guided by someone, or something, that she can converse with in her head. There’s also a major threat from an invading enemy known as The Hiss within the FBC walls, known as the Oldest House. The Hiss can corrupt nearly everyone it comes into contact with, as the vast majority of FBC workers have been possessed and turned into hostiles with super abilities. Jesse is special though, and regaining control is a job that she’s thrust into as the new Director of the FBC. I’d love to go into more narrative detail, but the story, lore and how it plays out really is Control’s greatest strength, and I won’t want to spoil much else. It’s also at times absolutely crazy, so trying to explain it in simple terms would also take a dozen more paragraphs.

Played in third person, much like their other games, you’ll feel at home if you’ve previously played Quantum Break, but you’ll also have access to supernatural abilities as you progress. You’re able to freely search the Oldest House, but certain pathways will not allow access until you find specific keycards. So while it’s somewhat an open adventure, you’re confined to a linear progression that’s narrative based, though there are a few branching paths with more than enough collectibles to seek.

Normally I’m not one to hunt and find out collectibles, but there’s an absolute truck load of them within the FBC walls. You’ll find memo’s, posters, notes, recordings and more, each of which expands the lore of Control’s world, almost to a point of being overwhelming. While I don’t want to spoil anything, there are ties to other Remedy games like Alan Wake, and more than a simple Easter Egg as well. Find enough of the collectibles and you might figure out how Control’s world is actually related to the one in Alan Wake as well. This alone excited me enough to seek out more of the hidden items and was foreshadowing, as eventually we got a second DLC: AWE, which tied the two worlds together in a really interesting way.

Because the FBC deals in the supernatural and paranormal, the building itself is also very deceiving. From the outside it looks like a standard building you’d see in any downtown core, but once you start exploring it within, you’ll realize that the innards are much larger than its walls. Walls will shape shift, move, extend and more as you progress, adding some very cool sequences along the way. Speaking of, one of the absolute best sequences actually occurred during my playthrough near the final chapter of Control. I won’t spoil what happens, or how, but make sure you make it through the Ashtray Maze at some point. Enough said.

Much like any government building, there are signs everywhere that show arrows of how to get to certain areas, rooms, sectors and more. This is how you’ll generally navigate your way from objective to objective. Since there is no breadcrumb trail leading to you where you need to go, you need to rely on this map heavily at times, it became quite frustrating, leaving me lost at times trying to figure out where I had to go, even on my second and third playthrough. The somewhat saving grace of this frustration was the inclusion of waypoints, cleverly referred to as control points. The main areas and hubs of the Oldest House need to be cleansed of all Hiss infecting it, and once done Jesse can revert the area into a safe zone, also allowing it to be used as a fast travel point, helping with exploration as you’ll need to backtrack many times to reach newly unlocked areas as you gain more clearance levels as the Director.

Jesse is chosen as the new Director, proven by wielding the Service Weapon. This paranormal gun may seem like an ordinary pistol at first, but there’s much more to it that you’ll uncover during your adventure. The first few firefights will feel like any other third person shooter, but eventually Jesse will come across Objects of Power, granting her new abilities like flying, telekinesis and more. Once you start to blend in abilities with the shooting mechanics, Control really starts to feel like its own experience, one that I enjoyed more as it progressed.

Your Service Weapon starts out as a basic pistol, but will eventually be able to be morphed and changed into having other properties, like a charge up shot or rapid fire like an SMG. Interestingly, Jesse can equip two forms of the gun at once, able to freely swap between their forms, but they share the same ammo source, one that refills automatically when not being used or shortly after its clip being emptied. This took me a while to get used to, as pressing ‘X’ switches your gun’s form, not reloading, as that’s done automatically. Eventually you’ll become accustomed to it, but it’s certainly not the norm. Also, your health doesn’t replenish automatically, so you’ll need to pick up glowing sprites from defeated Hiss to refill your health; something that can be quite dangerous during a massive battle.

Because of this shared ammo resource, you’ll also need to rely on your abilities to take out Hiss as well. I heavily relied on my telekinesis throw ability, allowing you to pick up nearly any object, or even debris, launching it at great velocity at enemies. Your abilities also share a resource as well, so you can’t freely dash everywhere or launch items without needing a rest period, so you’ll need to balance their usage. Enemies vary as well, so some will be nearly immune to bullets, yet can be killed easily with a thrown object, others will fly around, making it nearly impossible to hit with objects, so gunfire is your better option. While there’s not a vast variety of enemies, knowing how to defeat them individually and how to prioritize targets is how Jesse will survive large battles. Once you see these orb-like Hiss, you’ll need to make those priority number one, as they can heal enemies, but they move incredibly fast, so it’s a cat and mouse game of being mobile and interchanging weapon fire and abilities. This becomes quite chaotic later on, especially in the last few battles, but it’s also what makes Control shine and feel unique.

There’s also an upgrade system in place for Jesse to improve her Service Weapon and abilities. You’ll be able to craft a handful of different forms for the weapon, and even be able to upgrade them much later on, adding more mod slots. Defeated Hiss will drop random mods now and then, which can either be for your weapons, some for specific forms, or for Jesse herself as a personal mod, like more health, energy, quicker dashing, etc. You’ll gather numerous types of resources from enemies and hidden secrets, eventually unlocking all the way up to tier 5 mods which cost an extreme amount to craft, but add some huge bonuses. These upgrades really open up Control to play how you want, as you can boost headshot damage, reload speed, less ammo when floating and a ton of other mods to suit your playstyle.

Visually, Control is beyond impressive on Xbox Series X. One of the best improvements it made was adding a Performance or Graphics Mode. Graphics mode targets 30fps but on Series X it also adds ray tracing which gives the world reflections in many places. Graphics mode is absolutely beautiful to take in, especially with the newly added Photo Mode, as the reflections you see in the glass and shiny floors really adds to the realism, but the 30fps makes it perform just like its original release when I played on an Xbox One X. Performance mode is what I stuck with for my whole playthrough once I realized how smooth 60fps was. This mode does 1440p render resolution and 4K output, but the smoothness you get from the 60fps makes it feel like a completely new game. As for its audio, the voice acting is flawless due to Courtney Hope’s portrayal (whom you’ll recognize as Beth from Quantum Break), weapons and explosions explode with power and the soundtrack is very fitting for the setting, especially the sequence I alluded to above.

Control: Ultimate Edition not only includes the better looking and performing version of the core game, but also the two DLC packs as well (which are simply built into the game and not as separate DLC downloads, something that wasn’t explained clearly); The Foundation and AWE. So the first thing you’ll need to know about The Foundation is that it takes place directly after the main campaign, meaning you’ll need a completed game save from the base game, but for good reason, as you won’t have any idea what’s going on otherwise. Once installed, you’ll have a quest for The Foundation that begins in Central Executive then heading to the Hotline Chamber. As usual, the phone will ring, this time sending Jesse underneath the FBC only to learn that the Astral Plane is starting to bleed into reality.

So what’s new in The Foundation? Obviously the story continuation is its main draw but there’s new missions, mods, abilities and a new enemy you’ll encounter here as well. While the core gameplay is essentially unchanged from the base game, your new abilities are quite interesting. One allows you to use your telepathy and create crystal platforms to use as ledges, essentially pulling them out of specific spots on certain walls. The other allows you destroy specific crystals that obstruct you from venturing any further until you have said power. Using your powers on specific traps can be used to your advantage in combat as well, lifting a row of spikes to damage enemies or create a wall to block enemy projectiles. Keep in mind that these abilities are only used in The Foundation, but they fit fluidly into Control’s flow and combat quite nicely.

While only introducing one new enemy was a little bit of a letdown, these Hiss seemed to have been workers in the Foundation at some point is my guess, as they will charge at you with their pickaxes at great speed, even using some minor teleportation to avoid attacks and dodge your projectiles. While they are simply grunt enemies, they can quickly overwhelm you in combat when also having to deal with other Hiss types, ones that you’re more than used to by now from the main campaign.

As for the AWE expansion, I was really excited to play this, as Alan Wake is one of my all time favorite games, so I couldn't want to get back to its world in some form. Given that Alan Wake had a light and dark element to it, it is the same here, as you'll need to use your telekinesis to hold lights at certain black goo that stops you from progressing. There's a constant boss creature that you're following throughout a new wing in the Old House, and these were quite challenging, usually forcing you to turn on some lights so you can defeat it; if only it was that simple. If you aren't a huge Alan Wake fan you'll probably be annoyed with the constant darkness and these boss arenas as you progress, but for fans, the integration of Alan Wake into Control's shared world opens up a ton of possibilities, especially when you see AWE's conclusion.

More so than the 60fps addition, I really enjoyed the quality of life improvements that have been added and included since I originally played at launch. While I was able to get through the game initially without too much trouble, there were some very difficult firefights and sections that took a few attempts. Since then, some quality of life improvements and assist mode options have been included for those that want them. For someone going on their third playthrough, this was very welcomed as I wanted to simply get through the game as quickly as I could since I’ve already experienced the narrative already. The main options that you can toggle are some very severe auto locking on enemies, quicker energy and ammunition regeneration and even single hit kills on enemies, including the harder enemies and bosses. For someone that would want to experience Control for its setting and narrative and doesn’t want to have a hassle with combat, these accessibility options are an amazing addition for those that want it.

While Control didn’t always run very well on an Xbox One X, it was at least mostly consistent. I actually lost count how many times Control: Ultimate Edition crashed to the dashboard on my Series X, much more than any other game I’ve played on the new console since its launch. Yes, the game is rendering higher output along with 60fps, there’s heavy physic based combat and explosions are plenty, but it crashed on me way more than is allowable. Thankfully the autosave is often, so there wasn’t much backtracking I had to do, but still, it’s unacceptable, more so if you’ve purchased the game for a second time to get the Series X version.

Control has that signature Remedy feel to it, from its unique combat to its completely out there narrative, something only Sam Lake could be a part of. Although the story is Control’s strongest asset, it will take a lot of concentration to piece it all together. While I’m not a fan of forcing a rebuy to get the Series X|S version if you bought the base game at launch, Control: Ultimate Edition is without a doubt the definitive edition you want to experience, even if it’s for the second time, as the 60fps Performance Mode makes it feel like a completely new and better game. Welcome to the FBC Director.

** Control: Ultimate Edition was reviewed on an Xbox Series X **

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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