Okay, before we begin, let me give you a chance to get very angry. I have never seen X-Files (I was young, okay?) and the extent of my science fiction education came from intermittent episodes of Star Trek and Men in Black, not (and duck for flung debris) Star Wars. And I apologise. I just wasn’t there.
The gateway drug into the weird and warped was probably from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with a large array of monsters, demons and otherworldly creepy-crawlies to frighten and unnerve. After that, a few doses of Doctor Who and dabbling in horror sent me happily over the edge into everything from Alien to Signs. It didn’t really matter what monstrous form reared its head at the end, as long as I was unsettled and unnerved throughout.
This is exactly where Control comes into play.
There’s a lot to love about Control and mostly I can only think of good things. The design, the gameplay, the world building – it all blends into a delectable paranormal enthused slushy fit for slurping. Just watch out for the brain freeze.
The premise is simple: Jesse Faden arrives at The Oldest House in search of her brother. Years of hunting have led her to this exact moment in this exact deserted foyer. She calls out and, as the player, you wonder who or what might respond. That feeling never goes away. Like Theseus tying his thread to the post and entering the labyrinth, you just feel compelled to descend ever further. Only thing is, you expect answers and a lot of the time, they just mean more questions. This is the kind of deep-dive immersion I love. It’s mind-boggling, frustrating and completely addictive. With no other game have I sat and spent the time to read the documents you pick up along the way, indulging in their SCP vibes. (Don’t know it? Look it up and prepare to get lost).
Control isn’t explicitly a horror game, but science fiction always has a habit of falling into horror tropes such as body horror. Fear is in the unknown, the future is unknown, and it’s totally plausible that knocking on that door to the future you’re going to invite in things you never expected – or necessarily wanted. Such in Control, that is The Hiss. A disembodied presence that mutates its targets into unthinking soldiers bent on killing you.
Usually, the brutalist structure of The Federal Bureau of Control is a simple stark grey monochrome with a red carpet. The more you play the game, the more you’ll find ‘red’ means ‘The Hiss’. When first witnessing its impacts on the space, it’s like seeing a parallel universe crunching its jaws over the brickwork and trying to take a bite out. What results from this are a series of flinching, overlapping cubes, encroaching into the mundane office space like geometric tumours.
Control plays with this architectural ‘glitching’, fusing humdrum elements of normal life, like boring toilet cubicles and desks littered with paperwork, and suspending them in the glowing white Astral Plane – an empty space filled only with black cubes and the office debris. That’s not the only thing that’s suspended though. You also have Hiss infected employees, chanting in mid-air. Some of them, you’ll never be able to save.
Control gives you the sense of déjà vu. Maybe it’s heavy 60s design, 70s equipment of slide projectors and pneumatic tubes, or Jesse’s very modern-day leather jacket. Maybe it’s the normality of the stark office space, the professional jargon, the complaints and reports you can sift through. Maybe it’s just the gentle disconcertion that nothing is as it seems. As quickly as the monsters appear, they vanish, and you’re left in an empty room as if nothing happened.