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Finnish studio Remedy Entertainment has become world-renowned for its storytelling. And through titles like Max Payne, Alan Wake and Quantum Break, they've successfully combined that narrative strength with sublime action, pushing the player through a succession of set-piece encounters on a tight, linear path. But for Control, they're doing something different.
"The biggest change that we've done is shifted the responsibility of understanding the world to the player," says Mikael Kasurinen, Control's game director. Which is to say: it's on you, the player, to navigate Control's setting, the Oldest House, without relying on the usual closed-in corridors or blinking waypoints on the periphery of your screen.
"With Control, it's important for us that we give agency to the player," he continues. "It's really up to them to figure out what this world is, and how it works, and how to go forward. So if you activate a quest, you won't suddenly get a marker in the HUD, telling you to go there. Because what happens then is that you just focus on that, and you don't look around - and that's the opposite of what we want."
Located in New York, the Oldest House is home to the Federal Bureau of Control, an agency tasked with investigating - and containing - unexplained phenomena. For reasons, its walls and halls can move, new doorways opening up as the building is explored. And you - as the FBC's director Jesse Faden - have to dig into every dark and dangerous corner of the headquarters to drive away a hostile, supernatural force that's infected the building, the Hiss.
And getting around the Oldest House is going to test your map reading and sign spotting skills. Kasurinen explains: "We want the player to stop and check where things are; to bring up there map, and then find their way to their destination using the signs in the Oldest House."
"Maybe they'll get distracted, and go and do a side-mission they weren't expecting," he continues. "But that's exactly what we want to happen. We want you to look at this world, at the Oldest House, and experience it as it's supposed to be, without being told how you're supposed to experience it."
But won't that bother players who are used to being told where to go, and when, to get to the end of the story? Kasurinen, and narrative designer Brooke Maggs, don't think so.
"It's on us to set up the expectations of how you will engage with this world," says Maggs. "In the past, it's been a more linear experience, which is totally valid. But the other way is to have all of these places to explore, built into the world, into the Oldest House - which is a shifting place, so not even the bureau agents know all the parts of it, which gives us license to really explore that as a concept."
And it's not like Jesse knows where she's going all the time, either, meaning that the player is having a shared experience with the protagonist they're walking in the boots of. "Jesse's always felt like an outsider," Kasurinen adds, not that we're about to spoil her backstory here. "And to her, she finds a kind of home in the Bureau of Control, a place that she can maybe belong to. And through that, we have a character who you go through a journey with, through this strange place."
Remedy is confident that, based on community feedback to its previous games, it's moving in the right direction with a game that gives the player more freedom than ever before. And they're also certain that, as maze-like as Control seems to be, players are going to uncover all of its secrets, however well they hide them.
"Players are smart people, and we never want to make the mistake of underestimating them," says Kasurinen. "Quite the opposite - looking at our fans, who play the games that we create, they are able to figure out even the hardest secrets that we've hidden in the games. They will figure this stuff out. And they will create their theories that prove to be absolutely accurate, without us giving too many hints. So with Control, we've moved more into that direction, with a lot less hand-holding, trusting that the player is ready to invest their energy and time into the game."
If there's one constant that Remedy has established across its games, it's trust that these experiences will be ones to remember. You only need to look at the comments we receive on our socials anytime we mention the studio, asking for an Alan Wake sequel or a new Max Payne, to see that loud and clear.
And if Control fully delivers on its promise of matching a compelling story with gameplay that evolves its makers' action formula, opening up a greater degree of exploration and hunch-following excursions (we've played it, and that's looking likely), it's going to be another special game from a studio with a habit of producing them.
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