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Control was GAMINGbible's number one game of 2019, leading the pack of last year's highlights ahead of Resident Evil 2, Outer Wilds, Luigi's Mansion 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. And it didn't win by a pinch, either - Remedy Entertainment's enthralling, bewitching, uncommonly deep adventure into a surreal government building of shape-shifting proportions, and through both our known world and wholly alien astral planes, absolutely ran away with the voting, coming top of the pile by a comfortable margin. We awarded the game a 9/10 score on release, and having gone back to it lately, Control still completely warrants such a score.
And the reason why we've been returning to Control? The game's first major piece of DLC, The Foundation, releases today for PC and PlayStation 4. Disappointingly, Xbox One players (like myself) will have to wait until June 25 to get The Foundation - but we'll get onto that, in a moment.
The Foundation sends protagonist Jesse Faden deeper into the game's superbly weird setting, The Oldest House, where she uncovers all manner of hush-hush secrets and might just get to the bottom of where a key NPC, Helen Marshall, disappeared during the events of the main game. It also adds new abilities and enemies, and tweaks certain parts of the experience to improve how you manage Jesse's amazing powers.
You can read our early impressions (note: we've not yet finished the DLC) of The Foundation here. Before its release, we jumped on a Skype chat with three key people at Remedy - Control's director Mikael Kasurinen, senior designer Sergey Mohov, and communications director Thomas Puha - to talk about the DLC, Control's amazing reception and awards haul, and what's next for the Finnish studio.
First things first, guys, how is Remedy dealing with the current situation affecting the world? You're all speaking from your homes - has the studio been able to continue without too many problems?
Thomas: Remedy tends to be meticulous about things, so in February the company started planning how to work remotely. It's been surprisingly fast. But it's not like you can just up sticks and everything works like before, definitely not. We're doing our part to help our society and keep our employees safe. The DLC was mostly done before this, so it's not been impacted that badly. But you have to keep the business going - and try to keep life going, despite these strange times.
That's good to hear. Now, The Foundation - this is very much end-game content, isn't it? It's not the kind of DLC we've seen for games like Horizon Zero Dawn and The Witcher 3, that can be dropped into before you've seen the main game's end credits?
Mikael: We had a number of discussions about it, but when you look at Jesse's journey, what she's gone through, and what we wanted to do with The Foundation, the story we wanted to tell with it, this was the only way to make it work - by having it at the end of the game. So the creative side of the project really led the way for how the DLC fits into the main game. It's a continuation to the story we've got already - this is a new phase for Jesse, in terms of who she is and how she handles things. The dangers and threats she has to deal with, too. Those are the things we're focusing on with The Foundation.
Sergey: On the gameplay side, there's also a good reason for us going with the DLC in this way. We expect the player to have finished the main campaign because we wanted to push their progression a bit further, and add new abilities - and these abilities only really make sense when they're added to the top of Jesse's powers from the main game. We've added extra levels for enemies, too, to challenge you more; and that only really made sense at the end of the main game, in a linear progression way.
Mikael: With Control, we want to give the player a sense of confidence. We want to push forward, and one of the things we wanted to do with The Foundation is not just repeat things we already had in the main game. We wanted to explore new directions, and see how far we can go with certain elements. And we do not worry too much about who's finished the game, from the creative side. I think people who go and play the expansions are already committed to Control, so it doesn't make sense for us to think about these expansions as a way to get new players into the game. The expansions are for the people who are invested in this universe, and who want more of it.
Thomas: The percentage of people who have finished Control is relatively high, compared to other games. We know what the pain points in it are (the places where players stop playing, or can't beat), and they're clearly the last two missions. That's unfortunate, but we also see people coming back and being able to get through them with the right load-out. But we thought about the DLC more from the creative side, rather than getting stuck in the numbers. The painful thing from the development side is that you know what the pain points are going to be, by the time the game is going to ship, but there's nothing you can do about it.
Sergey: We're pushing you from different directions with the DLC. We've added a new enemy type that's more melee-orientated, and we've added a skill that lets you counter them more effectively. We're looking for these synergies in the gameplay that push you to make interesting decisions in combat. And by the time you finish the main game's campaign, we know you have a certain amount of these abilities at your disposal, so we can build challenges that test the different skills, and engage people in different ways.
One thing we've added, you'll see straight away. We've noticed that people don't use the Shield ability as much as other abilities, but we know it's very useful in some situations. So we've added a new upgrade called Shield Rush, that'll let you use Shield more offensively. Alongside the new enemy, that creates a new type of gameplay that addresses this problem that we were seeing, in the main game, of people not using Shield in the right situations. The hope is that this pushes people to use the ability more. And of course, you need more ability points, so we're adding a re-spec function to the abilities, so you can re-spend your points.
The story of Control was one of its greatest strengths, and fans have really enjoyed digging into it, looking for connections - between elements of this game, and how Control relates to previous, and maybe future, Remedy games. Is The Foundation going to deepen this side of the experience, and maybe contain even more easter eggs that point to other Remedy projects?
Mikael: When you look at Control and how we handle storytelling, you can split it into two different pieces. One is about the characters, and the journeys that they go through. We want to be clear about how they're dealing with things, and their arcs and the conclusion of them. We want to be clear about those, and that they're engaging stories. And then there's the world side, and the world is mysterious, complex and deep. We invite players to participate and figure out things for themselves. The Foundation will continue that, and everything we're going to do with Control in the future will do the same.
Sergey: I don't want to spoil anything! I've almost spoiled a really cool secret in the past, and I don't want to do that again. Obviously Marshall is a whole thread that's not followed in the main game of Control, and The Foundation does follow that thread, to its resolution. Where did Marshall go? Why did she disappear? Did she have to go deal with a crisis somewhere? I guess you'll find out!
"Seeing this recognition, this love, has been amazing. We're extremely happy about it... It's meant a lot."
- Mikael Kasurinen
A lot of people found certain set-pieces in Control - especially the Ashtray Maze - pretty remarkable, and I know they'd love to go back and play them without that affecting their saves, or having to start the game again. Any chance that's something that could be patched into the game, down the line?
Thomas: We recognise the impact that something like The Ashtray Maze has had on people, and that's something that we pay attention to. We want people to have the best possible Control experience, and that's really all we can say at this point.
Sergey: I don't know how much I can say, again, about any new set-pieces in The Foundation. But it'll be cool - there's cool stuff. I can't talk about what we might do in the future, regarding replaying earlier missions, but in The Foundation there are some things that people won't be expecting, and that they'll be happy about.
And what about the timed nature of the DLC? It's great that PC and PlayStation users can get it now - but as game-makers, how do you feel about other players not being able to get it?
Thomas: It's a tricky one. Ideally, we'd be putting all the content out at the same time. We're all consumers as well, and the second expansion (AWE, due in mid-2020) will be out at the same time for all platforms. But the reality is that when you're working on a new IP, and when you are a relatively small, independent developer with a relatively small publisher - no offence to 505 - that means we don't have tens of millions to spend on visibility. And at the end of the day, getting the word out is critical - and to get that support, you have to make some difficult choices.
Everything's a balancing act, and everything comes with a price, and we were able to make the best game possible because of the choices we made (like partnering with PlayStation for support on this DLC). Ideally, moving forward, everything comes out at the same time. It's difficult to bring out new IP. Either you have 20, 30 million to spend on marketing - which isn't even that much, for the big players these days, but very far from the reality for most of us.
We've got to talk about awards. Yeah yeah, getting named Game of the Year by GAMINGbible is cool and everything, obviously. But Control has got 11 nominations at 2020's BAFTAs, and has already taken home wins from The Golden Joysticks, The Game Awards, The D.I.C.E. Awards and more. Now you've some distance from Control's release, how does all of this acclaim make you feel?
Mikael: It's very humbling. We've been making games for a while, and seeing a response like this is beyond anything we expected, honestly. It's been hard to even express, how much it's meant to me, and to everyone else in the studio. Seeing this recognition, this love, has been amazing. We're extremely happy about it... It's meant a lot.
And it kind of validates a few things that we thought carefully about when we started this project. We wanted to do something that was creative, but to be ourselves. This response gives us confidence for the future, which is fantastic.
Sergey: I slightly freaked out when I saw the BAFTA nominations coming in. Before Control shipped, we were unsure about how people would react to the game. We knew the game was pretty weird. There was no telling what the reaction would be. So the fact that people like our weird game, after we'd been working on it in a vacuum for three years, it's pretty empowering. The players really understand what this game is, they like what they see and they engage with it. So that means we can make more of it, and lean into the strengths of it for the future.
Thomas: It does mean a lot - we're not just saying that. Whatever the message, be that from the BAFTAs or media or players, it spreads through the studio and means a lot. Folks shouldn't underestimate the impact this reception has had on us.
And what is next for Remedy? When I spoke to (Remedy's creative director) Sam Lake last summer, just before Control's release, he was really keen on resurrecting Alan Wake in a meaningful way, now the studio has the rights to it.
Mikael: Regarding new projects, we never work in a way where we just start a new thing. We think through the concepts, and it's not just the creative side - there's always a business angle to consider. It was the same case with Control. But ultimately it's about choices you make on a strategic level, and we're going to keep working like that.
We are a multi-project organisation and we do have a lot of things going on. But this isn't the moment to talk about them.
Thomas: Remedy's been around for a long time - whether we've got a hot game out or not, we've always been an interesting company, and there's always demand for our content. But having said that, this is a hit-driven industry, and when you create something that's popular, and wins awards, and gets great reviews, that does change the discussion around you. In a very positive way. When you get some success, everyone wants to be your friend - so we're making sure to not get big-headed or anything, and we're not like that anyway.
Control's first expansion, The Foundation, is out now for PlayStation 4 and PC, and comes to Xbox One on June 25. The game's next expansion, the Alan Wake-flavoured (or so we think) AWE, follows in mid-2020, fingers crossed.