Spoiler Space offers thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot points we can’t disclose in our official reviews. Fair warning: Major plot points for Control are revealed below, as are references to any connections it may or may not have to other video games.
Control is a game about mysteries, both in its actual plot and in the many mysteries contained within the twisting, transforming walls of The Oldest House—a Manhattan skyscraper that is secretly the headquarters for a government organization called The Federal Bureau Of Control. You play as Jesse Faden, a woman who has somehow found her way into The Oldest House just as an extra-dimensional force known as The Hiss has invaded the building. There are two immediate questions raised by Jesse’s arrival, and though the full extent of their answers aren’t given until much later, the basic explanation is established early on: The first question is why Jesse’s there at all, as she clearly has an agenda, and it’s quickly revealed that she’s trying to find her brother, Dylan, who was kidnapped by the FBC as a kid after he and Jesse had a “paranatural” experience in their hometown.
The second question is who you are. Throughout the game, Jesse frequently has an internal conversation of sorts with a voice in her head that is implied to be literally the person playing the game—like Elliot on Mr. Robot talking to the TV audience—but that’s more or less a red herring. Unfortunately, this ends up being one of the weaker threads of Control’s story, and while there are certainly references to certain characters being aware that their reality is (as one guy puts it) “a fucking boring game” in someone else’s universe, the voice in Jesse’s head is actually a seemingly benevolent extra-dimensional force that she calls Polaris. During this childhood experience, Jesse was apparently protected by Polaris and has been turning to this voice for guidance her whole life, while Dylan wasn’t so lucky and has spent his life being experimented on.
Control gestures toward the idea that Jesse is being manipulated by Polaris in the same way that the evil Hiss has been manipulating the FBC employees, even if she hasn’t been turned into a mindless murder drone, but neither Jesse nor the game itself seem to take that implication very seriously. You as the player don’t have any choice but to follow Polaris’ goals, because that’s how games work, and Jesse Faden is too self-assured to consider that the task she has taken on comes from anything but her own desire to help her brother. Control itself also seems too enamored with Jesse to really push that angle, but that’s probably for the best. She’s a great character, and having her come into the FBC as a Scully in an office of Mulders is a fun dynamic that doesn’t need to be upended.
Going back to my review, I also mentioned that Control feels like a spiritual successor to developer Remedy’s Alan Wake. While we’re spoiling things, though, I should say that the two games are actually much more closely connected than that term implies. So, let’s talk about Alan Wake: In that game, you play as a novelist (he’s a very overt Stephen King analog) who takes a vacation with his wife to a place called Bright Falls in hopes of clearing out a case of writer’s block. His wife ends up getting taken away by a mysterious supernatural force called the Dark Presence, and Alan has to fight his way through hordes of otherworldly shadow versions of the town’s inhabitants to try and get her in back. In the end, Alan determines that the only way to save his wife is by giving himself up to the Dark Presence, willingly trapping himself in a horror dimension where he has to literally find a way to write himself out.
Control makes you wait for them, but there are a bunch of references to Alan Wake (both the man and the game) if you know where to look. Near the end, Jesse discovers that the FBC has been monitoring her ever since it took away her brother, because the organization believed that she was a “Prime Candidate” to someday step in as the Director—the seventh one, to be specific. You meet another Prime Candidate over the course of the game (you may be able to guess who it is!), but only one of the others is ever identified. You can find documents about him scattered throughout a late-game area, but he was a famous writer who experienced a paranatural event in a place called Bright Falls and was transported into some dark dimension where he’s been trapped ever since. In short, the events of Alan Wake happened in the same universe as Control, but Alan Wake himself is no closer to actually getting back to his reality.
Other Alan Wake nods: There’s a callback to the Easter egg from that game that implied Remedy’s Max Payne video games were based on a book written by Alan Wake, and Control pays homage to a standout sequence from Alan Wake where you fought enemies on top of a pyrotechnics-loaded rock concert stage as a suspiciously relevant song played in the background. There’s no rock concert in Control, but Jesse does get a chance to listen to her own suspiciously relevant song that is once again written by Alan Wake’s Old Gods Of Asgard, a.k.a. real-life Finnish rock band Poets Of The Fall. Also, the FBC’s head researcher, who frequently pops up in video files, is played by Matthew Porreta, who previously provided the voice for—you guessed it—Alan Wake.
Finally, this isn’t really a spoiler, but I do want to highlight it as an incentive to see Control through to the end: After the credits, Jesse casually tosses off a line that is such an unexpectedly dry joke that it took me a moment to even realize that it was a joke at all. It’s fantastic and it’s a good example of how great the writing is here—but like most of Control, it’s best experienced in the normal way.