2019 Game of the Year: Control

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The end of a console generation usually signals a wave of indelible experiences. After years of learning a system’s capabilities, resourceful game developers craft the console’s grandiose swan songs. From 2011 to 2013, the last three years of the PlayStation3/Xbox 360 generation, these noteworthy games were released:

  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
  • L.A. Noire (2011)
  • Portal 2 (2011)
  • Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (2011)
  • Dishonored (2012)
  • Halo 4 (2012)
  • Journey (2012)
  • Mass Effect 3 (2012)
  • BioShock Infinite (2013)
  • Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
  • Gone Home (2013)
  • The Last of Us (2013)

With the new Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 on the way, 2020 marks the last year of this console cycle. While 2020 looks to send the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 out with a bang, 2019 offered a more modest slate. As with 2018, there was a little something for everyone.

For those who like a challenge, there was Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. For those who like to battle royale, there was Apex Legends. For those who want to visit a galaxy far, far away, there was Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. For those who like exploring the cosmos, either in a rickety spacecraft or a darkly comic corporatocracy, there was Outer Wilds and The Outer Worlds. (Not confusing at all.) For those who want to play part-time surveyor and full-time parent, there was Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding. Finally, for those who thrive in unbridled, personally manufactured chaos, there was Untitled Goose Game.

I played most of those titles, being too much of a coward to brave Sekiro alone or build 50 hours worth of bridges in Death Stranding. Both Outer titles had my attention, but nothing captured it like Control, a third-person action-adventure game from Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment. Repeatedly, the games industry has relayed its best narratives through that lens. Including Control, third-person action-adventure games have won my personal game of the year award in five of seven years I’ve written about them.

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In Control, Jesse Faden (Courtney Hope) heads to the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), a surreptitious government agency, searching for her lost younger brother. Her brother, Dylan (Sean Durrie), was abducted by the FBC as a child when he was found in possession of a supernatural Object of Power. Jesse scours the nearly deserted agency headquarters (also known as The Oldest House) for her brother before entering the director’s office to find the director dead by suicide. Oddly, Jesse is selected as the new director by the Oldest House. When a mysterious zombie army called the Hiss infiltrates the facility, Jesse must protect the Oldest House while she uncovers what became of Dylan.

Remedy is no stranger to story-based games, having developed Xbox exclusives Quantum Break (2016) and hidden-gem Alan Wake (2010). Control exchanges Quantum Break’s science fiction narrative for supernatural horror, returning the studio to a familiar place for fans of Alan Wake. While Remedy’s last two games were character-focused, Control is about unearthing the secrets of the Oldest House. The Oldest House contains hidden video logs, files, and audio recordings about its shadowy employees and deadly Objects of Power.

Control’s faintly illuminated brutalist offices never shine brighter than during its gameplay sequences. Through Jesse, players command the director’s Service Weapon, a metamorphizing gun capable of changing its shape, size, and projectile type. For added variety, Remedy borrows its player powers from Quantum Break and Alan Wake. Jesse hurls desks, computers, and an assortment of other office equipment at her foes using a form of telekinesis. 

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As Jesse upgrades her supernatural powers, she can shield herself, seize enemies, and launch them at one another. Oh, and she can fly. Control can be played as a straight shooter or a superhero brawler. For the best results, players will combine Jesse’s abilities to pummel the Hiss.

The Finnish studio capitalized on a decade of successful (if underplayed) games to construct a well-recognized, atmospheric one. Control is one of few memorable entries in a forgettable year for video games.