Control: The Foundation (XOne) - ReviewLee Mehr , posted on 24 July 2020 / 2,170 Views
Before getting into the review, I believe it's important to emphasize that my gameplay experiences are limited to the Xbox One X version of Control: The Foundation. As was clarified when I reviewed Control last year, there may still be major framerate problems on base 8th-gen consoles. Although I will detail some of my own frustrations on this aspect, they—again—weren't egregious to the point of deducting points from the overall score.
After the award-garnering success of Control, Remedy was in prime position to showcase its promised story expansions. Given the circumstances of PS4 timed exclusivity, I patiently waited until I had a chance to dive back into the maximalist paranormal third-person shooter; the combat-intensive Expeditions appetizer wasn’t tempting enough. Now that the time's come, re-entering the shoes of Director Jesse Faden feels daunting and exhilarating all at once. And while I'm not confident in saying The Foundation tops Remedy's previous Alan Wake expansions, the expanded world and combat design left me hankering to spend more time in The Oldest House.
Director Faden has come to grips with the power and responsibility she wields. But the Federal Bureau of Control's (FBC) enemies, known as "The Hiss," are still at large across The Oldest House. After answering The Hotline, a group of ethereal supervisors known as The Board inform of potential calamity that could destroy everything. As the name implies, The Foundation is the base of the FBC's Brutalist building and The Hiss seek to infect it. One of your best agents, Marshall, went down there first but hasn't been heard from since.
If you're reading this and wondering what I'm throwing at you, it'd be best to complete the main story; in fact, that's a requirement. For a game with hub-based level design, credit is due for Remedy having that expectation. The SCP Foundation-inspired lore is quite dense and engaging; plus, it marries quite well with things that were previously hinted about The Board towards the campaign’s finale. It's a fair demand to have because dialogue and story developments blend succinctly with the post-credits game, versus the first time you arrive at the The Foundation’s locked door.
If there's one shift I enjoyed it would be the quieter atmosphere. That doesn't take away from what Control accomplishes in auditory overload, it's simply a sensible ideal here considering the location. Gone are most of the bureaucratic, managerial office areas in favor of massive obelisks, expansive tunnels, and consistent trips to the void-like Astral Plane. "Quieter" doesn't necessarily mean devoid of sound though. No matter where you venture, the low rumbles of shifting granite subtly suggest an oncoming collapse. Because of how this place effectively swallowed a different portion of The Oldest House, you tacitly understand the gravity of these two worlds slowly colliding.
Though condensed compared to others, The Foundation is one of my favorite stories I can recall in a game expansion. Because of its demand to complete the main story, the situation, characters, and dialogue don't feel as disjointed as other open-world games' post-release content. Side stories can be a tough sell, but this succeeds because Jesse's still wrestling with personal dilemmas that feel believable (given the circumstances). The most notable flaw is the slim amount of new interactions with Control's side characters; nevertheless, the isolating focus it’s trying to emphasize mostly works and feels truly substantial to the grander conflicts at hand.
Less sharp in its focus would be the gameplay. Just like the core game, The Foundation knows how to thrill in respect to its polished shooting and psionic abilities. Being away from it for nearly nine months, I instantly fell back into the adrenaline rush of hurling objects at unsuspecting enemies. All of the visual & aural splendor may be done in a different context, but the base sensations are still felt when looking at a battle’s aftermath. There may not be as many minuscule bits of destruction to witness as you'd see in the executive offices (possibly for a more stable framerate), but the ensuing chaos across underground caves & dig sites still looks detailed in its own right.
The Foundation hasn't forgotten its roots in another integral way: one of its best parts being a side mission. I'll keep details limited but suffice to say it's up there with the Ashtray Maze with respect to its surprising visual tone, soundtrack, and concept. Like that of the expansion's trailer music, the initial feeling I had was "direct this into my veins!"... until the final act showed up. Because of its heavier combat emphasis towards the end, Control's weaker elements begin to buckle. The management between platforming, side enemies, and a tough boss gets too cumbersome, with little in the way of health to assist you. This annoyance, along with the fail state needlessly setting you back at a distant spawn point, dampen my enthusiasm for what's otherwise a great scenic trip.
As expected, there are a few new gameplay nuances as well. There are new VI-tier personal & weapon mods to unearth, new Foundation-exclusive challenges, and some quality-of-life tweaks like resetting Jesse's ability tree (available via previous update). The new Hiss Sharpened variant is a melee-oriented foe that's able to teleport, shifting strategies in exciting ways. There are also Mimic characters whose only difference from humanoid Hiss enemies is their all-black skin—similar to that doppelganger in Annihilation (the movie).
Jesse is also gifted a new gun ability & power by The Board. Specific areas of the environment have these blue-green crystals that can be used to your advantage. Jesse's service weapon can shatter them and she can also create them, either as temporary platforms or spike traps. Several combat arenas enable you to use both in clever ways. In respect to puzzles, however? The routine of blasting stuff to lower a platform eventually became tiring. The UI & targeting for your powers feels unintuitive on occasion. Sometimes I'd grab a throwable object instead of engaging the spike trap right next to it; and when considering Control's frantic pace, those missed opportunities can result in being overwhelmed.
Plenty of the sensational elements have been transplanted and expanded upon; and yet, how Remedy manages specific combat arenas or design doesn't always work. The finale that's supposed to feel emotional & unsettling becomes annoying for how busy it feels managing a boss, minor enemies, and assisting various friendlies. It felt too... loose and uncoordinated for its own good. In summation, the framework is still there but the execution of its new ideas are mismanaged.
The Foundation's new environments feel appropriate, even if often understated. The rocky walls and crimson sand are good visual compliments, both aesthetically and for exploration. A lot of the main game's visual touchstones are well-incorporated and sell the strange world even more. A house's foundation evokes images of a simple concrete slab; Control's idea of a foundation is a labyrinthine maze. In respect to technical visual design and all sound aspects it’s another success. Courtney Hope's performance is solid, The Board's inflated screen time gives this expansion a different energy, and Northlight is still one of the most impressive game engines out there.
In respect to size and content, The Foundation is a 1:1 comparison to any of The Oldest House's big sectors. After 4.5 hours, with some stuff left to find, it's appropriately-priced at $15 and feels like a fleshed-out subsection. The collectibles range from papers to voice recordings and do their job of developing minor characters. It's slimmer if remaining on the main goal, but you'll be missing out on great supplementary content.
Remedy haven't made an attempt at expansions since the Alan Wake DLC episodes. Although Control: The Foundation doesn't reach the same height as those, their creative muscles haven't atrophied. The tweaks & updates to the game's design are worthwhile and subtly intertwined with the game proper, despite some concepts not sticking the landing. The bedrock is structurally sound, but the end result is satisfactory instead of outstanding.
This review is based on a digital copy of Control: The Foundation for the XOne, provided by the publisher.
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