Control: AWE (XOne) - ReviewLee Mehr , posted on 27 September 2020 / 2,127 Views
[Reviewer's note: As previously stated, my experience with Control is limited to the Xbox One X. It's important to keep this in mind with respect to my potential ignorance of how well this expansion performs across other versions.]
The Oldest House gets a bit bigger in Control's final expansion. While the Brutalist architecture here feels more familiar, that doesn't mean Remedy is resting on its laurels. AWE's adventurousness comes more down to subtext and theme versus aesthetic. By incorporating its history, Remedy is able to reassess the ebb-n'-flow of combat scenarios, reconsider puzzle design, and re-emphasize its lore-heavy approach to storytelling. The murmurs of some kind of "connected universe" come to fruition and makes an AWE-some first impression.
A strange new arrival has come to Control in the form of a writer donning a tweed jacket. Once thought of as fun Easter eggs for fans, Alan Wake is officially part of The Remedy Connected Universe. Now? He's calling out for Jesse. At the sector elevator, a new floor button materializes before her: "Investigations Sector." Through some telepathic means, he reaches out to The Director in the hope she'll defeat the darkness lurking within that quarantined floor.
Alan Wake's role in this expansion is something that can be easily understood for those in the dark: he's a writer whose words shape reality. Manuscript pages he didn't remember typing prophesied his future actions in Bright Falls, Washington. Now, Jesse is the focal point of his attention. Through collectibles, in both the main game and this expansion, you learn the events that transpired in Alan Wake were due to an AWE (Altered World Event). After entries like the two Alan Wake DLC "episodes" and the under-appreciated Alan Wake's American Nightmare, we now see he's been kept in the mysterious Oceanview Motel.
The best quality of AWE's storyline is the comfortable fusion between Remedy's two distinct properties. Although specific features, including the main boss, may not carry the same narrative heft as they would for a fan, there's enough for those ignorant of the backstory to appreciate. There's a happy middle ground between light and shadow, science and superstition, the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. Since it lends itself to this Twilight Zone-style mystery, the reality-breaking occurrences and vague answers are a tonally fascinating contrast to the bureaucratic nature of the otherworldly Bureau.
There’s also a pleasant disparity with the previous expansion, The Foundation. The solid synthesis of past and future events makes them both feel like actual expansions. Discovering more about the interlocking systems of The Oldest House in Foundation and the potential role Wake fulfils here supports my lore-hungry mind even further. In a way, that's what Control as a whole taps into so well: the conspiracy mindset of diving further and further down a rabbit hole to explain what every individual occurrence means to the wider narrative. Like with SCP Foundation, the webs within webs of information are the biggest draw.
Even for those disconnected from Wake's past, this expansion's story understands that essence of mystery. If Alan Wake's writing can manipulate the surrounding world, what does that mean for Jesse? Her nonplussed reaction to this existential dread may seem unfitting at first glance, but I'd argue it's in keeping with her tenacity and focus. Jesse's newest adventure got me thinking about a once-dormant franchise in new ways; and it's with that and the way Wake's story is synthesized here that makes me appreciate it all the more.
Between comprehensive tweaks to the pre-existing package and new goodies, AWE succeeds in its gameplay as well.
As with the previous expansion, there are some new quality-of-life updates. A menu-within-a-menu, dubbed "Assist Mode," enables players to tweak damage doled out or taken, the quickness of energy reloads and ammo reloads, and more. Jesse can also hold multiple items at once when using Launch. Perhaps the most compelling portion is the careful re-working of checkpoints. Although I haven't filtered through all of The Oldest House's other sectors just yet, AWE's layout is among the smoothest in this regard.
Along with its consortium of gun variants and psionic powers, some new wrinkles have been added. The new weapon form, Surge, is a sticky bomb launcher with remote detonation. Also, in order to defeat The Darkness that's blockading certain paths Jesse has to utilize light. Depending on the situation, it can be as simple as using Launch with a spotlight or solving a short puzzle to burn through this slimy morass blocking your way. What I appreciate about this weapon & item usage is its effectiveness outside the expansion's area itself. A modified Surge is one of my favorite weapon forms and the potential for it beyond Investigations is really exciting. An expanded arsenal with more creative personal & weapon mods is exactly what I need to push through the daily challenges.
Aside from new toys, I can't help but admire how focused Remedy comes across here. Both in level design and enemy placement, AWE is among my favorite slices of gameplay pacing for this year. The light/dark puzzles when facing against Hartmann feel rewarding, the boxed-in sensation in several combat arenas is a great test of how dangerous Surge can be to Jesse, and the difficulty progression hits the correct spot with clinical precision. The light/dark mechanic isn't difficult to follow with respect to puzzles, but the overall flow between collectible-hunting, fighting, puzzle-solving, and more kept me entranced leading up to the boss fight.
The big, ugly wrench thrown into this mix would — sadly — be the final boss itself. It's a shame too because the built-up encounters with Hartmann do a good job establishing the stakes and his moveset. Striving to get power back up to unload on him seems like a simple solution. But the issues begin to compound once he's moved to his second stage. The quickness of his shield regeneration whenever lights are off, the severity of his life drain if he grabs you, and the potential for one move severely damaging you behind cover made me grind my teeth. Admittedly, it does tap into old-school ideals of exploring various stratagems and discovering the best one; however, Remedy's understandable intentions don’t work as planned. A few design tweaks could've made him a great boss encounter too.
Stepping away from exotic astral planes and crimson-sand dunes, Investigations Sector feels like classic Oldest House. The old-era technology housed within walls of thick concrete are a cornerstone of this expansion's aesthetic & atmosphere. But the familiar doesn't mean it's become blander. The satisfying chromatic aberration when killing enemies, the detailed destruction that can be left within each room, and other fantastic technical details still sell me on the world. The light/dark emphasis lends this area more of a horror theme as well.
Sound design remains top-notch, although there's a little less experimentation compared to The Foundation. Panopticon head Langston (Derek Hagan), along with Alan Wake (Matthew Porretta), are the main supporting characters for Jesse Faden (Courtney Hope) this time around. If there's one aural wrinkle to consider for sound and voice acting it would be the distortion; between Alan Wake's mind-melting trips and Hartmann's pained screams while talking, a lot of auditory tricks are utilized to make you feel uneasy. It may not have the surprise of a cart ride blasting 80s Retrowave, but all of its sound aspects are well-polished.
Value is an interesting proposition, depending on what you're looking for. For the main campaign, AWE is roughly 3 hours. It even feels shorter than The Foundation. I'd argue that it succeeds in trimming down any fat in the process, but perhaps that may not work for you. Campaign aside, there are a couple arcade cabinets that enable you to play various game modes. One such inclusion is a Horde Mode variant that's not afraid to be tough-as-nails from the start. Like the previous expansion, there's other side content to mull through as well.
Previously, I thought The Foundation was a worthwhile, if slightly lacking, expansion compared to Remedy's Alan Wake episodes. Leave it to Alan Wake's "reunion tour" to find that same level of excitement with Control: AWE. True, the final boss fight did tarnish some of my enthusiasm; however, this expansion succeeds so well by honoring both properties without one overwhelming the other. It's a successful melding of psychological & paranormal action elements into one great expansion. As Alan Wake alluded to over a decade ago, I'm excited to chart the depths of this ocean.
Despite being one of newest writers on VGChartz, Lee has been a part of the community for over a decade. His gaming history spans several console generations: N64 & NES at home while enjoying some Playstation, SEGA, and PC titles elsewhere. Being an Independent Contractor by trade (electric, plumbing, etc.) affords him more gaming luxuries today though. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.
This review is based on a digital copy of Control: AWE for the XOne, provided by the publisher.