Control was one of the most technically advanced games when it was released last year on PC, Xbox One and PS4.
In particular, on PC it’s innovative use of lighting, physics and ray-tracing was a true showcase of next-generation effects. And the story was no slouch either, written with clear inspiration from David Lynch and heavily influenced by the lore of the SCP foundation. It was a game where every audio log, every report, every overheard conversation was fundamental to understanding what was going on. It was engrossing in a way that most game worlds don’t ever quite achieve.
And now the first major single-player DLC is out, called Foundation. (Spoilers for the base game follow). After firmly closing off more Hiss from entering the world, putting her brother back in containment and care, and establishing herself more fully as the director, protagonist Jesse is ready to take on the next task. That comes knocking when the Bureau calls her to find out what’s going on in one of the oldest and most mysterious parts of the Oldest House, the eponymous Foundation.
At the Foundation Jesse finds a broken pillar, and the Astral Plane leaking into the Oldest House. The Bureau first task her with finding four locks / keys to resurrect the pillar (called the “nail”). But there’s an interloper, the Former, who may have something more to do with what’s going on. What this practically means is four short sidequests to access each key.
What surprised me was how much the Foundation DLC focused on third-person platforming. While by the end of the base game Jesse had all sort of dashes, levitation and shields, the side quests heavily focus on using these to get from point A to point B. And while the platforming didn’t feel bad in and of itself, with the controls working better than I expected, the heavy use of the “Astral Plane”, a blocky, relatively empty world was beautiful with some elements of the interesting environmental design the game is known for, but ultimately it felt overly linear and overall uninteresting. This is in comparison to the base game, where the interesting bureaucratic setting of the Oldest House and the Federal Bureau of Control that inhabited it was what drew me in just as much as the story being told or the gameplay. And while the Foundation area can be interesting, with remnants of old Bureau staff’s belongings and equipment scattered around, it is full of elevators and empty corridors that feel like hidden loading screens more than fundamental parts of the environment.
And I do have to call out one of the key unlock sequences, a train chase trying to catch an altered object. Despite the exciting premise, it’s simply boring, with a lengthy walk to the beginning of the chase, long stretches where nothing is happening, barely any health regeneration, and no checkpoints, so if you fall off or take too much damage, it’s all over. To me, it was simply not fun or interesting enough to make it feel worth it to try again, and the boss fight at the end of it feels annoying and frustrating to take down rather than challenging. I see what they were going for, and in another iteration it could have been a thrilling experience, but as it stands this sequence, too long by half, drags the whole DLC down.
In some instances combat does get a little more complex, and the two new abilities that Jesse gets are integrated nicely into the combat arenas. Despite my admittedly rusty skills, levitating, shooting and launching still remain key to getting through some tough enemies, and I did find that I had to be more aware of enemies sneaking up on me from behind, particularly the powerful pickaxe wielding Hiss.
Alongside the story DLC itself comes a whole range of updates to the base game that serve to improve the entire package. First and foremost, for PC games, specifically, RTX graphics cards owners, DLSS (a smart, AI upscaling technique) has received a huge overhaul, and is now even better than it was before. It should now be a no-brainer to enable DLSS almost regardless of the resolution that you play at. Even at the “quality” preset, the boost in frame-rate is significant, and works to offset the huge performance cost of enabling ray-tracing, even on my RTX 2080 Ti. There are also upgrades to map readability, the ability to respec your character, a new shield bash technique and other quality of life improvements. These are all welcome and make it a more flexible game that can be tuned to your play style.
If, like many, Control was one of your favourite games last year, and you want to go back to the intriguing world of the Federal Bureau of Control, then the Foundation DLC will spark your interest, and answer some of the lore questions left hanging from the base game. Certainly for players just finishing the base game, rolling onto the Foundation DLC will feel nature. But as a standalone package, for players coming back to the game, it could have done more to justify itself. While I’m always fascinated by the deep, complex, interwoven lore, and astounded by the technical achievement of the game’s presentation, unfortunately the gameplay simply isn’t there in enough convincing execution in this DLC. The updates to the core mechanics are welcome, and all new and old players will appreciate the upgrades in this department. In the end this DLC isn’t foundational to the game (pun intended), and its simplistic gameplay, running from point A to B, solving simple puzzles and taking out small groups of enemies didn’t hold up on my revisit to the game.
There’s still so much potential to this game, and I hope with the second upcoming DLC pack, AWE, that developer Remedy Entertainment pushes a bit further to get back to the quality of the fascinating base game experience.
Released: March 2020
Platforms: PC (Windows 10)
Genre: Action (DLC)
Publisher: 505 Games