‘Control: AWE’ review: a mind-bending victory lap for one of this generation’s best games

Unravel Remedy Entertainments’ fascinating foundation for the future with an old friend in tow

The fact that we’re still thinking about Alan Wake more than a decade after its release is a testament to the miasmic world Remedy Entertainment crafted back in 2010. But after its sequel was squashed in favour of 2016’s Quantum Break, many fans were worried that they may never see the grand return of the tortured writer.

Yet in 2020, Remedy has found itself in charge of the perfect platform to investigate his disappearance. In the latest and final expansion for Control, a game about a shadowy organisation investigating paranatural forces from The Oldest House, a superpositioned brutalist skyscraper in New York City, Alan Wake just so happens to be the bureau’s most important subject.

Control: AWE
Control: AWE. Credit: Remedy Entertainment

After acquiring the rights to the Alan Wake franchise in 2019 from Microsoft, the studio has been building up its “Remedy Connected Universe” by sneaking easter eggs and references from its earlier games into Control, cleverly positioning the game’s Federal Bureau as an overseer of the surreal happenings in the studio’s back catalogue. The organisation’s classified recordings and redacted documents tell of Remedy’s past, but now they’re starting to tease its future, and the results are fascinating.

Control: AWE does a good job of getting you up to speed with the world of Alan Wake. In fact, you better gloss your eyeballs ahead of digging into this expansion, as there are several supplementary documents in the first room of the new Investigations Sector alone. As a lore nerd already hooked on Remedy’s inimitable writing style, this was music to my ears and helped to pace my short jaunt back into The Oldest House.

The gist is that Emil Hartman, the psychiatrist from Alan Wake, has been captured and experimented upon by the bureau – what’s left is a twisted monster that is haunting the sector. You’ll explore a number of Altered World Events as you hunt him down, ranging from the surface of the moon to the innards of a train cart which is both within and beyond reality. If that’s your bag, Control’s final expansion delivers in droves. Yet what’s most surprising is how AWE’s focus on Alan Wake allows Control to engage its players as a horror game.

Control: AWE
Control: AWE. Credit: Remedy Entertainment

The expansion triples the terror to deliver unnerving moments and frightful set pieces where you’re scrambling to reclaim chambers from thick, energy-sapping darkness while Hartman’s unruly form lurks, muttering to itself. Your powers and weapons are no use against the monster, turning each fight into a battle of cat and mouse.

AWE also upgrades the combat system with the introduction of a new weapon form, plus a revolutionary new ability called Multi-Launch that lets Jesse pick up three objects at once to hurl at a trio of Hiss foes. You’ll also spend a lot of your time using light sources to remove patches of darkness and solve puzzles, a mechanic that will be familiar to Alan Wake fans.

Disconnected from the expanded story is the new arcade machine system, that lets you play horde mode and time trial minigames, as well as giving players the chance to replay the finest moments from the main campaign. There’s also a delightful Boss Rush mode available for those keen to test their mettle. Perhaps my favourite technical addition is Assist Mode, which lets you tweak the rigid difficulty to your liking. While I personally enjoy the challenge of the combat, some players would rather just play through Control for the story, so the option to tweak everything to one’s liking is a boon for the game’s accessibility.

The spook factor in AWE eventually goes beyond pure shock and enters the playground of the surreal. What we’re left with is a disorienting package of narrative, constantly tinged with a low-lying drone of nausea that grows as you venture deeper into the unruly sector architecture. One moment early in my playthrough,I hovered down to a collectable only to see Hartman’s twisted face pressed against the doors, taunting me with a burst of manic laughter that I’m still dwelling on.

Control: AWE
Control: AWE. Credit: Remedy Entertainment

While playing AWE, I was reminded of a classic moment from David Lynch’s 2001 film Mulholland Drive, where a decrepit woman lurches into frame during an otherwise conventional scene. The Alan Wake puzzle pieces fit jagged into the Control jigsaw, and they pick at your understanding of its world, so you’re left with this powerful lump in your throat. Something isn’t quite right and you’re desperate to understand it, though the prospect fills you with fear.

There is plenty to figure out in AWE. I won’t dare spoil its most devilish reveals, but it’s safe to say that the future of the Remedy Connected Universe looks bright. It feels like the success of such a brave, strange game as Control has given the studio space to really dive off of the deep end. Fans of conventional, clear-cut narratives leave your conscience at the door, it’s about to get Weird.

‘Control: AWE’ is available now for PC (via the Epic Games Store), PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The expansion pack is also available on Steam for PC as part of the ‘Control: Ultimate Edition’ bundle.

Our Verdict

Control: AWE is a worthy expansion of the marvellous base game. It’s a victory lap of the game’s best features wrapped up in a new narrative that is as exciting as it is unnerving.

There’s plenty here for the lore nerds and hardcore Remedy Entertainment fans looking for clues to unravel a decade-long mystery, but it’s also well worth picking up if you’re just looking for extra well-tuned gameplay. Incredible depth and a new perspective on The Oldest House awaits those of you who thought you understood everything about Remedy’s shadowy bureau. As Alan Wake famously said: It’s not a lake… it’s an ocean.

Pros

  • AWE is an unmissable chaser to Control’s surreal story
  • Quality of life fixes, combat upgrades and the addition of Assist Mode bring meaningful development to the gameplay
  • The expansion is jam-packed with satisfying secrets and spooky set-pieces

Cons

  • It is happening again

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