Games I Played in April 2024

Control. (Source: Remedy Media Kit.)

Control (Remedy Entertainment) launched to the top of my to-play list once I learned that the story existed within the same universe as Alan Wake, which was my favorite game from last year. From the opening cinematic, I knew this game would hit all the right vibes for me, and as I continued playing, I only fell in love with it more and more.

When Jesse Faden enters the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) looking for her brother, who was taken who was taken by the FBC following a devastating Altered World Event (AWE) when they were children, she learns that the building — called the Oldest House — is under lockdown due to an incursion from an unforeseen threat, the Hiss. Upon discovering the Director dead in his office, Jesse picks up his service weapon, which initiates a test on the Astral Plane. She survives the test, thus becoming the new Director of the FBC.

The gameplay involves exploring the Oldest House and its different departments — both to eliminate the Hiss, stabilize the House and the dangerous objects kept inside, and discover what happened to Jesse’s brother and the circumstances surrounding the AWE that separated them.

Control. (Source: Remedy Media Kit.)

The deeper Jesse delves into the House, the more power she gains by discovering various Objects of Power, granting her telekinesis, mind control, and other abilities. This makes for very satisfying combat progression. As the encounters and bosses become more difficult, Jesse’s ability upgrade accordingly allows for creative gameplay and combat options. Although the combat is definitely challenging, I never felt like it was impossible or frustrating beyond my ability to work through the challenge and dying didn’t feel like too much of a punishment (outside of a few optional boss encounters). (Notably, this is a massive improvement from the first Alan Wake, which had been rage-quitting experience on multiple occasions for me, despite my love for the game.)

What really makes Control come alive for me its unique worldbuilding and storytelling. Working within the new weird genre (not easily defined, but tends to blend the horror, science fiction, and fantasy), the Oldest House features brutalist architecture (known for stark geometries and concrete structures), the bureaucratic nightmare of bland cubicles and offices, and labyrinthine corridors with spaces that connect to alternate dimensions. Posters on the wall warn of “house shifts” and lunches vanishing from office refrigerators, along with other oddities.

FMV presentations from Dr. Darling in Control. (Source: Remedy Media Kit.)

The player learns about the Oldest House, the FBC, and how the bureau is run through a combination of environmental storytelling, documentation (case files, research documents, and letters), media presentations (audio recordings and video presentation from Dr. Darling), and hotline connections to the former director and a strange disembodied Board. A few NPCs are also able to provide additional context for what’s been happening within the bureau — though no one ever seems to know everything, as most of the information is classified, even from the people who work there, and the documentation is often heavily redacted.

The levels of weirdness with in the FBC comes in many forms, from transdimensional portals to a rubber duck that follows a person around and endlessly quacks until it drives them mad. And every aspect of it delights me.

Control may turn out to be my favorite game of the year (at least until I play Alan Wake II). The game is a perfect combination of weird worldbuilding, innovative storytelling, interesting characters, and challenging yet satisfying combat. I genuinely love it. Currently, I’ve finished up the main storyline and am working my way through the DLC, which I’ll talk about next month.

Burning Shores DLC. (Image: Media Kit.)

I completed the main story and quest for the Horizon: Forbidden West DLC Burning Shores (Guerrilla Games), as well as gathering up all the collectables. This was a solid expansion of the narrative, providing additional context for the overall game. The most satisfying aspect of the DLC, however, was continuing to see Aloy make connections with the people around her. Throughout the main game, Aloy gathers a found family of friends, who join her in her quest to save the world — a wonderful thing to see after her spending the vast majority of her life in near isolation. The DLC expands on this by presenting Aloy with a possible romance, adding another layer to her growth as a character. My only disappointment now is that I’ll have to wait several years (probably) for the next game to come out.

Generally, I’m always playing some kind of puzzle game on my phone. In the past, this has mostly been Two Dots along with a handful of other games. While I love these kinds of matching or color-based puzzle games, I also hate the way these games tend to either embed tons of ads or design the gameplay to encourage the player to spend their real money on items to get through the level. So, eventually I end up deleting the game before either redownloading it or looking for another game of its time.

While digging through Apple Arcade, looking for my next mobile gaming addiction, I found Grindstone (Capybara Games). The player is a character climbing a mountain full of creeps of varying colors. In order to progress, the player chains through lines of creeps in the same color to collect grindstones and defeat a variety of challenges. The animation is fun and colorful, and there’s a gloss of a narrative with a collection of quirky characters. The best part is that there are no ads and or timeouts — and I can just play to my heart’s content.

“Burnt Matches” (screenshot by me)

Burnt Matches,” developed by Pippin Barr, was unsettling enough to cross into feelings of horror, while at the same time providing a sense of quietude. Barr plays with poetic, repeating language, and explores the space of text on the screen, with text scrolling on and on to the right. Following a corridor down might lead to a screen of incomprehensible symbols or other forms of being presented with too much information. Like poetry, the game invites the player into a feeling instead of telling a straightforward linear story. I loved it.

If you’d like to know about the rest of recent culture I consumed, including books, movies, and TV, you can check out my Culture Consumption for April.