Control: The Foundation (2020) PS4 review: All foundation, not much heart

3.5/5
A DLC story expansion that offers new abilities, more action and expanded lore but fails to live up to the base game's legacy

When Control (2019) launched in August 2019, we absolutely loved it. It got a five star review and there were only really two complaints:

1 – The technical hiccoughs that the game suffered from at launch, and;

2 – That it had to finish so soon!

Now, that’s not a knock on the game’s length, it’s just that after finishing the story, completing all the side-quests, unlocking the platinum trophy and handing a receipt to any optional enemies that bested us earlier, we still didn’t want the game to end. So as you can imagine, the first DLC story expansion couldn’t come soon enough.

Fast forward seven months and here we are, back in the Oldest House and back in the shoes of the Federal Bureau of Control’s newest Director, Jesse Faden. After settling into her new role, Jesse has received an emergency call from The Board. It seems there’s a supernatural disturbance in the foundation of the Oldest House and it’s up to Jesse to go down, investigate and set things right.

First Steps

The first time you cross the boundary into the Foundation you’re greeted with a poorly lit cavern where even the shadows stemming from piles of rocks feel ominous, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that this DLC is designed to amp up the game’s horror elements. Venture a little further and you’ll find that this is not the case.

It seems that the Astral Plane (the all white area where some of the main game’s training missions take place) is seeping into the building’s foundation and if this rift isn’t fixed, it could destroy the Oldest House and even the world beyond. This means that the setting is largely either caves and excavation sites found in Black Rock Quarry or a mix of the quarry and the Astral Plane where jagged, platforms float in a world of nothing.

While this does stay true to Control‘s style of meshing the mundane with the surreal it also creates an immediate practical problem: You may need to change your screen settings a lot. It’s really hard to find a good middle ground, so you may well have to turn some settings way down so that the Astral Plane’s overwhelming luminosity doesn’t knock you off your chair, but turn brightness way up to have any idea where you’re going in the darker sections.

Another problem that becomes quickly apparent is that the developers still haven’t managed to eradicate all the bugs that existed at launch, specifically the graphical stammers after loading or when going in and out of menus. While newer systems may minimise this, it’s going to show on older model PS4s that are already being pushed to their limits by the software.

The Foundation eases players back into the game by only throwing a smattering of enemies toward them at first, allowing people who haven’t played in a few months to reacquaint themselves with the controls and the basic rules of the game’s combat. Rules like ‘inertia equals death’ and ‘the environment is your best weapon’ are re-embedded in your psyche before anything too challenging is thrown your way.

Make or Break Changes

In order to help Jesse better oppress The Hiss, she’s awarded two new abilities – the ability to create rock structures at certain points and to destroy existing ones. These abilities are used for traversal and reaching new areas as well as in select combat sections, but their use in combat is a double edged sword for the game’s fun factor.

While there’s a satisfaction in impaling enemies with new sprouted stalagmites or breaking the ground beneath them and watching them plummet to their death, it can be quite difficult to target these small sections in the heat of battle. More noticeably, there are some battles where you’re facing an overpowered enemy and it feels like the only way to defeat them is to use these hazards, which compromises the player’s creativity and mitigates the unpredictable frenzy that makes Control‘s combat so enjoyable.

Oddly, the two best new combat features in The Foundation are subtle changes that the game doesn’t even tell you about:

First, Jesse can throw her weight around as Director and order backup from a FBC Ranger by radioing for support at set locations (usually before a big encounter).

Second, in sections where the Astral Plane and the quarry merge, Jesse fights both The Hiss and dummy enemies from her training. What’s less noticeable is that these enemies are as keen to fight each other as they are you. The dummies act as an antibody trying to eradicate the disease of The Hiss from their home, which means that it’s no longer ‘Jesse vs The World’, instead she can play the role of puppet master – hiding, manipulating and waiting for an opportune moment to strike.

A False Step

While the changes previously mentioned have both positive and negative impacts on the game as a whole, one aspect has to be considered a major mis-step. Jesse is told that in order to put things right, she must reach and cleanse four objects found at the end of each of the four areas across the map. Favouring this ‘find four magical McGuffins to save the world’ trope over the main game’s story-driven psychological delivery makes the whole experience feel too regimented.

It essentially breaks the map into four areas and the format soon becomes clear – beat an area (which may essentially be just an hour or so of generic encounters and platforming), see some story progression, rinse and repeat. It’s not the case that this is all The Foundation has to offer, there are some eccentric side-missions to discover later on, but again, it just all feels too compartmentalised. It has all of the ingredients of what made the main game so great, but without the alchemy required to bring it all together.

This sentiment also carries over to the game’s audio. It boasts the core strengths of the main game, like the ominous effects and Courtney Hope‘s laid back, endearing leading performance, but none of those bizarre yet perfect moments, like the uses of Take Control or Dyna-Mite, that help make a great moment unforgettable.

So, Basically…

For your money you’ll get a six to seven hour story expansion plus side-missions and collectibles. It offers more insight into the history of the Oldest House, the world’s lore and answers some of the lingering questions, most notably the whereabouts of Marshall. There’s something to enjoy for those who loved Control and are either fascinated by its world or are just itching for a second helping of its manic combat, but ultimately The Foundation fails to replicate the magic of the main game.

Best Character

Jesse Faden

Best Line

Jesse upon discovering a bathroom claimed by the Astral Plane: "Somebody better call the plumber!...I'm glad nobody heard that."

Tidbit

Players who purchased the Season Pass also received a bonus mission entitled 'Isolation' - a surreal experience written by legendary director Hideo Kojima.

Story
Gameplay
Graphics
Sound
3.5/5
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