Alright, so I know the answer is yes but stay with me here. What if it isn’t? I know the answer is still that it’s real but let’s do a little though exercise. Control is a game about the weird. Playing as Jesse, you explore the Oldest House fighting back the mysterious Hiss and along the way you gain powers such as levitation, telekinesis, and a very cool dash. It’s proven in this universe that strange things happen and the unexplainable is commonplace. So with that in mind, does the game’s slowdown mean more than a video game struggling to put out a regular number of frames or is it something else? It’s the first but is it?
Throughout Control, there’s an ongoing theme of Jesse not being in control (how apt) and a major part of the story is her taking ownership of her past, present and future. For the majority of the game, we chase after the Hiss as we try to reclaim control points and save the workers of the Bureau. We see reality bend and flow at the drop of a hat. There’s even a fridge that will kill you if you blink, so an experience akin to the air turning to treacle isn’t a huge leap. So what if this slowdown and frame rate issue wasn’t a technical limitation but a core part of the message in Control?
Having a game’s frame rate drop dramatically during an important battle or key moment takes control away from the player as you aren’t sure whether your inputs have registered or what the outcome will be once the game catches up with itself. This reflects how powerless Jesse is at the start of the game as she takes her first steps into the unknown. On her journey, while she masters this unknown she never stops encountering more weird stuff that questions her control on reality. As the player, it feels like Jesse is talking to us when she speaks with Hedron – the voice in her head. So when the game starts to have frame rate issues, it’s not that it’s a video game struggling but fit everything on screen but rather Jesse experiencing reality shifting around her as Hedron reacts to any given environment.
While not an exact comparison, it’s not a huge leap to being in a stressful situation and having everything quickly happening around you and you feeling powerless and out of control, and taking a deep breath to centre yourself and take on the challenge. This frame rate dip almost never happens unless Jesse is in danger, so rather than being a technical issue, it could be a coping mechanism for the character.
While I don’t think that it’s intentional, I did find that it was a part of the experience and one that enhanced the themes and message of the game. So while I think it’d be good for Remedy to improve how their game runs on consoles, I also think it’s also a part of the piece of art that they created.
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