The situation in Control's new DLC is not good. Helen Marshall, the M.I.A. Control Head of Operations is missing and a powerful, reality-saving artifact called The Nail is busted. Within the depths of The Oldest House's foundation, a network of caves miles (does normal distance apply here?) underground, the Astral Plane is seeping in. I'm not sure exactly what's going on, but clearly, Control is still Control in the first big story expansion, The Foundation. I didn't like it much.
I'd hoped for more of what made Control great, all those strange side stories about mundane objects turned sentient and rogue. But The Foundation is largely an expansion of Control's weakest parts. This is a pretty boring, frustrating return to one of the best settings of 2019, too invested in the convoluted main plot and thin characters, with some new abilities and enemies that don't change the flow of combat much overall. Some extremely frustrating checkpoints and bland environments render the whole experience into a slow, repetitive hike. I still love Control's bonkers universe and telekinetic combat, but not when it's drawn out this thin.
The Foundation isn't an awful time, it's just a forgettable one, an interstitial that nudges the same old characters and concepts around. I remember all those strange nouns that make up Control's nonsense (in a fun way!) cosmology. There are infinite white voids, triangles both right side up and upside down, depending on your perspective. Jesse feels a strong drive to save Marshall for the sake of The Bureau, while doubt begins to cut through her relationship with The Board. I remember thinking The Board was already untrustworthy and that none of this felt like news to me. These aren't the revelations or big shifts in power and scope that a name as formidable as The Foundation implies. The story isn't evolving much.
I remember massive caverns streaked with red dust, the corrupted cubism of a troubled Astral Plane leaking into The Foundation and threatening to destroy both worlds. The setting gives a decent first impression, but doesn't stray much from the red cavern palette, blending together into a featureless cave smoothie my memory. I felt a huge pang of relief when the FBC's office building aesthetic returned for a short stint, that eerie juxtaposition of nap-inducing banality with the supernatural. It also felt nice to rip shit apart again. Control's destructible environments are as impressive as ever, and The Foundation's caverns are sorely missing the same happy mess potential.
I remember fighting a few new enemies, like these charging, teleporting hammer-wielding men who encouraged me to use my shields and melee blast more often, which was nice, dusting off some abilities I didn't find useful before. But they still look like all the other Hiss, static, indiscernible silhouettes without much character. Astral copies of the Hiss show up too, but you're still fighting a faceless force of nature in Control, and it's not much of a novelty anymore. I'm dying to fight more sentient floppy disks, abyssal bugs, and stranger creatures yet.
Two new telekinetic abilities don't add much to the mix either, both in terms of combat and exploration. Jesse can point at fixed points on the level geometry and pull a mass of dense rock from the ground, either to punch enemies with the earth or to use as a platform for getting around the vast cave network. But they're so prescriptive, placed just so and only useful just so. She can also use The Service Weapon to destroy these same rocky structures, which can send some enemies falling to their death or open secret passages. I just rarely ran into exciting opportunities to do those things, even after repeating the same fights over and over.
I have strong memories of riding the same comically long elevator to the top floor, a 10-second trip, then sprinting up a hallway to take on a few waves of challenging enemies time and time again because the last save point was a pointless distance from the actual test. Again, I dig Control's combat overall even if it hasn't changed much, but I'm not so much into the loading screens and getting sent back to distant checkpoints. I bumped into rough checkpointing in a 5-hour expansion far more than the whole of the original game.
There are some nuggets of the Control I love in there, specifically everything that's off the beaten path. I stumbled into a few new altered item cases, including a hokey '80s action movie homage and a game of red light, green light with overpowered Hiss and a paralytic TV show.
The best stuff is just hidden away, and I'd like to see it take center stage in future expansions. There's just not enough compelling me to go spelunking with gusto in The Foundation, which is a huge bummer. Here's to hoping Alan Wake brings a couple altered items with him in the next expansion.