As I muscled through The Foundation, the first substantial campaign expansion to 2019’s best shooter, Control, my mind shuffled through a list of all the other things I could be doing. Vacuuming the living room. Organizing my office. Washing the dishes. Playing Doom Eternal or Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
I adored the core campaign of Control, a graphical showpiece that spliced Twin Peaks with cosmic horror. So why couldn’t I get excited about more of what worked in the past?
Control was Metroid trapped inside a Christopher Nolan film. I would gleefully get lost in the brutalism-meets-origami architecture of its New York City office building, the Oldest House. After so many shooters that sent me on tidy, straight paths, I savored the sense of disorientation. It jelled with the game’s weirdness. Where other shooters felt restrictive, forcing me to hide behind barriers and land perfect headshots, Control felt expressive. I flew through the environments, weaponizing pieces of the world to clear a room of ghouls.
I had been so anticipating The Foundation that I burned hours in the game’s Expeditions mode, slaughtering hundreds of the same enemies, grinding for upgrades so I’d be ready for whatever monsters lurked beneath the Oldest House. I wanted to be prepared.
[Ed. note: This review contains spoilers for the story of Control.]
The Foundation continues where Control’s campaign left off. Jesse has shut down the connection between the Hiss realm and the Oldest House, and embraced her role as the director of the Federal Bureau of Control. Something big has cracked in the very roots of the facility, and now the astral plane — with its big, white, open spaces crowded with obelisks and inverted pyramids — is seeping into our dimension.
At its best, this means a bathroom door opens into a white, endless void. At its worst, and most often, this means wandering through similar caverns covered in trillions of pounds of crimson sand. Gone are the gleefully disorienting quests that sent you up, down, and around the mazelike architecture of the Oldest House.
The Foundation spans a series of point-A-to-point-B missions in which you kill everything in a linear path, eventually collecting one of the four MacGuffins necessary to unlock the final boss fight. Sometimes this means slowly working your way up a freight elevator, while other times it means platforming through the astral plane. If your favorite bits of Control were the combat, this may be enough! If you cared more about the story and the scene-setting? Well, your mind may begin to wander toward all the chores you could be doing, or the better games you could be playing.
The new quests are too linear and too repetitive, hampered by the addition of two new abilities. You quickly unlock the power to terraform platforms and destroy walls. But you can only terraform platforms in specific areas and can only destroy specific walls. Where the gravity-bending abilities of the core campaign allow for creatively weaponizing the entirety of a room, the new abilities mostly exist to gate off parts of the map. Want to get to that area up high? You’ll need to unlock terraforming. Want to get that resource box covered in emerald stone? Time to unlock the destruction ability.
Both of the new powers have limited combat purposes, too. You can use terraforming to trigger spike traps, and you can shoot the ground so that it collapses into deadly pits. But again, there’s no freedom. Only specific areas can become traps, and only colorfully marked plots of earth can become pits. Waiting for a clumsy enemy to walk into a trap doesn’t mesh with Control’s energetic, free-flowing fights.
Every so often, The Foundation produces a spark of what made the original campaign so memorable. One side quest has you carry a television through a series of dark corridors. There’s nothing special about the enemies or the environment itself, but the world being lit by the soft glow of the television is unsettling, and technically impressive.
One firefight takes place in a huge, square room with dozens of offices looming over a lobby in the center. The combat isn’t especially fun — you’re surrounded by enemies without clear cover — but it looks incredible. These moments are rare, though.
I remain optimistic about the next story expansion, dubbed AWE. Remedy has proven many times that it produces some of the most inventive shooters and action games out there. The Foundation isn’t the studio’s greatest work, but it’s hardly a miserable experience. This expansion reminded me of the Xbox 360 era of midtier shooters: not bad, but not ambitious. Playable, but also — and sadly — forgettable.
The Foundation expansion for Control is now available on PlayStation 4 and Windows PC, and will be released June 25 on Xbox One. The add-on was reviewed using a final “retail” PS4 download code provided by 505 Games. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.