Control and Hitscan Weapons

Control is a game released by Remedy in 2019, and it deserves all the critical acclaim it received from critics and players! I loved a lot of things about the game, but especially the off-kilter tone of the game and mind-warping visuals. However, although the combat can be invigorating in the right circumstances, the combat flow is a bit disjointed because of one thing: most enemies use hitscan weapons.

A couple of the enemies I’m referring to

What does hitscan mean? It means that bullets fired by enemies travel through the air and hit the target almost immediately. The reason it’s a problem is because the game wants you to feel like an awesome superhero, with this transforming weapon and a swath of awesome abilities. However, because players have little chance of dodging bullets from faraway enemies, players are more encouraged to hide behind a pillar then flying around and unleashing superhuman chaos.

If I were to make a single change to improve Control, it would be for enemies to use weapons that fire slower-moving projectiles.

Less Time Behind Cover

In most combat encounters in Control, the game spawns a lot of enemies at once wielding hitscan weapons. The player also has very little health, going down after a couple shots. Because of this, the best option is usually hiding behind cover, peeking out to nervously pop off some shots before diving into cover again. The game gives the player lots of fun and crazy abilities to play with, but the game incentives you to use these powers and your arsenal while hiding, not wielding them around the combat arena in their full glory.

You can see all the examples of hiding and not picking up health in this first boss fight.

The player staying hidden in one location also directly conflicts with the health recovery system. When enemies die, they drop health shards that are collected by running over them. Jesse doesn’t recover any health on her own, so the only option is picking up these shards.

However, when the player is low on health, running out of cover to get health is usually a suicide mission. The safest option is to stay back and hide, equip the sniper version of the Service Weapon, and take enemies out slowly and deliberately. After all enemies are dead, that’s usually the best time to actually recover health, defeating the purpose of the health shards being motivation for the player to move around the arena. If the projectiles weren’t hitscan, this would encourage players to actually leave cover, dodge the enemy bullets, and pick up health.

Enemy AI Surrounding the Player

Another side effect of the hitscan weapons is the enemy AI in the combat arenas. With a combat system that primarily utilizes cover, the player usually needs to keep a defensive front and keep all the enemies on one end while the player hides. However, in the larger combat arenas, the enemy AI tends to move around and flank the player.

one of the large arenas where enemies can surround you

This usually results in the enemies surrounding the player from all sides, making the cover the player is one pointless. If the player starts running away, enemies can start firing on their exposed position. The only defensive ability the player has is the shield, which covers only the front side of the player.

Combined with the low overall health, this keeps the player on the retreat, constantly moving backwards and defending instead of utilizing all the offensive abilities and weapons at their disposal. If the enemies utilized slower projectiles, the player could utilize the entirety of larger combat arena spaces and would fit the enemy AI more appropriately.

Facilitating the Superhero Power Fantasy

The moment where the player gains the ability to fly completely changes the way the game is played. Obstacles that used to block, the player can just glide right over. It’s such an awesome feeling, most games don’t give players the ability to just fly over enemies and rain down hell.

All of that goes away however, when the player actually enters the first arena with flight. There isn’t any cover in the air and enemies with hitscan weapons are able to easily pick you out of the sky. This is also especially true in the larger combat arenas where enemies have much longer sight-lines to take you down. You can use the shield, but defeats the purpose of getting a height advantage over the enemies if you don’t utilize your offensive capabilities. If the player could dodge the enemy projectiles, this would facilitate the feeling of the superhero power fantasy, as you wouldn’t get shot out of the sky.

Encouraging More Mod Experimentation

Finally, players would be more incentivized to experiment with the mods system. The mod system is something that the player can use to augment their existing abilities and stats. You can boost the damage of your abilities, make that certain abilities have slower cooldowns, etc.

The Mod menu. You really won’t use 90% of these though.

However, Jesse’s health is so low, it’s smartest to just run with health upgrades so Jesse can survive for a longer time in the combat arenas. If enemies utilized slower moving projectiles, the player would be encouraged to experiment with different builds, accentuating different abilities like dashing or pushing.

In Closing

Control is an incredibly unique game that has a lot of moments that will stick with me for a long time, from psychedelic visuals to secret bosses. The only thing that could improve the game is the combat flow, with enemies utilizing slower, projectile-based weapons instead of hitscan ones.

This would encourage the player not to hide behind cover as often, use the entire combat arena space, fit the enemy AI patterns more appropriately, facilitate the superhero power fantasy, and encourage experimentation with the mod system.

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Tri Nguyen

Tri Nguyen

is writing game design exercises and analyses

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