Complaining about anything in the video games industry runs the risk of making you appear to be an entitled consumer, but there is the occasional case that is just so overrun with problems that it begs an explanation. While the transition from last-generation consoles to next-gen platforms has been anything but clean for many cross-generational titles, the way publisher 505 Games and developer Remedy Entertainment have handled Control Ultimate Edition has been a fascinating comedy of errors. Although, I doubt anyone out $40 as a result of this predicament is laughing.
Control itself remains an excellent game from the perspective of its story, graphics, and gameplay mechanics, yet the project is rife with technical problems and gripes. Way before 505 and Remedy caused a massive stir with a convoluted upgrade path for Control, performance issues on base consoles marred the title at launch. Remedy’s decision to have replayed chapters erase progress made afterward baffled me, and the fact that it’s missing any sort of new game plus mode, which would greatly benefit the game, seems like a major oversight.
But when it comes to bringing the game to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, it is difficult to determine if the mind-boggling result is from massive miscommunications, technical limitations, or business-related malice. This is an account of my personal experience with purchasing the game’s now-numerous versions, and how in the end, the experience felt more like something from the Oldest House’s shifting rooms and corridors than real life.
More strange and less wonderful
Anyone who had only experienced Control on older consoles likely got excited at Remedy’s announcement on June 11 of last year of a PS5 and Series X version — I sure did. To finally play the game as the developer originally envisioned it was a thrilling prospect. Many of us had already liked the game, despite its technical issues, so imagine actually playing it properly. But it wasn’t until two months later, on August 12, that players discovered that a free upgrade to the next-gen version, something that other developers and publishers were setting a precedent for during this console transition, would only be possible with the $40 “Ultimate Edition.” Notably, this would not include owners of the Season Pass, which came out before the first DLC’s release on March 26. If you already owned the game, you’d have to buy it all over again for the next-gen bells and whistles.
Perhaps in the previous generational transition, this sort of situation would have been easier to digest. There was less of a standard on cross-gen purchases and transfers, and the attitude toward backward compatibility from the PS4 and Xbox One was quite different at the time. But the industry is in a different place now, with most game companies trying to make this new transition as seamless as possible. Each has its own methods, with most live and online games utilizing their account systems. Ubisoft has cross-gen and cross-platform saves on its own service and titles offering free upgrades, and Xbox has the novel Smart Delivery service that almost makes the difference between old and new platforms unnoticeable. But with Control, there was a feeling that players were being punished for supporting the game at its launch.
There is an argument that such an Ultimate Edition is only for players new and unfamiliar with the game, the same way prestige titles would have a “Game of the Year” edition of some sort. But in announcing a next-gen update two months before revealing its full nature, Remedy and 505 knew that their existing fanbase would particularly take interest in and benefit from the news of a souped-up version of the game they enjoyed playing. At best, it appeared to be a failure in optics, but 505 and Remedy continued to dig themselves into a hole with their justifications for their decision.
The SKUs are not as they seem
Followers of the Control next-gen saga looked at an August 20 statement from 505 about technical limitations and a fear of “leaving people out” with free upgrades with incredulity, and we appeared to be validated upon the September 10 release of the Ultimate Edition for PS4 and Xbox One. Per a ResetEra thread, PSN users who owned the Control Season Pass found that they also technically “owned” the Ultimate Edition before losing access to it, apparently contradicting 505’s explanation, and irking all parties invested in the game.
In this era of everyone being constantly online, “gamer rage” has had an effect on business decisions and reversals — look at how quickly Microsoft took back its controversial Xbox Live price hike just last week. And while forces of negativity are not the best way to enact change in any case, the Control situation looked like something that would reach a tipping point and lead to some damage control, pun not intended. Instead, 505 and Remedy fell silent for months.
Around the holiday season, deals related to Control came to digital storefronts, with the Season Pass and Ultimate Edition both marked down. I had ended up missing the sale on the latter, so I foolishly made the decision to purchase the Season Pass for a discounted price of $9 on December 21. It was a defeatist position to take, as I thought that I’d probably end up buying the PS5 version after its launch, sometime when it was on sale. To my ire, the Ultimate Edition went on sale yet again on the PlayStation Store just weeks later in January. Having read online about save transfers only being possible through the PS4 Ultimate Edition and not the base game, according to a 505 customer support agent, I decided to take the sunk cost of the Season Pass and drop $20 on the Ultimate Edition to prepare for the PS5 version on January 9. Little did I know then about my follies as a consumer and fan on this title.
It is happening again
Once I purchased the PS4 Ultimate Edition, I expected to see a totally different tile on my menu for this new version of the game. To my surprise, despite the separate store listings in the PlayStation Store, the base game with the Season Pass unlocked and the Ultimate Edition were, for all intents and purposes, completely identical, both within the console UI and in-game. No new title card, no downloads to update, nothing. A head-scratcher, but I knew going in that I’d be buying the same content a second time. At least my save will transfer now, I optimistically thought to myself.
January 27 is when the final insult dropped. Mere days before the next-gen launch on February 2, PlayStation announced that Control Ultimate Edition for both PS4 and PS5 would be among the free titles for PlayStation Plus in February. Keep in mind that this is very shortly after the Season Pass and Ultimate Edition went on sale, with consumers having the express knowledge that they’d have to buy the game again to play the next-gen version. And in the second part of a one-two punch, Remedy on Twitter clarified that save transfers were simply not possible due to the “new engine.”
As of this writing, and after three separate attempts with customer support, Sony will not refund me for either the Season Pass or Ultimate Edition. (Some people have reported online that they had better success with PlayStation support.) At the end of the day, $30 lost is not the end of the world. At worst, my plans to finish the Control DLC on PS5 are derailed, but at least I will have the option to replay the entire game with new eyes on new hardware. It’s an inconvenience, not a national tragedy — but it’s still one that could have been avoided, and one that feels blatantly mismanaged and anti-consumer.
I’ll give wiggle room to Remedy, as it isn’t as big of a team as, say, Insomniac Games, which reversed its decision to forego save file transfers for Spider-Man Remastered after community outcry. But with all that has happened, Remedy has mere centimeters of space left, in my book. It’s hard to know who to point fingers toward when game development and business is so nuanced — the developers at Remedy for falling short technically? 505 for its business practices? The console manufacturers for their inconsistent refund policies? Myself for jumping the gun on some asinine purchases? The honest answer, with a lack of perspective and insight, is probably a mix of everyone.
Even still, with early clarifications from Remedy and 505, all could have probably been forgiven and understood. Instead, bizarre decision after decision at the least opportune times will forever tarnish the legacy of Control, in my eyes, which, taken on its own, is an extremely cool and memorable video game.