We’ve already sung the praises of Control, an action game that blends existential horror, Star Wars-like Force powers, and a sci-fi story that teeters into the realm of David Mitchell novels. We haven’t, however, spent as much time championing its technology, largely because it’s hard to find the right words. Particularly when played on a high-end PC, Control is a showpiece for the next generation of video game visuals.
Digital Foundry has put together a thorough explainer of what makes Control’s graphics so special. The video’s premise hinges on ray tracing, which Nvidia introduced to consumer graphics card owners with last year’s RTX GPUs. But before debating Control’s status as ray tracing’s killer app, Alex Battaglia explains the incremental steps games have made graphically over the past 12 years. Digital Foundry is one of our favorite video creators, but this video is particularly accommodating for newcomers curious about how game designers mimic reality by mixing the powers of software, hardware, and art design.
I’ve played six hours of Control on an RTX GPU, and I have spent a good chunk of that time strolling through the game’s Brutalist architecture, obsessing over the realistic reflections on the glass walls and the detailed shadows of office detritus scattered across the various boardrooms and laboratories. It’s not just that the PC version runs better than its console siblings; it’s that the visuals look more, for lack of a better word, holistic. Every item in the game feels part of the shared space, their shadows and reflections bouncing off one another, rather than looking like discrete props dropped into a video game world.
Is playing Control on maximum settings worth the hundreds of dollars that a new graphics card costs? This is the internal debate of the PC gamer who has an unquenchable need to run every game on ultra. If your priority is making the most of every dollar, Control (or any one game) probably won’t justify the price tag. But if you love seeing the future of video game graphics just as much as you love playing games themselves, the answer’s a little murkier.
As far ray tracing goes, Metro Exodus was proof of concept and Quake RTX felt like a novel tech demo, but Control is the first game that truly looks and feels like something new. It reminds me of when The Matrix was released alongside the rise of the DVD player. What had seemed like an unnecessary upgrade suddenly made a little more sense.