header is screenshot from Control
Taking Control
Emma Kidwell

This article discusses plot points from throughout both Control and Beyond: Two Souls.

At first glance, it’s hard not to compare Remedy’s Control and Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls. Both games feature paranormal protagonists, government secrets, and people in positions of power failing to do their jobs. While they belong to different genres (Beyond shares similarities with an interactive film; Control’s a third-person action adventure), they both explore the same theme: The unknown. Look much further, though, and these similarities stop. Control’s Jesse Faden has agency over her place in a mystery whereas Beyond’s Jodie Holmes does not. Unsurprisingly, it’s this level of personal control that plays a big part in why one character succeeds in playing an active part in the overall struggle presented in each narrative and the other doesn’t.

In Beyond: Two Souls the player follows Jodie Holmes throughout various stages of her life. It’s revealed very early on that Jodie exhibits paranormal abilities (telekinesis, telepathy), although she’s only a conduit—a being named Aiden is the one who’s actually in control of these powers. Jodie is merely a vessel. A Department of Paranormal Activity researcher (DPA) named Nathan Dawkins takes an interest in young Jodie as she struggles to control Aiden and eventually becomes like a father figure to her.

Throughout much of Jodie’s adolescence, she’s monitored by researchers who run tests on her to see what Aiden is capable of. Jodie never has a choice in whether she can participate or not—and as the player controlling both her and Aiden, you can choose whether or not you want to comply with what the researchers want you/her/Aiden to do. You can have Aiden be as destructive or complicit as you want, with Jodie unable to do much other than comment on the decisions made around her. Aiden is both her protector and antagonist. He’s the voice inside her head and has a mind of his own.

We follow Jodie through various events in her life. From an awkward first date all the way to her CIA training, Aiden, the DPA, and we the player guide Jodie through the motions without her having any autonomy over these decisions. She has no input. She’s a puppet controlled by powerful external forces. Jodie never has agency over her paranormal actions unless the player is in combat and is required to use Aiden’s powers to complete an in-game mission. Other than that, she doesn’t really have control over her abilities—because, ultimately, they aren’t really hers. They’re independent of her. Toward the very end of the game, it’s revealed that Aiden, who’s controlled so much of her life’s direction, is Jodie’s twin brother. He died in the womb and his spirit lives on in his sister. Her parents were both psychically gifted, and were studied by DPA researchers.

This last-minute twist is the narrative justification that explains why Jodie could never reign in Aiden. When this plot point is revealed, it almost feels like a slap to the face. I felt just as Jodie did in that moment. Now, I understood why Jodie never had control or agency over her body and why nothing she—and I—did mattered or made an impact. Her paranormal status was not earned, it was bestowed. And even then, neither she nor I ever had a choice to do what we wanted with it. The paranormal mystery was solved on its own.

In Beyond, we quite literally have a protagonist who never has agency. Compare her with Jesse Faden, the main character of Control. Jesse arrives at the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) looking for information on her brother Dylan, who was taken by the Bureau after a mysterious paranormal event took place in their hometown of Ordinary. While the player isn’t sure who Jesse is speaking to during the internal monologue she provides during the game’s beginning, we can infer it isn’t us.

It’s revealed a little later that she’s talking to Polaris, an invisible companion who’s described only as a “being” she and Dylan encountered after physically entering a dimension-shifting slide from a projector found in their hometown’s dump. This slide projector is an “Object of Power,” a type of altered item that’s been or is acted upon by paranormal forces. Each Object of Power is different within the world of Control and can be used by certain individuals the game dubs “parautilitarians.”

All of these details are fed straight to the player throughout the opening hours without extra context as to what they mean. It’s a lot of information to digest, and we process it the same way Jesse does. While it’s never fully explained to the player who Polaris is or what her powers are, we know she protects Jesse and led her to the Bureau. This is all we get.

Polaris is the reason Jesse comes to the FBC, but she’s not the driving force behind the supernatural abilities our protagonist can wield. The paranormal in Control is contained within certain physical objects—a gun, a floppy disc, a carousel pony. The parautilitarians who can use these objects to wield certain abilities (levitation, telekinesis) must pass tests before being able to do so. And so Jesse struggles—with her purpose at the Bureau and her newfound status as Director, with the powers she’s been bestowed, and with her attempt to gain control of the murderous infestation dubbed the “Hiss” which has overtaken the supernatural building.

Jesse has control over her powers partially because she was chosen by an Object of Power, but also because, unlike Beyond’s Jodie, she perseveres in a quest to conquer it. She genuinely struggles to understand it well enough to eventually come out on top. Where her predecessors at the FBC failed, she succeeded. Jesse is better able to grapple with the absurd enormity of the chaos going on at the FBC by shaping her own objective. Instead of capturing the power contained all throughout the FBC (which in turn is being poisoned by the Hiss), she calms it.

Jesse has a purpose in Control: Find her brother, eradicate the Hiss, perform her new duties as Director, and find Objects of Power to cleanse and absorb. With every completed objective, she becomes more powerful and learns the failures of the figureheads at the FBC who had authority before her arrival. The previous director, Zachariah Trench, introduced the Hiss which eventually led to his demise. Alongside head researcher Dr. Casper Darling, the two controlled (arguably) the most important departments of the Bureau.

Trench became obsessed with the power of the slide projector from Jesse’s hometown whereas Dr. Darling grew enamored with the Hedron, an extra dimensional being similar to Polaris. Although Darling’s research with the Hedron allowed him to create protective gear that ultimately saved lots of Bureau workers, the death he caused—and his loss of control over the supernatural—could have easily been avoided if both men weren’t interested in pushing the limits of their newfound power past its breaking point. Their mistakes are the reason why Jesse, throughout the game, must pick up the pieces of a chaotic FBC and restore order.

It can be argued that Jesse’s supposed to control the events happening around her just because she’s the protagonist. Her actions are supposed to move the narrative forward. That’s true. But, the same can be said of Beyond’s Jodie, a character who never seems to have real agency throughout her story. Jesse, on the other hand, isn’t passive to the events around her, and the world isn’t happening to her. She doesn’t just levitate through the story’s mystery and allow others to dictate when and how she gets to understand or shape it. She’s an active participant taking the reins. Unlike Beyond’s Jodie, we’re watching as she struggles to tame Aiden, the beast inside her, a character we cannot control.

In the end, Control’s approach to agency is more valuable than Beyond’s. While both games see their protagonists forced to deal with the paranormal, Control’s approach seems healthier. Through Jesse, it shows someone being confronted by concepts beyond what human imagination can comprehend and leaning into it. Compare that to Beyond, where we see someone stumble through their confusion, reacting to horrible circumstances far more often than she acts upon them. The fact that I, as the player, experience the same confusion as Jesse and share in her triumphs when becoming stronger in Control is important. I may still have no real clue what’s going on in every part of the game’s paranormal fiction, but knowing that, and seeing Jesse forcefully uncover the mystery along with me, feels so much better than constantly being in the dark.

Emma Kidwell is a writer who makes games on the side. You can play them here or follow her on Twitter.