We define a finite-control fragment of the ambient calculus, a formalism for describing distributed and mobile computations. A series of examples demonstrates the expressiveness of our fragment. In particular, we encode the choice-free, finite-control, synchronous p-calculus. We present an algorithm for model checking this fragment against the ambient logic (without composition adjunct). This is the first proposal of a model checking algorithm for ambients to deal with recursively-defined, possibly nonterminating, processes. Moreover, we show that the problem is PSPACE-complete, like other fragments considered in the literature. Finite-control versions of other process calculi are obtained via various syntactic restrictions. Instead, we rely on a novel type system that bounds the number of active ambients and outputs in a process; any typable process has only a finite number of derivatives.