Get Even review: Black Mirror meets its match in a game that bucks all the trends
Get Even doesn’t want to fit into your prescribed game genres. Sure it’s a first-person shooter, but it’s also a “walking simulator” and a stealth game. At times, it has more in common with a point-and-click adventure game than a high-octane action title. If I were to sum Get Even up in a snappy soundbite, Get Even is Black Mirror, Inception, and a sci-fi radio play all rolled into a video game. In fact, the worst thing about The Farm 51’s labour of love is that it’s going to be difficult for it to get the attention it so sorely deserves.
Those of you who have been following Get Even’s development or marketing push may have noticed just how everything regarding The Farm 51’s work has been shrouded in mystery. It turns out that’s for a good reason Explaining anything beyond the opening level totally destroys the game’s main hook: its story.
Playing as Mr Black, you awake in an graffiti-soaked abandoned building with no recollection of what’s going on. It’s here, thanks to the aid of a mysterious voice emanating from a smartphone you find yourself with, you discover you need to rescue a young girl who’s been kidnapped and tied up somewhere in the complex. Except, none of this is real, it’s a simulation. You’re actually a participant in a scientific trial about diving into memories, your sole purpose is to help uncover what led to this girl’s kidnapping – or are you?
It’s clear from early on that something more sinister is bubbling under the surface of Get Even, but it’s almost impossible to piece together until you reach the end. The disjointed nature of the game’s structure has enough consistency to keep the story flowing, but it’s never flowing in the direction you actually expect it to. Just like Mr Black, you’re clueless as to what’s going on around you until it all actually falls into place.
Some may find this approach to storytelling rather irritating – it can be quite difficult to juggle the various characters, places and conflicting story threads when it all begins to get hectic – but it works. This multi-threaded narrative reminds me of the excellent time-hopping mechanic found in Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward and, presumably, works so well because screenwriting duo Stephen Long and Ian Sharkey came on board to restructure The Farm 51’s narrative yarn.
Long and Sharkey have a track record with handling psychological-led scripts. The duo are responsible for the likes of Derren Brown’s shows The Experiments, Apocalypse, and theatre production Svengali. Their influence can be felt in the very level design itself, packed with tight, twisting corridors and doors that lead to nowhere. Every level is sprawling and, despite it being a completely linear title, there’s plenty to invite your attention and misdirect you. It feels like navigating the inner-workings of someone’s mind.
As I mentioned earlier, Get Even feels like you’re playing through starkly different games as you work your way through its story. This is most true during its interconnected asylum levels that serve as a bridge between the memories Mr Black dives into. This abandoned asylum feels like something straight out of Outlast. It’s a labyrinth of rooms and corridors, populated with babbling psychopaths trapped within the same VR-like memory-diving headset Mr Black wears.[gallery:10]
The asylum’s purpose is explained in due course, but it’s a fantastic environment for showcasing the mind games that permeate every aspect of Get Even. Regularly you’ll be asked to complete a task or faced with difficult – but not always obvious – moral situations. These will count against you and, unlike a Telltale game, The Farm 51 doesn’t always signpost when you’ve done something that will have consequences later. It means you’re always second-guessing yourself even as you explore and follow instructions. You’ll double back through environments that look so startlingly similar, yet it’s not quite as you remember it.
The Farm 51 play into these feelings of uncertainty, confusion and fear through clever audio design and powerful audio composition. French composer Olivier Deriviere had an instrumental role in Get Even’s development process, ensuring that both its soundtrack and sound design was tightly linked to gameplay, story and environments.
Without wanting to ruin the audio delights you’ll experience as you play, Deriviere’s approach means that there’s always a subtle building of tension as you progress through a level. Each room adds another layer and, without you even realising, you’ll find yourself halfway through a level with this sense of foreboding upon you. Combine this with the violin strings that occur when you kill an enemy, along with the rhythmic breathing of Mr Black and other audio constants, each level also becomes its own soundscape to explore.
There are many games that advertise the fact they’ve taken audio design into deep consideration, but this is the first time I’ve experienced something quite so unique. This really is a game best played with headphones – although a home-cinema system will also suffice.
Get Even isn’t perfect. Despite all of the things it manages to get so right – pacing, audio composition, level design – I have a couple of niggles around how it actually plays.
For a first-person game with a gun, Get Even never feels like a shooter. In fact, shooting someone feels so cold. It’s unrewarding, flat and somewhat depressing. It’s fantastic that it can evoke such feelings and manages to convince you of the benefits of sneaking over going in gung-ho. However, there are many situations where you’ll find yourself having to take out enemies to proceed and The Farm 51 never really seem to aid you in understanding that.
In one level I died numerous times because, right at the start of the level, it told me I can’t kill anyone as it’ll draw attention to me. Minutes later, it throws two armed enemies right in my path with no way past them but to kill them. Another level sees you having to shoot multiple enemies with seemingly no choice in the matter, only to be told later that you shouldn’t have killed them.
Perhaps you can dismiss both of these instances, along with the few others that occur, as an evolution of Get Even’s usurpation of traditional gameplay expectations. Unfortunately it comes across as bad game design, and will likely become a point of frustration for others less accepting of such issues.
Still, niggles aside, Get Even is fantastically enjoyable. Just like Tarsier Studios’ Little Nightmares, Get Even appeared like a gamble for Bandai Namco. Announced in 2014 before going completely silent for nearly three years, The Farm 51’s title seemed doomed. In initial impressions it seemed like a confused mess of ideas that just couldn’t gel. In the end, however, it’s all come together rather nicely – I just hope that enough people give it the attention it deserves come release day.