At the beginning of this year, I was invited to get hands-on with a number of upcoming video games at the Bandai Namco office. Get Even was one of those games. It piqued my interest, so I decided to explore the game further when it was released. Get Even is officially listed as a first-person shooter, but I feel like nightmare-inducing first-person psychological thriller mystery might be a more apt description. And might be why I’ll never be asked to join the secret society of game genre classifiers. And might be why I never request to play a borderline horror video game ever again.
Get Even begins with quick flashes of vague images, faces that explode into pixels, racing music, and a faceless voice asserting that “everything will be ok” – this is the opposite of reassuring. Further, one of the available difficulty settings is “traumatising.” I’m unsettled and anxious before the game has even begun.
You awaken (?) in a run down, seemingly abandoned hospital cum asylum facility, and soon realize that it’s just you, your smartphone, and a couple of guns. Just like a gym junkie’s trip to the bathroom mirror… except your purpose is less clear. Flicking through the apps on your phone (which boasts an evidence detection scanner, camera, heat sensor, and map, but no Magikarp Jump) reveals a message that simply says “save the girl.” Am I Bryan Mills from Taken?
This is the tutorial, but it didn’t feel like it. I was too engrossed with trying to piece together the limited information presented, playing with in-game phone apps, exploring the ostensibly labyrinth-like (in reality, linear path) environment, and peering wearily around corners to realise that I was being taught how to play.
You end up discovering that you have a third gun that can shoot around corners, attempting to defuse a bomb, saving a girl, then waking up 2 days later in a walled garden with selective amnesia and no guns. Are you any more enlightened? Not really. “I know I’m Cole Black, but I don’t remember” is probably the most annoying message you’ll ever receive on your phone.
Successive levels require you to explore asylums, houses, sewers, and other industrial sites (mostly re-skins of previous levels) to search for clues and some kind of explanation about what is actually happening. Your smartphone tells you that each level is set in a different year. There is the occasional short 1v1 or 1v2 gunfight, environmental puzzle to solve, or encounter with a mental asylum patient – but mostly it’s just you with your own thoughts.
Am I exploring my own consciousness? Or my own identity from within the solidified construct of my own mind? Am I a patient at the asylum for neurological disorders? Is this Shutter Island? Does “Get Even” mean to take revenge? Or to find balance?
A note on a table helpfully provides some exposition – “Psych reports suggest Black is a walking contradiction: unable to kill without feeling wrought with guilt, yet only able to find purpose in life through killing.” Apparently, Cole Black (you) is being forced by someone to relive and replay his own memories in order to answer questions related to the events of the tutorial, like “Why were you there?” and “Who was the girl?”
You are only fed small amounts of information at a time. It’s masterful storytelling that forces you to sit inside your own head, where most of the terror is induced.
If you were to judge Get Even based solely on the diversity and complexity of the environment and the player actions available, the game would fail the 2017 acceptability test. I will, however, admit that the use of a smartphone with apps to help navigate and interact with the environment is a clever inclusion. A smartphone is a device that is intuitive to use, relatable, but maintains that sense of vulnerability (that ain’t a knife, this is a… smartphone… shit). In this way, Get Even has a very Outlast vibe.
In addition, to some extent, developers The Farm 51 have given players the ability to choose the direction of the story. After the player makes a decision, the words “Remember your actions will have consequences” flash onto the screen. I found this very alarming, as I often didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision. This was also an excellent way to create the illusion that players had a freedom of choice, but manipulate them into one decision. For example, early on in the game, I was forced to free a prisoner in the asylum, who then came back to try to attack me. Naturally, I was less inclined to free the next person begging for help.
That said, for a large majority of the game, every memory experienced requires the player to explore an environment that is fundamentally the same as the previous one, and the physical path through each memory rarely deviates from linear. Further, player actions are limited to walking, crouching to accommodate low objects, opening doors, walking down steps, scanning the environment for a clue, pressing a button, walking, shooting a gun… walking.
This may seem like the perfect recipe for a repetitive and dull game, but the simplicity and similarity of each level actually allows other elements of Get Even to shine.
Exploration of each level is accompanied audibly by your own footsteps, the dripping of a tap, occasional clangs of metal from above or below, breathing from God knows where, and a slow heartbeat that accelerates rapidly as a dangerous scenario is about to be entered. As it is so dark, rather monotonous, and there are a plethora of corridors with doors and corners ripe for jump scares, audible environmental cues are an important guide for the player. This makes it all the more terrifying when this cues are drowned out by the loud synthetic pulsing signifies danger and accompanies your raised heartbeat. And the overwhelming pulsing doesn’t even start just before the danger! It gives you time to fret about where the danger is coming from.
Get Even provides the perfect audiovisual environment for jump scares, but employs them very selectively. In this way, it creates a much more powerful sense of dread and terror.
Get Even is a quirky, psychological thriller that can only be described as being greater than the sum of its parts. The gameplay is basic, and the plot is not particularly novel or inspired, but the atmosphere of this game is affecting. Every time I played Get Even, I felt unsettled and anxious. And for that reason, I love it. I can only assume this game would be even more terrifying in VR.