Scary, minimalist, melancholic: this thriller is everything you wouldn’t expect
PC, PS4, Xbox One
The first hour of Get Even – like, you would hope, the rest of the game – is difficult to define. It’s scary, but not a horror. You have guns, but it isn’t a shooter.
Lionel Lovisa, the game’s producer, whose previous credits include Metal Gear Solid 4 and Peace Walker, describes it as a “thriller”. Though its locations are empty and sparse, its interactions bare and few, Get Even puts you on the edge of your seat.
“I’m expecting to have people hate the game because it’s not a shooter, or it’s not their kind of a game,” Lovisa says. “I also expect to have people who say it’s blown their minds. With something like Call Of Duty, you have reactions between, let’s say, 70 and 100 – one way or another, people don’t really complain about it. I expect Get Even will have a much bigger range of responses.”
As Cole Black, a Sheffield-accented mercenary with, seemingly, a troubled past, your opening assignment is to rescue a kidnapped woman being held inside an abandoned school. Get Even’s slow, muted pace is immediately striking. There is no booming musical score, no horde of enemies, no protracted, jargon-heavy mission briefing. Accompanied only by the sounds of Black’s breathing and of doors opening and closing somewhere inside the vast, dead building, you methodically work your way from the top floor to the basement. When you do encounter a guard, he’s on the phone to his wife, explaining that he won’t be home until late. Black takes a deep breath. The aim button slowly raises your pistol. You repeat an action learned from countless videogames, and the guard falls immediately dead. But it feels somehow wrong. Neither satisfying nor overtly melancholic, your first kill in Get Even is as cold and indifferent as the basement in which it takes place. The sound remains muted. There are no exotic blood effects. All you can hear is the guard’s widow: “Hello? Hello?” Demonstrably, this game is messing with your head.
Created by Polish developer The Farm 51, Get Even almost capriciously toys with genre conventions. It builds up to jump scares, but they never quite arrive. A large-scale gunfight breaks out but it’s unspectacular and over quickly. Compared to so many games, which take pride in their clarity and accessibility, when playing Get
Even, you never quite know how you’re supposed to feel. Similarly contrary and slowly paced games, such as Firewatch and
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, foreground their themes, characters and emotional conceits. Big action titles live and die by their set-pieces. Between both these archetypes,
Get Even treads a distinctive, intransigent line – so far, at least, it refuses to succumb to shooter, horror or dramatic conventions.
“Even if nothing is happening, a lot of things are happening,” Lovisa explains. “You play for an hour and you don’t do very much. But you’ll feel like you’ve done a lot. You won’t know what happens when you open the next door.
“You know, if we talk about Uncharted, for example, there you have a puzzle, then shooting, then adventure – it’s puzzle time, then shooting time, then adventure time. Doing it like that, it’s really easy to balance a game. With Get Even, it’s different. There’s a different feeling in almost every room. There are no two places where you’ll experience the same rhythm. You don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s what kind of game it is.”
Independent games are often credited for their writing, their unpredictability, their unusualness; big-budget games are admired for their production values. But rarely do the two seem to combine. It’s as if, over the past five to ten years, a line has been drawn in the sand, defining what certain kinds of games are allowed to do and to be. As it moves out of the abandoned school, into dream sequences, dialogue-heavy exploration sections and finally a lengthy shooting and sneaking mission, reminiscent of this year’s Deus Ex, Get Even – consistently surprising, but nevertheless polished to modern, triple-A standards – feels like a rare example of a game that is prepared to straddle both independent and mainstream sensibilities. The Farm 51 has the equipment and know-how to create some technically accomplished mechanics and environments, but its comparatively small size allows it to experiment and challenge, too.
“The Farm 51 has one of the biggest scanning rigs in Europe, used to 3D-scan real-world objects,” Lovisa says. “We don’t have 300 artists to make props, so scanning lets us get high-detail assets into the game. It’s a double-edged sword, because it’s getting very real. It looks like reality but it also doesn’t – it’s that uncanny valley effect. But we can also change things in this game in about half a day, make switches and put things in – or take them out – very quickly. You can’t do that on a triple-A game. When I worked on 300-people projects, I’d have to talk to the director, who’d talk to the leader of the animation team, who’d talk to the animator, who had to find time in the schedule, and so on. Here, I talk to maybe two people and it’s done. Will something work? Will it not work? The attitude is, ‘I don’t know, but let’s put it in.’ We haven’t set a lot of expectations for the game, so we can experiment however we like.”
Its dialogue is occasionally clunky and there are a couple of humdrum sequences (a rotted old asylum, the patients of which are being used as military test subjects, is hackneyed), but the first hour is unlike any game released over the past decade. Perhaps that means it doesn’t preview well – aside from its constantly shifting but always subtly uncomfortable atmosphere, there’s no single thing by which Get Even can easily be defined. But its sparing and painfully contextualised flashes of violence are enough to turn your stomach. Its ability to lean, softly, into recognisable videogame elements makes it engaging. For the longest time, games have slotted themselves simply, eagerly, into genres. ‘Shooter’ is an easier sell than ‘character drama’. ‘Platformer’ brings to consumers’ minds a tangible, familiar product. If Get Even continues in its current vein – a high-end game without adherence to even the newest, most fashionable conventions – it will, at the very least, for critics, players and developers alike, be a talking point.
“A shooter we could do easily,” Lovisa says. “A puzzle game we could do easily. When I came onto Get Even it wasn’t well-balanced, but it had potential. It’s not generic. It’s dangerous. This game is quite expensive but it’s also uncertain, at this point, how much people are going to like it. If it works, we can make more titles of this kind and scale. And right now, those are rare.”
“With Get Even, it’s different. There’s a different feeling in almost every room”
Lionel Lovisa, producer