PC, PS4, Xbox One
There has been much confusion, in the lead up to
Get Even’s release, as to what it actually is. The Farm 51’s debut has been described variously as a firstperson shooter, a horror game, and – to use the studio’s own label – a psychological thriller. The finished game avoids firm categorisation, blending aspects from a number of genres as the studio picks and chooses the mechanics that best tell its dark story about loss, guilt and revenge. The result is a game that is particularly successful at evoking the gritty, disorienting atmosphere of the films that inspired it (a list that includes Kill List, Memento and Oldboy), even if it isn’t always as good at providing enjoyment.
Throughout the game, amnesiac protagonist Cole Black is held in an asylum and forced to relive memories dredged up by an experimental VR device called the Memory Visualisation Headset (also known by its slightly snappier codename, Pandora). By looking at certain photos, Black can dive into latent memories and try to recall what happened as he wrestles with the guilt he feels about a botched hostage-rescue attempt. A shadowy figure, known only as Red, orchestrates the whole thing, communicating via TV screens dotted about the institution and insisting this rather traumatic process is a treatment for which Black volunteered.
The prototype headset struggles to simulate realistic human behaviour (conveniently explaining the fuzzy AI), so killing people or going off script while in a memory will destabilise it. The consequences for doing so are hardly severe – a terse dressing down from Red, perhaps, and a subtle change to the way some story events subsequently play out – but you’ll still feel guilty if you pull the trigger. The Farm 51 toys with this tension, appealing to your sense of morality while at the same time tempting you with the prospect of combat. In between these moments you’ll solve puzzles, explore environments and gather evidence, try to glean wider context from news clippings and police reports, and interact with a cast of highly unstable fellow patients.
The Farm 51’s decision to never settle on any particular playstyle ensures that Get Even retains its ability to surprise right up until the end. Pleasingly, it also means that the twisting storyline is reflected in the game’s mechanics. One moment you might be sneaking through an underground car park trying to avoid the red vision cones of a surprisingly diverse British security detail; the next, you’ll be doing a spot of light plumbing as you try to get hot water through a series of valves using an infrared camera; later, you’ll be cowering in the dank bowels of a decaying asylum, flanked by glass-eyed mannequins, which appear to change position whenever you look away.
None of the game’s varied selection of activities stand out as particularly groundbreaking in isolation, but most acquit themselves well. However, in cherry- picking components that provide ways to spin a yarn, as opposed to building mechanics for the sake of play, the game’s focus always feels like it’s on the bigger picture as opposed to the minute-to-minute experience. The end result is, despite the name, uneven.
Puzzles, too, can feel perfunctory, each requiring you to make use of one of your phone’s various apps to reveal the solution. They’re not intended to hold you up, instead existing as simple – and occasionally surprisingly moving – components in a branching story that often provide an opportunity for you to choose between playing an impassive or impulsive hero. You might decide to shoot a lock off a door, say, rather than fiddle with valves to shut off the jet of steam venting into a crawlspace. That the solutions are rarely gratifying is an unfortunate side effect. Yet one thing at which Get Even excels is building atmosphere. A great deal of this is thanks to sound designer and composer Olivier Deriviere’s exceptional soundtrack, which contorts itself around the action to an unusual degree. Black’s breathing becomes part of the rhythm of a track at one point; samples and stems rise and fall in the mix depending on which parts of the environment you’re looking at, and the drone of a stomach-turning bass note reaches deeper in step with your own descent through the guts of a building. It’s a stirring accompaniment to an ambitious storyline.
It’s a pity that the environments in which all of this takes place aren’t as indelible. Perhaps it’s a deliberate choice: the story, after all, explores the consequences of misremembering, and how distinct memories can be conflated into some new, inaccurate haze. But the samey environments feel more like a poor aesthetic choice than a clever reflection of the game’s themes. While the photogrammetry-captured locations take in graveyards, abandoned buildings, modern labs and more, the game’s pervasive desaturated colour palette and nondescript locales conspire to make them feel indistinct.
There are issues with pacing, too. Switching between so many styles results in a staccato journey in terms of mechanics, even if the story itself is intriguing enough to keep you on edge. It slightly overstays its welcome, and feels less taut by the end, but that doesn’t take away from the powerful conclusion. The decision to lock off one of The Farm 51’s best gameplay ideas in the epilogue rankles a little, however.
The result is a game that, while built from familiar components, feels unique as a whole. The Farm 51 should be commended for its bold design decisions, and for attempting to create something that dispenses with videogame conventions. That it doesn’t always hang together quite as well as it could is disappointing, but that doesn’t make experiencing the studio’s singular vision any less worthwhile.
The game’s focus always feels like it’s on the bigger picture as opposed to the minute-to-minute experience