Get Even is full of contradictions. It’s an indie hit trapped in the body of a AAA title. It’s a game that asks you to explore a hallucinatory, dilapidated mental asylum one moment and stealth your way through an abandoned warehouse with super hi-tech advanced weaponry the next. Its story is a melodramatic mind-trip (literally) that utilizes every cheesy twist in the book while still somehow effectively exploring the manic psychological depths of grief and suffering. In other words, Get Even is a truly unique, exciting experience, but as a game it falls a little flat. I guess you could say Get Even is a little…uneven.
Speaking of bad wordplay, Get Even puts you in the shoes (or, better put, mind) of Cole Black, which could be the name of a hardened mercenary or a third-tier Batman supervillain alter ego. In this case, Black is more along the lines of the former, a hired gun tasked with discovering the location of and saving a girl. After the mission goes south, however, he wakes up in the aforementioned mental asylum with zero recollection of how he got there. Not only that, but he’s wearing a suped-up version of a VR headset, and he’s got this anonymous, shadowy figure named Red barking obscure orders at him to relax and explore.
The story is one twisting, turning plot point after another, though to say it’s fairly predictable would be an understatement. If you’ve seen The Cell or Inception, you will be able to guess what happens. Regardless, Black’s journey revolves around regaining his memory and remembering what led him to this moment by using his advanced headset (known in the game as “Pandora”) to dive into past memories and find clues spread around each level.
Get Even spends a lot of energy in unraveling what, by the end, boils down to a fairly simple storyline. It works, for the most part, not so much because of where you end up but how you get there. Get Even’s plot almost seems to function as a vehicle to immerse you in its world, not the other way around—and that’s a good thing.
The one element that really stands out in this game is its world. As Black, you’ll be whisked from one memory to another; some of them play out almost identically to the “Dangerous Minds” mission in Fallout 4. Like in that mission, you walk across a series of bridges from one miniature theater-like set-piece to the next amidst an endless void of black, a voyeur in a stranger’s mind. Each room you come across represents a new memory and includes a few familiar props of significant emotional meaning—a piece of art that someone’s ex-wife painted, or the couch where the couple had their last fight. These miniature set-pieces, populated by the ghostly memories of different characters, are even better and more ethereal than “Dangerous Minds,” though, and do a wonderful job of capturing the obscure notion of walking through someone else’s memories.
Other missions play out like standard stealth-action games, complete with a Metal Gear Solid-like minimap comprised of dots and cones. You’ll either be sneaking through the modern headquarters of weapons manufacturer Advanced Defense Strategies (A.D.S., get it?) or hunting for memories in a darkened cemetery, but something always feels a bit off.
Finally, the asylum moments most resemble a smaller, more thoughtful game like Gone Home, where you root around, trying to find the next clue—though in Get Even’s case, you’ll occasionally have to solve a simple puzzle or take down a rampaging fellow patient who’s charging you with a crowbar. Not only are there physical remnants of promising lives that have been shattered strewn throughout the maze-like asylum, but the growing chants of unstable men seem to be seeping through the walls.
And that’s where Get Even truly excels. While the graphics themselves aren’t anything to write home about, the art design and the sound bring the world to life and almost make you forget you’re playing a game at all. I never thought ambient noise could be so exhilarating. Sure, half the reason I love the Battlefield series is because the sound, which for the most part has been top-notch, but its audio has never lulled me into a hypnotic, dreamlike state the way that Get Even has. Whether it’s the aforementioned deranged chanting, the haunting melodies of a faraway violin, the cries of a loved one echoing in your head, or even just Black’s breathing, Get Even’s sound design is reason enough for me to recommend this game. Yes, the sound design and music is just that good—and playing with headphones is practically a requirement.
It’s too bad, then, that the gameplay itself doesn’t quite reach the same dizzying heights. That’s not to say it’s bad, because it can be fun, especially when you get a hi-tech gun that can peek around corners and fire at enemies (which is based on a real gun, by the way). It just feels way too generic and shallow compared to the more ambient aspects of the game is the problem.
For one thing, you don’t have a jump or even a climb button, which was difficult to get used to in this age of the modern, mobile shooter. I kept pressing what should be the jump button, only to whip out my smartphone—which as your map, flashlight, clue scanner, and heat-vision viewer is a major mechanic in the game, and works fine, but doesn’t beg for much in-depth analysis—and scan the environment in the middle of an intense firefight. On top of that, Red is constantly reprimanding you for “disturbing the memories” when you get into firefights, but the stealth itself is less fun than simply letting bullets fly. The gunplay actually picks up near the end of the game, with some interesting Agent Smith-like mechanics thrown in, and it made me wonder why the rest of the game’s action didn’t play out in a similar manner. The abilities you gain at the end of the game admittedly make you almost godlike, but the gunfights never once presented a challenge, even on the highest difficulty setting. So, it’s not like the balance of the game would be ruined by making you a little more powerful earlier on—but it would have allowed you to have more fun.
The action almost seemed obligatory, as if developer The Farm 51 felt compelled to include guns in a game that would have been much better off without them. That being said, if you took out the gunplay, the game itself would be nothing more than a walking simulator like Gone Home or Virginia, and would have lasted maybe two hours at most (a prospect that publisher Bandai Namco would have most likely rejected). The shootouts are conventional padding for an otherwise unconventional game. Coincidentally, the gun sounds are probably the weakest examples of audio in the game, though the music that plays during one action scene in particular makes for one of the strangest, most surreal shootouts I’ve ever experienced in a game.
In fact, I have to wonder if Get Even started out as a VR game early in development until someone up the corporate later ordered for some shooting mechanics to be shoehorned in. Even then, the game would still have worked in VR; the shooting isn’t so complicated or fast-paced to induce motion sickness, and the atmosphere would go from immersive to an all-consuming mind-trip. It seems like a missed opportunity on someone’s part, but we’re only left to wonder “what if” and whether it was due to difficulty in developing for virtual reality, a lack of interest from the team, or worry from the publisher on the limited nature of that market at this point in time. After all, throughout almost the entire game, your character is wearing what is essentially a VR headset that lets you experience memories. There would have been some nice meta-commentary there, but alas, we’re left with what is simply an already engaging, engrossing game only viewable on your TV set.
Despite the somewhat lackluster gameplay, Get Even sunk its claws into me and wouldn’t let go. Even a handful of frustrating glitches and freezes didn’t entirely take me out of the game. Like Cole, I felt like I was strapped into a strange device, hunting for clues while trapped in a fever dream. It might not be perfect, but it’s definitely worth experiencing. The Farm 51 is saying something important about games as an experiential medium here, and I’m willing to listen.
|Publisher: Bandai Namco • Developer: The Farm 51 • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 06.23.17|
Get Even is better as an experience than as a game, but it’s an extremely evocative experience. Even still, what could have been a completely unique gaming experience is hampered by its desire to be a more action-oriented, generic thriller.
|The Good||The sound design will sometimes make you forget you’re even playing a game.|
|The Bad||…which you then remember when boring shooter segments take you out of the game’s engaging world.|
|The Ugly||A couple of glitches at the end of Get Even interrupted what should have been an incredibly dramatic payoff.|
|Get Even is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Bandai Namco for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|