With the seemingly endless glut of first-person shooters that place a premium on bombast, ratcheting up the body count and generally being about as deep as a puddle on a summer’s day, it’s reasonable to say that there’s room for something a touch more cerebral in the FPS genre. So it is then that Get Even, by developers The Farm 51 (they of Painkiller and Deadfall Adventures fame), has fallen into our laps, promising to do things differently by boasting a mixture of traditional gunplay, puzzle solving, an impressively layered narrative coupled with some atmospheric exploration. The issue however, is that under the heft of such weighty ambitions, the execution simply isn’t good enough to do right by Get Even’s commendably intriguing premise.
A uniquely engaging first-person shooter
Before we get to the stumbles of Get Even, let’s make immediate note of its most obvious and immediate quality; this is a game that actively seeks to defy classification, a title that criss-crosses pop culture influences and videogame subgenres quite unlike any other FPS before it and for this alone, Get Even demands a degree of attention, if not respect.
Tying all of this together are the conceptually lofty trappings of its plot which casts players as Cole Black, an amnesiac former Special Forces type who finds himself imprisoned in a crumbling asylum where he is forced to relieve digitally reconstructed memories through a VR device known as Pandora. So far so Assassin’s Creed then, but where Get Even diverges from comparisons to Ubisoft’s workhorse franchise, is in the previously mentioned variance of gameplay that is interwoven into its narrative fabric.
One section could have you tip-toeing through the asylum itself, being stalked by other inmates and catching creepy movements on the periphery of your vision, echoing the likes of horror genre titles such as Layers of Fear and even older fare, such as underrated psycho-thriller Condemned to name experiences of a similar ilk. Elsewhere, another section could have you carefully moving through an industrial state en route to abandoned warehouse, performing silent takedowns on some mercenaries and letting your silenced pistol deal with the rest. Get Even is at the very least an effort that continually makes an attempt to surprise the player, which in an era of straight-laced, singular concept shooters proves to be a welcome revelation indeed.
Ostensibly, the bulk of Get Even takes place within the Inception-esque confines of its virtual reality realm, a series of times and places that have been imperfectly reconstructed from memory by the mysterious ‘Red’, a well-spoken though mysterious visage that occasionally appears on one of the many flickering television sets located around the asylum. Again, much like Assassin’s Creed, the effects of an imperfect virtual recreation of a supposedly real event brings with it some tangible effects to how events play out.
Early on for instance, one memory has Cole infiltrating an experimental weapons facility but finds him discouraged by Red to kill the guards loitering around its interior, since simply that’s not what happened in the real-life scenario. Interestingly, though you can opt to go on a killing spree rather than sneaking through undetected, Red chides you for doing the latter while the game records your actions and subtly changes the manner in which later developments in the story unfold. Refreshingly, it’s a nice touch to have an FPS then that displays this level of moral consciousness at a basic level, even if the results of such choices aren’t as pronounced as one would like. Building on this, the haphazard reconstruction of these memories into virtual environments also allows Cole to use his smartphone to take a few shortcuts too, such as creating cover where none exists and to gain access to areas that were previously unavailable.
Sitting atop what might seem a scattershot approach to game design, is Get Even’s somewhat unconventional narrative. Without delving too deeply into spoiler territory, the plot of the game broadly conforms to what you would expect a game called ‘Get Even’, to be about. A veritable Russian doll of story design that frequently toys with notions of tragedy and reality, Get Even’s take on the revenge thriller is one that is very well executed; the writers doing a grand job of keeping their cards close to their chest and not revealing the truth about ‘Red’ and also ‘Black’, until the events of the plot demand it. Add to this a tremendous bait and switch that occurs halfway through that utterly changes your perception of who the protagonists and antagonists are and it’s clear that the Get Even boasts one of the better stories to come along in quite some time.
Elsewhere, a handy ‘mind palace’ style evidence room allows players to revisit previous memories to discover new clues to Cole’s predicament and correct any mistakes which may have been made, while also enabling players to attempt these memories in a different fashion, perhaps substituting stealth for confrontation, or vice-versa. Ably supporting the narrative is the voice acting, which from beginning to end is superbly performed by the ensemble cast. The voice talent behind Cole Black in particular is due praise; a paranoid and brash individual who seemingly channels Sean Bean at first, he brings a real sense of fury and desperation to the role that really helps the player become immersed in his struggle to free himself from the confines of the asylum.
Get Even is technically uneven
The variance in gameplay that Get Even boasts throughout is most certainly something that should be celebrated, though the uneven execution of it leaves something to be desired. Where this is a real problem, is in the parts of the game where Get Even pretends it’s a regular FPS. The first issue that comes up in this regard is the enemy AI, in so far it’s basically awful. When the numerous Call of Duty style rent-a-goons are not following very short, predesignated patrol routes or idly stood around waiting to be taken out, they act as very poor pursuers. Indeed, should a foe give chase, you can ‘reset’ them by just running away; the act of going up or down some stairs, or retreating to a slightly earlier point on a map seemingly being enough to make them forget all about the pursuit they had just seconds prior.
Another problem is that the guns themselves aren’t very much fun to use either. Aside from a somewhat natty ‘corner gun’ that does exactly what you think it does, Get Even’s arsenal of sniper rifles, pistols and semiautomatic firearms all feel far too familiar and dull to really excite when the bullets begin to fly.
Invariably though, the nail in the coffin for Get Even’s more traditional FPS sections however, are the range of technical issues that plague the PS4 version of the game at a base level. A mediocre technical presentation, you can expect to see re-used maps, objects clipping through surfaces, aliasing issues throughout and a framerate that struggles to keep itself at 30 frames per second. A far more egregious trespass though are the glitches. I counted at least four separate times in which I became stuck in the scenery, forcing a reset on each and every occasion (seemingly Get Even has real problems with you traversing uneven outdoor environments such as rocky outcroppings and the like).
The obvious upshot of Get Even’s uneven technical presentation then, is that the sub 30 frames per second make it feel less responsive than its peers and so significantly and undeniably hurt its prospects when it tries to be a regular FPS; something those of us spoiled by the liquid smooth animation and response times of Titanfall 2 can readily attest to. As a result, Get Even fares far better as an atmospheric first-person adventure, where such technical foibles can be forgiven owing to the slower pace.
All the same, it’s not all doom and gloom from a technical perspective, however. Specifically, Get Even proves that its developer is talented at wielding sound as an effective tool to scare and unsettle the player, with Olivier Deriviere’s tremendous dread-filled score and some truly disquieting sounds that solidify the foreboding environment of the asylum in particular. There’s no doubt about it; Get Even’s best in class sound engineering really does shine, especially when experienced through a pair of 3D headphones.
There’s no doubt that Get Even is a commendably bold experiment. A sometimes intoxicating hybrid of atmospheric walking simulator efforts such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and traditional modern FPS genre beats, the wealth of ambition that developer The Farm 51 have shown is sadly not equalled by the execution of its concepts.
Somewhat blighted by a lack of polish, reused environments and most crucially of all, subpar gunplay, Get Even arguably fares better as a tense, narrative-driven walking simulator than as a shooter; highlighting the fact that there is little ‘even’ about this otherwise extremely intriguing attempt to blend genres.