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Get Even review

Virtual mundanity.

A trashy, overwrought psychodrama with the odd inspired touch that alternates between simple forensic puzzles and gimmicky gunplay.

All stories involve a degree of misdirection by definition, but it often feels like misdirection is the only card Get Even has to play. Even the game's cast seem frustrated by its taste for obfuscation. Following one particular breakthrough, Cole Black, the (yes, ironically named) ex-military roughneck who serves as protagonist for most of the tale, asks his enigmatic associate "Red" why he couldn't have just given everything away upfront. Red and developer The Farm 51's answer is that you have to experience some events as they unfold in order to grasp their import - and there are times, during the game's final moments, especially, when this hoary old maxim rings true. But Get Even's twists and turns are more often evasive and defensive than tantalising or engaging. It has the mildly frantic air of an emperor who's just noticed a bit of a draught around his nether regions.

Much of the design work seemingly consists of getting in the player's way, lest you realise that the psychological soap opera you're piecing together is, at root, a pretty humdrum tale of overweening pride and blundering villainy. There are the guards who insist that you play Dodge The Viewcone while you're searching gloomy, putrid interiors for critical documents. And there are the interfacial glitches, cutscene rants and narrative red herrings that strive to keep you guessing about the secrets at the game's heart, a heart of darkness that proves to be made of tin.

The art and audio direction set you up for jump scares, but fear not, ye craven souls - this isn't a horror game.

Get Even isn't an awful game - indeed, it suggests a team capable of making a great one. The title is pleasingly double-sided, for one thing. It evokes the kind of cheesy, on-rails revenge fable Midway might have shipped in the mid-noughties, and there's certainly a B-movie pong to the "cornergun", a weapon you acquire early on that folds 90 degrees to let you snipe from safety. But as the boxart's inverted lettering implies, the title also refers to the act of evening out discrepancies between accounts, reconciling versions of reality - a process elegantly summarised by one, later puzzle, in which you must arrange a room's contents to mirror that of another room through the window.

The plot takes place in modern-day England, and begins with Black failing to save a kidnapped girl from an explosion (a premise that saw Bandai Namco delaying the game to avoid releasing in the aftermath of the suicide attack at the Manchester Arena). On regaining consciousness, he finds himself in the grounds of a ruined asylum wearing a sinister-looking headset. It's here that Red pops up, a grainy silhouette on a flatscreen, to explain that Black is undergoing a form of virtual reality therapy, having been left in a coma by the blast. To wire his brain back together, you must search the asylum for photographs that unlock flashbacks of the events leading up to the explosion, and repair those memories by recovering or restoring the key artefacts and conversations while fending off (or hiding from) various gun-toting jarheads, representative of Black's mounting anxieties.

Enemies in flashbacks are easy enough to outwit providing you cling to the perimeter of the area, particularly during the epilogue once you acquire certain powerful abilities.

If the idea of being caught in a simulation that can't be trusted is familiar, revealing this at the outset frees The Farm 51 to play upon that distrust at length. Neither Red nor Black are all they claim to be, and the game flirts throughout with a number of explanations for your plight - some technological, some supernatural. There are the enigmatic text messages you keep receiving, and the wooden marionettes who point and cavort in the shadows. There are the references to Alice in Wonderland, to video game mechanics - Red is fond of producerisms such as "going in all guns blazing" - and to mental illness. Certain objects and effects bleed over from the memory sequences to the present tense, discreetly populating the asylum's nooks and crannies while your back is turned, in echo of last year's Layers of Fear. There are rooms that recur endlessly, elevators that travel between time periods, and floors that collapse to reveal a murky synaptic abyss.

As enjoyable as these motifs are to peel apart, however, none of them are as spectacular or intriguing as the setups you'd encounter in a pure-bred horror game like Silent Hill, and all of them are ultimately just camouflage for a bloated, self-indulgent tale of masculine inadequacy. Stories about failing masculinity are almost as common in video games today as, well, stories about being trapped in simulations, and Get Even's take lacks the intelligence of The Last of Us, or even Bioshock Infinite. Think brittle cliches such as predatory career women or lairy, hard-drinking Irishmen, and mawkish scenes of domestic bliss contrasted with graffiti that screeches "it's all your fault". The ending does throw the plot into a new light, particularly its female characters, but it also makes the entire narrative feel like groundwork for a game that isn't caught in the mesh of one man's vapidity, a game you never actually get to see.

It doesn't really come up in dialogue but the cake is probably a lie.

All this would matter less if the moment-to-moment of play were gripping, but Get Even never quite makes its mind up about what kind of game it wants to be - a melancholy adventure in the vein of Gone Home, or Condemned: Criminal Origins by way of Touching Evil. While touring the asylum, the experience consists of gunning down the odd pipe-wielding inmate and completing simple forensic puzzles using Black's tricked-out smartphone, which houses a UAV emitter, a DNA scanner and an infrared vision filter. At their most arcane, the puzzles might involve turning valves to switch off a column of boiling steam, scanning for hidden number combinations, or using the aforesaid cornergun to disable a mechanism you can't reach. There are also side-stories whose outcomes you can influence by, for example, freeing a prisoner, and a hub chamber where you can pour over all the evidence you've collected.

It's not exactly The Talos Principle, but it's a sight more entertaining than the stealth gunplay during flashback sequences, where you'll hurry past patrolling goons with the regulation three alertness states, or blow them to clouds of polygons using rifles, SMGs and pistols. High bodycounts risk damaging the simulation and Black is a pretty wooden duelist, unable to jump or climb over objects, so as tedious as the stealth becomes, shoot-outs are better avoided.

The smartphone immediately conjures up the memory of Condemned's various CSI gadgets - I wish the game had built some more elaborate puzzles around it.

It's worth breaking cover now and then, however, for the sake of the soundtrack. Each memory sequence has its own unique dynamic audio, including a terrific number in a later park level which starts out as a wistful solo, only to escalate into a pulsing pop song as and when you're rumbled. On the whole, the audio is probably Get Even's sharpest touch, with its subtly textured, unshowy location design running a close second. Former Alone in the Dark composer Olivier Deriviere's score hugs the action closely, mixing orchestra with metallic ambient reports and distant bass notes in gentle mimicry of Silent Hill maestro Akira Yamaoka. One of his better tricks is the introduction of an accelerating percussive motif to heighten the suspense as you navigate a claustrophobic area.

If Get Even proves anything it's that The Farm 51, a studio otherwise known for shambolic Indiana Jones knock-offs and so-so shooters about vampires fighting Nazis, has a lot of lurking ambition. That's also true of its other recent work, the Chernobyl VR Project, an interactive documentary that takes viewers inside the infamous Exclusion Zone. The two games make for an arresting comparison, one celebrating the pedagogic potential of virtual reality technology while the other offers something of a cautionary tale; you can also glimpse the afterimage of The Farm 51's Chernobyl research in the rusted, mildew-spotted crevices of Get Even's environments. This is a developer to watch, I think, a developer with a lot to give, but one that is still searching for a high-level concept or premise worthy of its abilities.

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