If you value originality higher than polish and slickness in your videogames, you've probably enjoyed a number of indie games recently. At the moment, the indie developer scene is thriving, and Get Even – created by tiny Polish outfit The Farm 51 – comes close to exemplifying what indie games should be all about.
That's because, thanks to a clever premise and unconventional structure, it does a fine job of refusing to fit into any established games genre. If pressed, we'd describe it as a psychological puzzle-stealth-shooter, but that still wouldn't do it justice.
Get Even review: What's kind of game is it?
At first, Get Even feels like it will be an action-puzzler. You play Cole Black, a hard-bitten ex-military type proceeding through a derelict building near Birmingham, racing against time to free a kidnapped young woman named Grace.
Black has a phone equipped with a DNA scanner, an ultraviolet light and a map that can display enemies and their lines of sight - so at first, Get Even feels a bit like the detective missions in the Batman: Arkham games.
Black also has a gun and can perform takedowns, and when he reaches the captors, he dispatches them. But he can't stop the bomb strapped to the girl from going off – even though she's adamant that she knows the code to defuse it.
Instantly, things take a turn for the very weird indeed.
Get Even review: What's the story?
Black wakes up in a super-creepy, gloriously run-down mental asylum populated by assorted psychos who are obsessed with a shadowy figure they call the Puppet-master. Moving around this asylum, he picks up clues about their backgrounds and psyches, must solve the odd puzzle (such as restoring power to electrified doors) and make choices about which ones to either kill when they threaten him or to release into other parts of the building.
Soon, the man who runs the asylum – known only as Mr Red, and viewed via television screens which litter the place – comes into play, and it emerges that Black is actually participating in an exercise involving a sort of VR headset that has the ability to let its wearers relive their (and others') memories.
Black, it seems, is acting as a sort of virtual private investigator for Mr Red, and interspersed with the odd sequence back in the asylum, he must negotiate a series of stealth-heavy missions such as stealing a gun that shoots around corners (a handy piece of kit which he gets to use), and finding out what happened to other people who were murdered in the vicinity of the kidnapping.
He also often finds himself in a nightmarish reconstruction of a house, the floor of which assembles itself as he walks, discovering the intimate details of the troubled family life of a man called Robert Ramsey. If he completes his investigations, Black learns, he will be freed from the asylum.
Get Even review: How does it play?
Initially, it all seems a bit random and disjointed - especially since wonderfully sinister music enhances the feeling of creeping unease - but slowly, the disparate strands draw together to form a coherent whole. At which point, realisation begins to dawn, and Get Even reveals itself as a disturbing but thoroughly thought-provoking meditation on the nature of guilt and the unreliable nature of memory (even Alzheimer's is touched upon).
Black's VR helmet, codenamed Pandora, provides him with a room in which key findings from his investigations are laid out on pinboards, from whence he can revisit sequences in which he missed clues, which is a clever way of ensuring that Get Even's gameplay constantly chops and changes. It's the perfect antidote to those games in which you spend tens of hours doing the same thing over and over again.
Luckily, Get Even's gameplay is pretty good, ranging from the intense to the meditative. Puzzles are interspersed among the shooting and stealth, and you often have to swap your gun for your phone in order to scan things like bloodstains and trigger key memories. Graphical cues like glitchy characters who semi-disassemble into wireframes remind you that you're in a VR simulation, and as you work your way through the game, you learn much about the nature of the Pandora headset itself.
Towards the end of the game there are sequences in which Mr Red urges you to take a stealthy approach, but which only seem possible to negotiate if you adopt a full-on first-person shooter attitude. Anyway, the opportunity to hide behind cover and shoot enemies with the corner gun is too much fun to pass up.
Eventually, the game reaches an almighty crescendo of weirdness which, at times, is surprisingly emotional. Get Even's writing duo are best known for their work with Derren Brown, and have succeeded brilliantly in their aim of messing with your mind. Naturally, there's a huge false ending, after which further twists and revelations keep on coming.
For an indie game, Get Even is satisfyingly long: it takes over ten hours to complete, and significantly more if you adopt a completist mindset.
It's an interesting game, but not a perfect one. Graphically, although taking you through plenty of convincing (if rather depressing) real-world settings, it lacks the sort of polish you would expect from a game made by a 100-strong team (which, of course, it didn't have).
One aspect of Get Even is beyond doubt: it really doesn't feel like any other game that you will ever have played. It will also leave you emotionally drained, with plenty of new insights into the human psyche, and somewhat perturbed about the potential psychological drawbacks of what will happen if virtual reality ever reaches the stage when it allows us to relive our memories as if they were happening in real-time.
If you seek intellectual insight from videogames, you will love Get Even. It's different; good different.
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