Get Even sounds like a Guy Ritchie film. It’s the type of thing you’d see plastered on the side of a bus, starring Clive Owen. It’s two words uttered by someone smoking a 20-pack a day, after a 15-second trailer of explosions, guns and constipated glances across concrete rubble.
All this, it turns out, could end up being the one of the best tricks pulled by a video game. For all its evocations of middling action films, Get Even is a psychological thriller designed to yank the rug from under the player’s feet, pitched to pose questions about the reality of its character’s world. There are weapons to shoot, but the game’s creators tell me they are far more interested in guilt than guns.
Developed by Polish studio The Farm 51, and published by Bandai Namco, it could end up being one of 2017’s sleeper hits. I say sleeper, because the game has been dozing in limbo over the past couple of years. Officially announced in 2014, Get Even vanished from radars after facing a number of delays. Now, with a 26 May release looming ever closer, it has resurfaced, still obtuse as to what it’s actually all about.
New trailers have given a glimpse of a Sean Bean-esque protagonist tracking down a bound woman, coming up against armed guards that may or may not be illusory enemies in some meta-virtual-reality game. Has The Farm 51 made a supermarket sweep of sci-fi, action and horror tropes? Is the initial setup a ruse? Are all the generic trappings a clever use of misdirection?
“What is real?” the trailer asks. In a year dominated by questions of political authenticity and “fake” media coverage, it’s a pertinent question. I spoke to The Farm 51’s producer, Lionel Lovisa, and Get Even‘s composer, Olivier Deriviere, about whether the game is looking to tackle social questions about truth and reality. “No,” was the blunt answer. Get Even might touch on abstract concepts, but at its heart it is a story about one character’s struggle.
“Me, Olivier and most of the people on the title are quite old now,” said Lovisa. “We aren’t afraid of zombies or aliens; it’s more likely that we’ll be afraid of what happens to our families, what will happen to our life, or our child. Get Even is about that. It’s an intimate story about what could happen to you. I think we can move people with that, because it’s something they might have experience with in their life.”
An example of Get Even‘s human heart happens towards its beginning, I’m told, when your character needs to decide whether or not to kill a guard. He’s talking on the phone. Take him out and you’re left hearing his wife on the other end of the line, panicking about what’s happened to her loving husband. Similarities to a certain Austin Powers scene aside, it’s a neat way to poke the player’s presumptions around violence in the game’s world. Deriviere told me that, although the studio wants to unsettle its players, it’s not out to preach about morality.
“It’s much more about guilt and regret,” he said. “Violence in the game is because of the character. It’s not like NieR: Automata, [where the ideas of violence are] on a big scale. In Get Even it’s very limited in terms of scope. But we want people to understand it’s a very human, genuine experience. Anyone can have guilt. Anyone can have regret. You can do things when you think you did it for a good [reason], but in the end were really bad. That’s the whole point. The game is a pretext to tell that story.”
3D scanning and immersive audio
For a small indie studio, The Farm 51 is doing a good job of making Get Even look and sound like a big-budget title. From an audio perspective, the team is using Auro-3D technology to craftily position sound around the player. To match tonal shifts in gameplay, Deriviere’s score also pulls from multiple influences, leaping between sweeping orchestrations to pulsing electronica.
Graphically, Get Even makes use of a technique called photogrammetry, where real-life environments are 3D-scanned and then turned into assets for the game. With only a handful of background artists working on the game, this has given scope for the developers to bring a level of detail to their environments that would normally take a AAA-sized team. There are drawbacks – Lovisa told me that lighting these 3D-scanned images can be a chore – but it has ultimately allowed for a level of ambition that would otherwise be difficult to realise. It also chimes with some of the game’s themes.
“It was like, ‘Okay, if you want the player to question what is real, let’s get the graphics as real as possible’,” he said. “How can we get the most realistic-looking graphics as possible? Oh, we can use photogrammetry.”
Whether real-world samples lend Get Even an degree of environmental Uncanny Valley, reinforcing its whole schtick about blurred reality lines, remains to be seen. At the very least, it will be interesting to see if the studio manages to use its technical trickery to give its indie thriller the look of a game with ten times the budget.
“The fact that technology can create something, make you feel something, relive something – this is what this game is all about,” Deriviere said. “It’s a very human story. The game is always asking you questions. It’s a rollercoaster between situations. In Get Even, you can’t anticipate what will happen.”