Time was, creating a scary video game meant hashing together levels with enough jump scares to make a Blair Witch sequel, serving up some close-quarters melee combat and piping in tense background music.
It’s 2017, though, which means that just won’t cut the mustard any more. Sure, games of said recipe are still being served up - but they’re hardly doing anything new.
Enter: Get Even. A mind-bending thriller that’ll have you searching through spine-tingling environments and scratching your cranium in equal measure, this is no re-imagining of a worn-out concept.
In fact, while the sell – ‘What is real?’ – makes it all feel a bit concept-over-content, having been hands-on with the title at Bandai Namco’s HQ, I can say for sure that this is one fright-filled game that definitely deserves your time.
Why? Here’s why.
Written to thrill
It’s no coincidence that this game messes with your head: its writers are Iain Sharkey and Stephen Long.
Sure, you probably haven’t heard of them, but they’re the same blokes who’ve written a host of Derren Brown’s productions. You know, the guy that makes a living by playing psycho mind tricks on people?
It’s little surprise, then, that as you progress through the early levels of Get Even inexplicable goings-on will leave you baffled - and more than a little bit petrified.
See, this game doesn’t deliver terror as many pulse-racing, thick-in-the-chest slashers do; rather, it makes your skin tingle with a fear of the unknown and unexplained. You’re not sure what you’re afraid of, you just know that you should be.
Distorted, broken-voiced silhouettes issue instructions from TV sets, for example, that leave you wondering just what decision is the right one and, much like with Mr Brown’s antics, whether you’re actually in control at all.
Proper RPG decision making
Control, in fact, is a big part of the gameplay, with every action and discovery written to feel like it might have been planned out for you - which, suffice it to say, is not a comforting feeling.
That’s not to say, mind, that you don’t get to sway the gameplay. Rather, it almost feels like whichever way the game goes - and it can go many ways, apparently - that was the way they wanted it to go.
Who they are remains to be seen, but as you determine how to progress through levels there’s a very real sense of involvement and isolation - despite the presence of your digital guide.
Whether you creep past guards or kill them (and, indeed, how you kill them - do you save bullets by stabbing them?); whether you release prisoners or not; whether you choose to fix switches; whether you turn left or right: almost every action (or inaction) feels like it has a weight to it.
That even goes so far as how you use your handheld device. This is a nifty bit of kit that works as an evidence scanner, a UV torch, a comms device and a map. Different actions will uncover different evidence, and it all amounts to a sense of uncertainty in your own independence.
Levels from the real world
That all of these decisions are taking place in urban environments that feel utterly real and properly deep only serves to heighten the sense of impending danger and creeping discomfort.
Part of that is rooted in how Get Even’s developer has modelled the levels: they’re all based on real places that have been 3D-scanned into the game. Besides delivering levels that feel far more developed, vast and realised than a game of this budget has any right to, that tech also keeps you properly fearful.
As you explore an abandoned mental institution, for example, the knowledge that it’s based on a real-world location only serves to add to the thick weight of foreboding as you fight to find out just what’s real and what isn’t.
The levels are well rendered, too, from crumbling walls to creepy stairwells, though it’s actually the way that this link to the real world is used together with the reality-bending mind tricks that makes things so creepy.
See, while you know the tunnel you’re pacing through is probably scanned from a sewer somewhere in the world, as pipes begin to warp and disappear, or you go through door after door after door at accelerating pace in a real Derren Brown twist, you realise reality (or a version of it) is breaking, and the illusion disappears.
When you wake up, are you out of the illusion, or was it all a part of another one? That’s a question you’ll wrestle with constantly.