A play called Ghost Stories ran in London from 2010 to early 2015. It was an 80 minute long piece of live horror theatre, with no intermission. One of those ones where you’re not allowed to say what happens, in case you spoil it for anyone who might want to see it in the future. The worst moments in Ghost Stories weren’t jump scares, but the long moments beforehand. Moments suffused with an ever present, dreadful feeling that something horrible was about to happen.
Ghost Stories was written by Jeremy Dyson, the fourth and usually invisible member of The League of Gentlemen, and Andy Nyman, the magician slash actor who frequently co-creates Derren Brown’s shows. I didn’t realise until I was told afterwards, but those moments of inescapable tension were accompanied — or created — by a constant low bass sound played over the speakers. Get Even, which I was told is also written by people who’ve worked with Derren Brown, does the same thing.
I spent most of the preview build exploring: exploring abandoned buildings; exploring a horrible and re-purposed psychiatric hospital; exploring memories from an obscure past. The audio work on the game is really very good: footsteps echo loudly, doors creak, wires crackle. Empty rooms with broken windows sound cold. And at semi-regular intervals there is that humming bass noise, getting louder and louder. Surely, the noise tells you, it would be stupid to walk through this door, surely something calamitous will occur! And then, more often than not, nothing does. Maybe the lights flicker off, or there’s a guard idly smoking.
The Get Even preview cycled through this constant tension-to-mundanity loop, and kept me on edge without any real adrenaline outlet. It wasn’t scary as much as being entirely unrestful, which is in some ways worse than scary. Black, the character you play as, seemed similarly upset. He breathes in a laboured, ragged way in your ear. Like a beleaguered Sean Bean he rasps: “Where the fuck am I and why the fuck am I armed?”
Why indeed, Black? It seems inaccurate to describe Get Even as a first person shooter. Technically you do play in first person, and can shoot things with guns, but unloading a clip into anyone feels like a failure. Black’s improbable corner gun, which can shoot at right angles, I found more useful for looking around cover without being seen. Aiming and shooting felt imprecise, in any case. Sneaking around seemed the better approach.
Black is having trouble recalling certain events from his past. Thank god, then, that he still has his phone, which encompasses being a scanner, infrared camera, map, and blacklight all in one (though cycling through these applications to solve puzzles was a little time consuming and frustrating). With the help of this, a mysterious person called Red who appeared only on TV screens, and a weird device strapped to his head, Black is able to explore and relive his memories. Sort of Saw meets The Butterfly Effect. But Black suffers so many black outs in the first half an hour that you’re never entirely sure if anything happening is real. A retroactive lacquer of doubt is painted over previous events: was it a memory? A hallucination? Did any of it actually happen?
Get Even seems to be a game where you can’t trust your eyes or your ears. Sometimes that bass noise would be cut through by loud clanks that I first thought were a key turning in a lock but were, I realised, the ponderously slow ticks of a clock. Sometimes Black is haunted by the voice of a girl he didn’t save. Or maybe he did. I can’t be sure, you see.
The little bit of the story I saw from Get Even is enough of a hook that I want to finish it. I want to know what happens (and happened) to Black. But I also read all of The Da Vinci Code, an almost 600 page testament to how good stories can be told badly. To be really great as a whole Get Even will need more variety than underground corridors and a falling down asylum. Seen one amnesiac ex-military dude in a cell talking to himself and you’ve seen them all, as it were, and the mechanic of using memories means you have the perfect excuse to go to interesting places.
Curiously it turns out in the full game you can also play as Red. I really hope there’s a sequence of the game where you screw a high tech memory mask McGuffin into an unconscious man’s head. Accompanied by the meticulously researched sound of screwing something into a man’s head. And a low bass hum.