Having a game define a genre customarily means it’s done something refreshing or innovative to stand out from the rest of the competitive market. These highly praised titles learn from the ideas of the past and build upon them to make games better – evolving the genre in the process. The developers at Saber Interactive have taken their inspiration for Gears of War by creating a cover-based third-person shooter that adds in gameplay based around gravity manipulation. The idea is great in design, but Inversion doesn’t do enough to bring itself up to the same level of Epic’s shooter that it tries to imitate so much.
Taking place not too far into the future, Inversion puts players in the shoes of Davis Russel, a police officer along with his partner Leo Delgado, who find themselves stuck in the heat of a Lutadore invasion. After getting captured and imprisoned, the two guys escape and head to Russel’s house to find that his wife is dead and his kid missing. Russel’s missing daughter is the game’s entire driving force and makes for a one-note story. His thirst for finding information on his daughter motivates him to keep pressing and kill any Lutadore that stand in his way. It’s not long until the duo run into a resistance group that have an idea just where the missing girl might be.
The story is run-of-the-mill; although there is an interesting twist or two that’ll make you go “oh?!”, don’t expect the story to excite you much. One thing the game does too much is throw in cutscenes that appear after a short segment of gameplay. I don’t have a problem with the developers wanting to tell a story using non-interactive segments, but I’d rather have them longer and less frequent than constantly popping up every 10 minutes. Some of these scenes could have easily been replicated or told during gameplay.
Inversion doesn’t get off to the best of starts either. The first hour gives the impression that Inversion is just another third-person shooter. There’s nothing that really stands out in the opening scenes as you escape from the Lutadore prison camp. Once finally out of the encampment, then things begin to get better as you are set loose with the Gravlink – a device that lets you change the gravitational force in a small area.
A mechanic like the Gravlink is the key attraction for playing Inversion. The tool starts off giving you the power to shoot balls of energy that, when come into contact with something, diffuse into a dome and trap anything inside. There are two colour attributes tied to how gravity will be manipulated. Dispersing a blue shot will cause the area to have the properties of zero-gravity, leaving anyone to float around hopelessly. This is great for attacking enemies that are stuck behind cover as a shot will cause them to float into the air. This allows players to pick them off with their weapon of choice, be it a machine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle or a rocket launcher – the standard weaponry in a third-person shooter. Later on in the campaign, the Gravlink receives upgrades that make use of the blue setting to allow it to pull and carry big objects (cars are often the item of choice for this) and use them as deadly weapons to launch at groups of enemies, causing a bloody mess. Nasty but satisfying, it makes the final third of the game a blast to get through.
The other colour for the Gravlink is red. This switches the dome to feature a heavier force of gravity that pulls down enemies to the ground, causing them to become stuck momentarily. The upgrade for this colour is a force field that protects against damage until the Gravlink’s energy runs out. Each setting has its advantages during a fire fight. Red was good for keeping rushing enemies glued to the spot and blue was handy for opponents who just wouldn’t budge from behind cover. The Lutadores can use the same technology too, since it’s their equipment, although soldiers carrying the kit don’t appear that frequently compared to the standard Lutadore grunts.
Gravity also plays a part in solving simple puzzles where you are required to either make an object heavier to pull it down or make something blocking your path lighter so it floats away. Puzzles never get any deeper than that, which is a shame because the game is screaming for clever implementations of the use of gravity. Puzzle ideas could have been merged with the blue panels that flip the gravity shift in a zone. This flip causes the map to rotate and places the game’s heroes on a wall or a side of a building. That in itself doesn’t do much in gameplay terms until right at the end when enemies begin to bombard you with fire from sides and roofs of the environment. Nowhere seems to be safe to hide when that happens. I assume that the simple puzzles were a design choice so that Inversion could be kept purely a shooter.
Lastly, there are areas of the game where zero-gravity is forced upon the player. One of the first areas based on this is a demolished part of a city where buildings and rubble are floating aimlessly. The problem with the zero-gravity sections are down to movement. To properly move, you have to pull yourself towards the debris that floats around, which is simply done by aiming at the platform and using the pull function of the Gravlink. When you hit one you go into cover behind it. Handy for Lutadores in front of you, but with height and 360 movement the enemies can float around you and get you from multiple angles. When hanging freely in the air you can to some extent move around by using energy from the Gravlink, but the limited amount hardly constitutes freedom to move where you want to go. I didn’t care much for the zero-g sections because of this lack of freedom.
Looking at the rest of Inversion’s features past the gravity will seriously make you think of Gears of War; so much feels directly ripped from that game. For example, the machinegun has a blade on the end that can deal instant death kills similar to the COG’s lancer. Sprinting is exactly like roadie running, there’s a two weapon limit, some enemies come up from underground in machines that constantly spawn out bad guys and need to be closed with a grenade, and not to forget the fatality style kills when the enemy is wounded on the ground. I could make a list, but you get my point by now. So while Inversion doesn’t feel entirely fresh for the reasons above, it does still come off as a solid and fun entry in the genre.
Your computer-controlled partner works well enough. He’ll attack and defend efficiently enough that he doesn’t feel like deadweight. If you’ve got a friend, you can tackle the campaign together, but that is only available online. It feels like Saber rushed the lobby setup as to play with someone requires you to invite that person to the room. You cannot make a room and play with a random gamer through matchmaking. There’s no drop-in drop-out because of that. The campaign doesn’t change with additional players and I get a sense that the cooperative play was an afterthought. In Gears of War, players would go down split pathways; there’s none of that in Inversion.
At least you can take part in Inversion’s four-player survival mode if you fancy something more worthwhile in the cooperative spectrum. For competitiveness, you’ve got the online multiplayer that can range from 4-12 players. On top of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, you have cool modes like King of Gravity, where one player has the Gravlink and appears on the map for all the other players to see and hunt. If the King dies, the Gravlink is dropped and ready to be picked up by anyone close enough to take on the role and gain points for killing with the it equipped. I think my favourite mode would have to be Hourglass. Essentially King of the Hill with a twist, this mode incorporates global gravity switching to cause upside-down shifts of the world as points are captured. This constantly switches on each capture, making the multiplayer map feel like two maps in one. It’s rather a clever inclusion.
At first I thought Inversion was using the Unreal Engine 3 (UE3) when, in fact, it uses Saber’s own Saber3D engine to render the game with a comparable look. Inversion on the PS3 suffers from a high amount of delayed texture loading, which seems to happen mostly when the camera pans fast from scene to scene. Framerate isn’t a solid 30 frames per second. It drops more in cutscenes than in the game, but it’s unquestionably noticeable in both. Luckily this isn’t enough to affect the gameplay.
It’s a shame the campaign in Inversion plays it so safe and linear that it doesn’t take the use of gravity further. The Gears of War gameplay creates a sense of familiarity, but don’t let that be a negative on the game. Inversion might not be innovating in its field with the Gravlink mechanic, but get past the start of the game and you’ll open up to a rather enjoyable and good enough shooter that fans of the genre should give a chance before writing it off as a poor man’s Gears of War.