Inversion feels like the first draft of a game.
InversionPublisher: Namco Bandai
Players: 1-2 players
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3
Developer: Saber Interactive
Release Date: 2012-06-05
Inversion quickly establishes itself as a Gears of War imitator, a game in which two burly guys shoot lots of bad guys from cover. It even uses the same controls: the d-pad switches weapons, the A button goes moves your character into cover, etc., etc. -- though it adds enough new ideas to not seem like a blatant ripoff. Like most imitations, however, it copies the most memorable mechanics of its inspiration without understanding what makes those mechanics fun.
The shooting is immediately awkward. Inversion gets the basics, left trigger zooms and right trigger shoots, but it is missing the important subtleties. Enemies don’t react to getting shot, so it’s hard to know if you’re actually hitting them. There’s no blood splatter, or even a game-like X that appears in your crosshair when a bullet makes contact. The only sign that you’ve done damage is that your enemy eventually dies. Because of this lack of feedback, you’ll spend much of the game second guessing your aim.
The big hook of Inversion is how it integrates gravity into combat. Early on you’ll get the Gravlink, a weapon that’s attached to you arm (so it doesn’t take the place of a gun), which shoots out a blue burst of energy that negates gravity wherever it lands. It’s an easy way to get enemies out of cover and turns random objects caught in the field into potential cannonballs, but it takes a while to upgrade the Gravlink to a point where it’s actually useful in combat.
When you first pick it up, you can only use it twice before it runs out of charge. Even after upgrading the Gravlink there’s never a moment when it feels necessary. It’s easy to forget about. This disincentives its use, so you’ll go through several chapters playing Inversion like any other third-person cover-based shooter, and it’s not a very good third-person cover-based shooter. If/when you do remember the Gravlink’s is there, it does change up combat in some interesting ways.
When objects are floating in the air you, can grab them from any distance with the Gravlink and shoot them back as projectile weapons. Rocks, barrels, bodies, and even live enemies become ammunition. Eventually you’ll be able to pick up and throw cars, which is undeniably satisfying. This is a good use of the environment and had the potential to redefine the “shooting” part of this shooter, but it doesn’t. You’re inundated with so much ammo for every kind of gun that the Gravlink never becomes your main weapon. It’s always a secondary tool, and the sub-par shooting always remains the focus.
Sometimes the gravity of the world will shift, and you’ll find yourself fighting on a wall or ceiling. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a cool idea that when you have to flank an enemy encampment you do so by scaling the side of a building, literally going up and over it, but this changing perspective doesn’t actually change the gameplay in any way. All these inversion points are predetermined, the enemies are right there with you, and there’s still plenty of cover. Your perspective may change, but the game doesn’t.
The parts with zero gravity are more interesting. Floating debris is used as cover and you can only move from one piece of debris to another; once you start on a trajectory you can’t change course. This adds a bit of tension to the mere act of movement, and you won’t mind that you’re still pretty much locked on a horizontal plane. Unfortunately, some of the enemies that you fight in these areas aren’t locked on that horizontal plane, so while you can only move forward and back, they jump up, down, side to side, and everything in between. These fights are annoying because your perspective and movement are forcibly limited while theirs is not, and you’ll come to dread these zero gravity sections.
Near the end of the game, there’s an insane story twist that completely changes the nature of the world. Suddenly, the bland and boring story becomes a fascinating mystery that will propel you through the final chapters. Sadly, the plot goes nowhere from there. That awesome and crazy twist is never explained. It seems to exist only to set up a sequel. The entire story is like that, actually. There’s an ambition in creating a plot and even a character that’s admirable, though none of it really works.
Inversion feels like the first draft of a game, a proof of concept that just shows all the systems working together but that is missing the important refinements necessary for a final product.