If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Epic Games should be blushing 20 shades of redÖeither that or talking with their copyright infringement attorneys. Iím not saying that Namcoís new game, Inversion, borrows on the visual look and gameplay style of Gears of War - Iím saying itís an unmistakable rip-off, but heyÖif you gotta be inspired, at least the team at Saber Interactive was inspired by the best. And once you get past the hulking body types of our two heroes and nearly EVERY enemy they meet, their unmistakable body armor, and even their weapons (hey Ė at least they substituted a giant blade bayonet for the chainsaw), you do come away with one refreshingly new conceptÖgravity manipulation; assuming weíve all forgotten about Half-Life 2 and Prey.
OkayÖso there is nothing remotely new or original about Inversion, but that still doesnít make it a bad game. Almost all of our games are derivative of some other title or genre. Letís face itÖoriginal ideas are few and far between and most publishers donít want to take the risk. Inversion is your standard third-person action-cover shooter that pits two cops against an invading army of alien child abductors. As has become typical with modern-day storytelling, the game begins at the end then flashes back, allowing us to catch-up to the present through 13 chapters of repetitious combat. We meet our two cops, Davis Russell and Leo Delgado, on a routine day of police work. Davis has to stop at home to drop off a birthday present for his daughter, but an explosive truck crash is only the first distraction, as a group of burley Mad Max reject warriors starts gunning down civilians in the street and kidnapping the kids. Itís no surprise that when Davis does get home his wife is dead and his daughter is gone. Thus begins your 8-10 hour quest to save your daughter and perhaps the world.
The invaders, who we later learn are called Lutadore, seem to have mastered the control of gravity, both as a weapon of mass city-wide destruction, and as a personal tool. After being captured and put in a prison camp, Davis and Leo have gravity packs strapped to their back and are sent into the mines to fight off a large flying robot. It seems the Lutadore have more than one enemy. Our cops manage to defeat the robot and escape their cell then join up with some militia-style resistance to take the fight back to the invaders, but they have no idea of the shocking realization of their enemiesí origin or even their own reality. The big reveal after stepping off that hover-train in Act 2 is as epic as learning the world isnít flat, and the single best reason to play this game.
Despite this one ultra-cool premise, the story is rather weak and the characters arenít all that likable, which in turn creates a lot of skippable cutscenes and pointless dialogue. At the heart of Inversion is combat that features a robust collection of weapons, of which you can carry two in addition to some grenades. Youíll explore some rather linear levels running from cover to cover and shooting the various enemy hordes that consist of both Lutadore and the occasional Sentrybots. Itís all fairly standard stuff with the exception of the Gravlink device.
The Gravlink allows you to create pockets of weightlessness or extreme gravity, which can be used in combat and environmental manipulation. If a group of savages are rushing your position just shoot the blue beam and watch them float helplessly into the air where you can pick them off with your favorite weapon, or shoot them with the red beam and watch them crash to the ground under their new enhanced weight. Itís a cool gameplay hook, but it quickly wears out its welcome since itís pretty much required for most of the game. It does lend itself to cooperative play when you or your partner can levitate the enemy from behind their cover and the other shoots them out of the sky. And you can have some creative moments too like the one time I had 3-4 guys on a rope bridge, and I shot it with high gravity and it pulled the bridge down like a slingshot then I shot it again with low gravity and it shot those guys to their death.
There are numerous encounters where gravity plays a pivotal role in getting past a group of enemies of a boss fight. This usually involves shooting low gravity on a pile of debris then using the secondary fire to suck up a piece of junk and fire it at an enemy. You can even pick up combustible liquids and blobs of magma and toss them at enemies for devastating results. You can also use the secondary mode of the high gravity to create a temporary bubble shield around your character, great for absorbing minor damage.
In some levels shifting gravity or a lack of gravity is a part of the environment. There are several sequences where you are completely weightless and must float from one piece of debris to the next to make your way to your destination. You can use this debris for cover since you are almost always under attack. Movement can be tricky and you must highlight your next piece of debris and hit the A button or you can even use your Gravlink to propel yourself in free flight directions between the chunks of debris. There are two or three areas in the game where gravity shifts and turns the world on its side or even upside down. There are these blue energy fields that will propel you to the wall or even the ceiling, but once the screen rotates to compensate the cool effect is mostly lost. Youíre always on the bottom of the screen, so itís the enemies that appear to be at odd angles. Itís a great concept and one I wish they had used more than they did.
I reviewed this game back in June on the Xbox and the graphics ranged from above-average to outstanding throughout much of the game, but on the PC, with DirectX 11 support, you are in for a real treat. There is even a separate option in the settings for debris and when turned on, Inversion can get impressively messy. The cutscenes and character designs including animations like sticking to cover and the roadie run look exactly like Gears of War, and while there are a few creative environmental themes, there are just as many lackluster levels with boring designs and bland textures. Technically, the game is amazing with fluid framerate and some of the best light and shadow effects I've seen in the past year. You can shoot a light and get it swinging and watch all sorts of crazy real-time shadows dancing off the walls and ceiling. The audio is also impressive with great sound effects and an interesting alien language that you can just barely make out a few words. Weapons and environments sound great, and the surround mix really puts you into the game if you have a good PC sound system or surround headset.
Inversion can be played alone or co-op and offers the same buddy combat as other games like Army of Two and Kane and Lynch. For 90% of the game the AI is perfectly adequate, but the other 10% Leo will be knocking you out of your cover or running off and getting almost-dead, requiring your urgent medical assistance and hoping you donít get killed during the healing animation. Once youíve finished the story there is quite a bit of multiplayer content with traditional Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and Survival modes, all of which make great use of gravity to put a unique spin on the gameplay and even earn extra points, but sadly, there was almost nobody playing this game during the first week after its release.
The PC offers the options of keyboard and mouse controls or you can use a gamepad. The game is clearly designed for console and as such I saw no added benefit in movement or aiming when playing with a mouse/keyboard combo, and I ultimately reverted to my 360 controller which brought back instant memories of playing this on the Xbox 360, only with much better graphics.
Personally, I had a great time playing Inversion despite the heavy Gear of War aura emitting from my screen the entire time. There was nothing broke about the game, but there was also nothing remotely original about it either. Playing with gravity was fun but quickly became just another expected combat tool in a very repetitive gameplay formula. I had seen everything and done everything by the mid-point of the game, which just made the second half a prolonged trudge to the closing credits just so I could say I finished the game before reviewing it. The final boss battle was a huge disappointment; certainly not worthy of the excessively difficult journey to reach him down that gravity-free gauntlet.
There are some really great ideas in this game, but they are all somebody elseís, and you canít help but feel youíve played this game before. Inversion has its moments, and one really big moment, but it is hardly a $60 game. Thanksfully, the PC version is only $40 - even though it looks like the console price has also dropped to $40 after only eight weeks - but with improved graphics and enhanced physics I found the PC version a much more engaging experience and much easier to recommend than its console counterpart.