In the oversaturated world of shooters, it is hard to stand out. You have to have a gimmick combined with solid shooting mechanics and an engaging online component to even get recognition. It seems the team at Saber Interactive knew this going into Inversion, and in a lot of those areas it succeeds, but when the core component feels lacking, it drags the entire experience down. Inversion is a game with some neat concepts that never truly emerge and end up burdening the overall experience. Even shooter fans will find a hard time dealing with these issues to uncover the underlying enjoyment.
Inversion follows Davis Russell, a cop who is forced into this mess like one of Bruce Willis’ bad days in Die Hard. The opening sequence showcases later portions of the game slowly rewinding to the present, all while showcasing flashbacks of Russell with his family. When unknown invaders take over the city, Davis discovers his wife murdered and his daughter missing, thus giving him motivation to take command of the situation. Along with his partner Leo Delgado, Russell vows to find his daughter and discover who these invaders are, and what they want.
There are great ideas scattered throughout the narrative. For example, I love the idea that the longer you play, the more you understand what the invaders are saying thanks to subtitles. It is a minor touch that goes a long way. I also enjoy the mysticism. Why are these guys here, where did they come from and why are they digging into the Earth? All of these things seem to drive you forward, but for all the good that surfaces, bad seems to cover it up. By the end, I simply didn’t care anymore. Davis’ conclusion is anti-climactic, and the story never tugs at the emotion strings it sets out to. Sadly, I had to chalk this one up to yet another derivative story of revenge wrapped in a mediocre shooter.
That said, the gimmick that attempts to drag you in is gravity manipulation. Early on in the game, you will acquire a device called the Gravlink that allows you to manipulate pockets of the environment’s gravity. This is a cool concept, as it allows you to move enemies out of their cover and even hurl objects at them. There are two modes, one that raises objects, and another that slams them down with force. At first, it is a cool idea and changes up the mechanics, but after a while it becomes an exercise of simply moving guys out of cover, or waiting on it to recharge while you fuss with the stiff aiming mechanic.
Gravity also affects the environment at times. You will come across areas that have pads that you can step on to shift the entire area. This changes your perspective and the battlefield, sometimes to your advantage. There are also times where you are floating in zero gravity and moving from cover to cover using your Gravlink. These are the best parts of the implementation, but sadly they are not used frequently enough, and again, we are left with the mediocre shooting mechanic.
Now, let me clarify here. Shooters are a common breed; it has been perfected a million times over by games of much lower production value. I guess my biggest issue here is why Inversion struggles to nail the essentials. This is a cover-based shooter; in fact it nearly mimics the style and control scheme of Gears of War. You have the d-pad weapon selector, holding down the A/X button allows a ’roadie run’ and you can pop in and out of cover to shoot as well as move between cover by holding the button and a direction. It’s all pretty standard stuff. Where it falls apart is the actual shooting.
When you pop-up to aim, it has the traditional snap-to aiming by default (you can turn it off) which is great for feeling like a true bad-ass. The problem here is that enemies immediately move when you lock leaving you firing off rounds into dead air. The target doesn’t follow. Turning it off helps, but then the second problem arises. When you fire off a round the reticule slowly moves causing shots to fire off-target. It’s standard stuff on paper, but in execution it becomes a frustrating practice. More so thanks to the fact that enemies are snipers with their hardware. Normal difficulty is also fairly brutal, and it doesn’t take much to slow you down. Combine all that with horrendous loading when you die, and sections become more a test of patience than anything else.
One area that Inversion does do right is multiplayer. In addition to being able to play the full campaign in co-op (which is always a bonus in my book), you can hop online for some standard, and not-so-standard competitive matches. Now, let’s be fair. Playing Inversion online is going to be rough. Not many people bought it, and those that did will likely move on after a week or two, but what is here is at least original. You have standard types, such as deathmatch and team deathmatch, but you also have some gimmick-only modes. King of Gravity being the most obvious. Here, one player gets all the gravity powers while the rest of you try to shoot them. Yes it is highly unbalanced, but also relatively fun at times. When you finally take down the king and get the power, it is all worth it.
Visually, the game isn’t broken, which is about the best I can say. The environments feel like they were ripped from another game, and the effects are nothing to write home about. Destructible cover is nice, and it is everywhere. Smashing through walls in abandoned apartment buildings is severely satisfying. On the audio front, I am at a loss. The voice over work is atrocious, and the writing is laughable at best. The story feels like it should be better, but never reaches that pinnacle due to other factors. Music is muted at best, with no stand out pieces to mention.
Inversion does everything right on paper, but its gimmicks never materialize. The game feels shallow in a sea of shooters that do almost everything better. The online can be entertaining, but you probably won’t stick around for very long. I was hoping this was going to be another diamond in the rough that I could enjoy outside the laundry list of titles launching this year, but alas, this is one that will fall by the wayside. I can’t see much reason to play this unless you are just a shooter fanatic, and even at that, this one is mediocre.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.