Inversion review

Inversion review

Inversion review

Suspiciously humanoid alien invaders. Burly men on a mission. Guns with mounted blades. Sound familiar? Inversion may be a derivative cover shooter, but it’s nevertheless an ambitious science fiction romp in its own right – one that consistently entertains and occasionally thrills despite reheating a vast range of ideas from a set of prestigious shooters.

The notes it takes from Gears Of War are obvious on first contact. Examine Inversion’s control layout, familiar weapon limit and macho cast, plus the flow of its set-pieces, and you’ll soon discover that developer Saber Interactive isn’t afraid to ape the genre’s best. But there’s also a pleasant reminder of last-gen’s oft-overlooked Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy with Inversion’s central innovation – the ability to fire gravity-manipulating beams from your ‘Gravlink’ – a direct descendant of the latter’s telekinesis powers.

Although you’ll commandeer the device early in the campaign, it’s not until the final third that the game hands the full gamut of its abilities over to you. But when they are, the game opens up into a memorable, meaty blast through some engaging shootouts. At the peak of its powers, the device presents you with two fire modes and a shield. The first offensive mode enables you to lift enemies and objects off the ground, yanking foes from behind cover. You can also launch cars, barrels, and even globules of flammable liquid into the air, draw them in with a tap of the left bumper (à la Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun) and then fire them, devastating the destructible settings. Meanwhile, the secondary fire mode enables you to dislodge specific parts of the locales or crush your foes into flesh patties. Your manipulation of scenery, however, is more often a routine you perform at the behest of the level design rather than anything truly autonomous. Regardless of this lack of absolute freedom, the Gravlink is a simple and well-implemented trick that adds flair and personality to an otherwise by-the-numbers campaign.

That’s not to say Inversion’s through-line of duck-and-cover killing is a failure. The campaign may be action game business as usual, but it’s neatly stitched together by Saber’s technology. Whether it’s in the streets, in crumbling high-rise buildings or in the gravitationally challenged canyons the invading villains have called home, you’ll spend most of Inversion popping out from cover to satisfyingly shatter crania or stab grunts. Shootouts in pockets of zero-g present a fresh spin on the action, requiring you to hop between floating cover and be mindful of your peripheral vision.

With a premise revolving around gravity and removing you and your foes from comfort zones, it’s disappointing that the designers play it so safe. There’s never the offer of an alternate route, or the option to truly improvise or change tack. You’re fenced in by overly linear design when you want to be free as a bird, exploring the intricate backdrops rather than adhering to preordained stepping stones. It reinforces the feeling that this is a game of illusion; Inversion invites a sense of scale without allowing exploration, and grants supreme power but only limited avenues for attack.

In any game that gives you a superpower to wield, weapon and enemy balance are key. For its part, Inversion offers up a a varied set of foes and an enticing range of guns with which to dispatch them, although you’ll probably want to lubricate your crosshair by tinkering with the sensitivity option. It routinely hands over grenades and rocket launchers when the context requires them, however, diminishing the sense of initiative or strategy. You needn’t monitor your ammunition or loadout with any care, either: if there’s a weapon in the near-distance, you can just drag it over with your Gravlink. The plentiful supply of guns and grunts gives Inversion the feel of a shooting gallery at times, as opposed to the sprawling adventure its story keeps telling you it is. And herein lies its pressing issue: that story is po-faced nonsense.

‘Everyman’ cop Davis Russell (with the muscle tone and stamina of an Olympian, and the combat abilities of a career soldier) has neither the cartoonish bravado of a Marcus Fenix nor the charisma of a leading man. Worse, his journey to find his daughter is a one-note affair of determined ‘us against them’ off-camera stares. It’d be excusable but for the fact the flow of the game is regularly interrupted by short cutscenes that attempt to keep his journey core to the experience.

The co-op campaign feels as equally tacked on as Russell’s emotional plight and isn’t well served by a rigid flow and environments that were clearly built for one. Giving a leg up to your other half and lifting the odd door together is hardly fulfilling teamwork. Competitive multiplayer is more worthwhile, seeing Saber indulge in extravagant sci-fi settings, and its various modes prove the weapon set to be well considered. The four-player Survival mode – Inversion’s Horde – is where cooperation finally feels meaningful, and there’s rousing camaraderie in the act of lifting enemies skywards for your fellow players to rip to shreds. King Of Gravity, meanwhile, blesses one player with the Gravlink for all others to come after. Hoarding the device means easy kills but also puts a score bounty on your head. Finally, Grav Control offers one last innovation: rack up a long enough kill streak and you can flip the map on its head at your whim.

There’s an overall level of polish to Inversion that shows a developer improving its skillset. Though the game never fully stretches its ambitious premise beyond the confines of the cover shooter genre, it’s a game with the noblest of intentions: to provide wall-to-wall, or, rather, floor-to-ceiling, entertainment.

Xbox 360 version tested.