Inversion was developed by Saber Interactive (Will Rock, Timeshift) and published by Namco. It's a third person shooter game with cover mechanics like Gears, build around the idea of using gravity to change gameplay. It's a neat idea, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Inversion offers a campaign (with network two player co-op) and a multiplayer component with lots of modes. I have yet to find anyone to play online thus far, but I will talk about the modes later on. I played through the campaign single player, although it was evident to me that it would have been a better experience if I were playing with a friend instead of dealing with the frustrations and quirks of the friendly AI character, Leo.
So, the story is set sometime in the near future. You are a cop, Davis (aka D), in a city that is suddenly being invaded by some unknown force. The barbaric invaders are killing and kidnapping people, including children. Davis and Leo rush to get back to Davis' apartment to see if his daughter is still there, but she is not. Thus begins a thirteen chapter, eight to ten hour search to find her, taking you below the Earth's surface and into space. Unfortunately during this time very little character development is ever established and many of the details of the story and the "whys and hows" of what's going on are either not mentioned at all, poorly presented, poorly explained, or both. Frankly, the characters are about as generic and uninteresting as they come, the story doesn't make a lick of sense, and you're likely to have a hard time caring about any of it. Clearly, this is a raw action game through and through, one that never stops to explain anything.
But hey -- I've played a lot of games structured the same way in the past and I intend to play many more in the future. And while I don't think such design is necessarily a good quality as far as judging the game, I also believe it should not automatically be a knock against it. That said, if the story and characters are a forgettable mess, you would hope the gameplay would more than make up for it. As far as Inversion goes, I thought it was good enough to keep playing through to completion, but doing so was more of a chore than actual fun, at least a significant amount of the time.
Inversion pits Davis and Leo against hordes of the Lutadores, a race of semi-advanced barbarians that reminded me of Warhammer's Space Marines. They're heavily armored, have some mechs, and generally use brute force instead of wit or agility. They are armed with assault rifles, frag grenades, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, chainguns, and two energy based weapons. Fortunately, you can also equip all of these, carrying up to two at a time and a few grenades. The Gravlink that you and Leo carry gives you an extra edge, although some enemies carry this as well.
The Gravlink allows you to use low and high gravity to manipulate the environment or otherwise turn the tide in your favor. For example, with low gravity selected, you can shoot at enemies behind cover to cause them to float above cover for several seconds. They will still shoot at you, but they're completely exposed at that point, not to mention they look kinda funny. Two consecutive shots of the low grav will cause the enemy to explode. The few times when Leo coincidentally fired a low grav shot at the same time and location I did, the results were pretty sweet. The secondary mode (L2 instead of R2) of low grav is used to snatch objects, including rifles to get ammo, or objects to shoot back at enemies. This is especially useful -- and in some cases required -- later in the game against some of the tougher bosses.
High gravity, indicated with red instead of blue, can drop objects down from above (like suspended crates to make cover as you proceed towards a turret) or otherwise temporarily pin down enemies. The secondary mode of High gravity is more useful though; it creates a spherical shield around you, allowing you a decent, sometimes surprisingly long amount of time to move about in the open. I found this critically useful against the final boss. The only snag is that you cannot switch (R3) between High and Low gravity without breaking the shield.
Other than a few pickups along the way to extend the amount of Gravlink batteries you can hold, the Gravlink does not have any sort of upgrades. This is inline with the lack of any upgrades (or even collectibles) for the player or other weapons, too. Other than the Gravlink, the only other gravity-gameplay comes from the level design. There are several sequences in zero gravity where you float across an area to get to the other side which has normal gravity. During these sequences, you can snatch objects with low gravity and shoot with your primary weapon, but that's it. Certainly for the most part it's identical to just playing with your boots on the ground instead of floating, but I appreciate the intent. Plus, seeing Davis and Leo, as well as the enemies floating around and being doing some rolls and back flips is pretty cool.
Whether in zero g or normal, Inversion shares some core gameplay elements with Gears of War. Taking cover is essential to survival, and that cover will fail with repeated shots or from grenade spam by the enemy. X is used to run, get in/out of cover, and for rolling, so, at times (just like with Gears) I had to fight the controls as much as the enemy as far as getting my ass where I wanted to be (generally behind a wall). Inversion doesn't pull a lot of punches as far as how quickly you die, either -- Davis can take a fair amount of bullet damage to be sure, but there were a bunch of times I died from cheesy insta-kills that came out of nowhere. The worst part about dying in Inversion is the 20-25 second load time for every checkpoint, no matter what part of the game, no matter how far back you are actually set. Sometimes you are right where you left off, other times I was annoyed at how far back I was set. Regardless, the load times simply should not have been this long for these checkpoints. They didn't get really annoying until around the 10th level when Leo's incompetence became more and more noticeable, and more frustrating.
Despite being outfitted with the same equipment as you, and knowing exactly what needs to be done (he tells you regularly), Leo refuses to be really useful. I will say that he's a little bit more than just a prop, but more often than not he's a nuisance. Usually the bosses will target specifically you, paying no attention to him. This wouldn't be too bad if Leo could effectively attack them instead of firing useless bullets at their armor that even he says is too thick to penetrate with bullets. What's worse is when he gets himself killed; when this happens, you have thirty seconds to get over to him, press Square, and wait about three tense seconds while you are stuck to watch Davis help Leo up. When you die, it's instant, Leo won't try to revive you, which I thought was just lame. Either make him invincible or better yet allow him to at least try and revive me. At least for the most part he stays out of the way and does take out a few enemies, or at least is a distraction, but his AI is old school and that's not a good thing.
'Old school' is a fair way to assess a lot of Inversion's gameplay. Levels are linear; invisible walls pop up, and doors mysteriously close behind you as you pass through, preventing you from backtracking. Everything is setup in such a way as to keep you going straight-forward, going from firefight to firefight. Gameplay is practically unchanged from hour one to hour ten, with no new mechanics added along the way to spice things up. Expect several textbook turret sequences where you hop behind an enemy turret with infinite ammo and no overheat mechanic and use it against swarms of enemy who are just asking to be mowed down. There are about a dozen moments where you need Leo to give you a boost, or to lift a simple garage door (Army of Two style), even though you have a gravity gun that can move objects far heavier. These instances don't make a lot of sense and only serve to arbitrarily slow things down. Speaking of slowing things down, the responsiveness of some control actions is really slow for some reason, taking a full second or more to take effect. This sort of timing caused me some trouble in that I couldn't switch weapons quickly enough or I would double-tap L2, thinking my first press didn't take, and that would instead turn my shield on and back off, or snatch and immediately launch an object. You know, there's just a lot of that type of gameplay that was more common back when Saber released Will Rock (2003); times have indeed changed, and while I love old games too, that type of design is just harder to really appreciate and accept in a new and full priced release.
As far as presentation, Inversion runs in 720p and technically the graphics are pretty decent for the most part, although chapter four (featuring rain) looked rather terrible and there is some minor clipping and a few framerate hiccups. Moreover, the art design is disappointing. From the start menu, I expected to spend a lot of time in bright, vibrant, outdoor areas, high up in the sky. Instead you spend most of the game in drab brown levels and dungeon like areas, and while there is a fair bit of outside action, I didn't think Saber took advantage of what could have been some really pretty environments. I did like the few times when you are on one plane shooting at enemies walking on the walls or ceiling (reminded me of Prey). Other art design qualms I had was in the repetitive appearance of the Lutadores and the cheesy blood and gore effects which looked, well, old and lackluster. I thought the ability to pause cutscenes -- even though I never used it and no cutscene was more than just a minute or two -- was a nice touch.
The sounds of Inversion are similarly underwhelming. The soundtrack actually has a few great moments, but the voice overs (and the script) are as canned as the characters. A few cursing riffs seemed forced and a little out of place, and briefly I thought of Rico from Killzone 2 with a frown. Leo also yelps and screams a lot when he is standing up taking damage, too, and that gets kind of annoying. He also said something that was well out of place in one instance early in the game. I forget where it was, but I had cleared out some enemies at a distance, and several steps later, Leo yells to watch out for the enemies above; even though there were no enemies above because I had already killed them. Just another sign that this game lacks a lot of polish.
Inversion has a significant multiplayer component featuring two player co-op, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and the following: Hourglass, Assault, King of Gravity, Grav Control, Gravity Slaughter, and Survival. Survival is another co-op mode like Gears' Horde mode. Gravity Slaughter is like deathmatch except you use Gravity powers while Grav Control lets players on kill streaks flip the map upside down. King of Gravity requires players to find the Gravlink on the map and only the holder of the Gravlink can score points. Assault is a team based mode where you must capture objective points within a time limit, and Hourglass is like a King of the Hill in that you attack enemy points (aka vectors) and defend your own. I'm reading these out of the manual as I have not found anyone online to play with just yet, although I have not done an exhaustive, multi-day search. I can add that there are eight playable maps included, built for up to the max of twelve players. There are also Challenges, including Basic, Weapons, and Rank Challenges that task you with getting x number of kills with a certain weapon and so forth. These count towards XP that you use to rank up your character, and there are quite a few ranks to achieve. I suppose the big question right now is if there will be enough of an online community to work with, I would suspect yes, but probably not until this game gets cheaper.