Inversion (Xbox360)

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Inversion was born into an unfortunate situation. As the youngest child of a long generation of cover-based shooters, most people didn’t have high expectations for ‘yet another cover-based shooter’ and, especially amongst the Xbox clan, Inversion will always be branded as yet another lookalike to its big brother, Gears of War.

Life for the game didn’t seem particularly fair with Inversion not really having much to say about living in the shadows of its older siblings in the cover-based shooter family. Of course, given the long heritage of this family, Inversion would be blessed with inheriting genes that had undergone years of refinement.

Inversion Screenshot 1

Nevertheless, for Inversion to break out of the unenviable commonplace it finds itself in and to win the adoration of its siblings and contemporaries, it still had to do something distinctly different and memorable. Inversion, and its developer parents, were not oblivious to the gravity of the task ahead of them…

The story begins

Inversion starts at the end, with players introduced to a world that is already ravaged by weeks of intense warfare with the player’s character experiencing a series of flashbacks of events that have led up to the current state. In cinema this non-linear chronology is an effective means of creating tension and immersion, and the benefits of this technique are not lost on the audience’s introduction to Inversion either.

Inversion Screenshot 2

The world is by all intents-and-purposes a world post-apocalypse, with some mammoth and unexpected invasion ravaging the population. The antagonists are a race called the Lutadores – barbarian-like warriors with a curiously primitive and single-minded culture. Showing a fierce affinity for conquest, these barbarians utilise fairly basic yet brutal tactics to devastate everything in their path. It would appear that the Lutadores’ sole purpose in life is to research better ways to wreak havoc. Where they have come from and why they are here is something that unravels as the story develops.

Trying to grapple with the gravity of the situation

In terms of gameplay Inversion plays out like most any run-of-the-mill cover-based shooter (or as I like to call them, gun-and-cover). In fact, if it weren’t for the inclusion of gravity manipulation Inversion would be no different to the rest.

I doubt even its post-apocalyptic narrative would garner much fanfare because of its generally average and hole-filled plot with notable similarities to its spiritual older brother (which also happens to be another post-apocalyptic cover-based shooter). Just one glance at the box art and it’s clear that the developers of Inversion hinged the game’s success primarily on its one unique attribute – gravity manipulation.

Inversion Screenshot 3

Players uncover a device called the Gravlink which they will soon learn offers two modes of control – enhanced gravity and zero gravity (zero-G). With enhanced gravity, objects can be brought down to earth from above or opponents can be crushed by an invisible force.

In hairy situations the enhanced gravity mode can also be used to generate a gravity shield which protects the player from attacks for a limited time. The Gravlink can also manipulate objects by creating pockets of zero-G that cause objects to dislodge and float about. This is a useful tactic when you want to remove a pesky piece of cover to expose a stubborn enemy but it also provides objects which can be used as projectiles with the Gravlink.

This gravity-launching approach is necessary when you find yourself low on ammo or need to take out an obstacle in your path, and in a post-apocalyptic city there is guaranteed to be plenty of wrecked cars and other debris lying about!

Inversion Screenshot 4

The manipulation of the environment with the Gravlink is very straightforward. Aim and shoot. Very simple. Disappointingly, too simple. I had hoped to be able to do more with the Gravlink given the fact that Inversion seems to hedge so much of its draw on the manipulation of gravity. In the end there are really just three basic things to do with the Gravlink – float objects, crush objects, or push objects (as far as I am concerned the gravity shield doesn’t count as “something to do with the Gravlink” since it’s a passive feature).

As Inversion progresses, each of these three abilities will eventually be unlocked, but their impact on the game isn’t significant and I often forgot about using them during the heat of battle.

A zero-G vacuum sucks

Where the gravity features are put to their best use is in the zero-G sections of the game. You will sometimes find yourself in zero-G environments where you will need to learn to traverse in low gravity by pulling, bouncing, and swimming into the air using floating debris as leverage. More often than not the zero-G environments will feature some combat and these moments of the game are exciting and play out really well.

I recall most of my time spent fighting in these scenarios had me on the edge of my seat as I had to try and find objects for purchase in order to control my movement through the zero-G world while fending off hordes of Lutadore soldiers.

Inversion Screenshot 5

There are also moments where up becomes down and down becomes left and so on, and during these brief sections you may find yourself navigating along the side of a skyscraper before back-flipping onto the ceiling. These moments are fun but short-lived, and don’t feature enough in the game to make much difference. They are scripted rather than being user-controllable.

Besides the change of angle and the rare moment where you witness interesting street fights from the comfort of your wall-side floor, the entire flip-up-and-down-and-around experience is fairly underutilised.

Playing through Inversion felt very much like most of its other cover-based shooters family members in terms of story and level development. Inversion offers well-timed boss battles at just the right places to keep the game feeling fresh, and every victory against one of these bosses feels satisfyingly hard-earned.

Inversion Screenshot 6

One quibble with the game is the monotony of weaponry that is available; for most of the beginning stages you will only come across two weapons – an assault rifle and a shotgun. The primitive barbarian nature of the Lutadores presented very interesting weapons such as a rusty assault rifle with a wicked cleaver-like bayonet which looks unwieldy and a little too extreme on the bloodletting, and it would have been a huge boon to have more customised weapons of brutality available rather than what turned out to be a production-line of mass-produced weapons.

As Inversion progresses you will find yourself getting a wider selection of weapons, but in my mind the variety is still too scarce and doesn’t keep to the savage nature of the Lutadores.

This is one heavy story

Inversion’s narrative is as much a key player in the overall gaming experience as is the gravity, and from the outset the game makes heavy use of cut-scenes to develop the story. The plot is most certainly an intriguing one, but the biggest disappointment is the plot holes which leave a lot of questions and not enough answers.

These questions cause an unnecessary distraction to what otherwise would be a very immersive storyline. The bleak and hopeless situation of the planet is presented very effectively at the beginning and reminded me a lot of John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (whether that is a good or bad thing is up to the reader).

Inversion Screenshot 7

Inversion as a standalone game in a world of gun-and-cover siblings does enough to have itself noticed, and any fans of cover-based-shooters will enjoy Inversion as a fresh spin on the genre. The story is interesting, although sometimes a bit vague, and the pace of the game is well done. Inversion has inherited most of the right aspects from its predecessors which means the ‘winning formula’ is reproduced here too.

So what’s the pull factor?

Inversion offers players the opportunity to play through the campaign in co-op. A big let down is the lack of split-screen support which I find hard to accept given that so many other titles in this genre with similar graphical fidelity offer such a feature. Inversion can also be played online in various multiplayer modes with the traditional groupings of game styles (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Objective, King of the Hill) but now with added gravity manipulation for some extra depth!

Inversion is a game that looks and feels like most other cover-based-shooters. It follows the basic formula, and for this reason any fans of the genre will not be disappointed with it. The lack of split-screen support is a big blow because there doesn’t seem to be any plausible reason for leaving it out, especially given how partner-focused the game actually is.

The story is intriguing and worth paying attention to even though there are numerous plot holes. The game is well paced out and the multiplayer offers enough variety to keep fans of the multiplayer aspect happy, although you may find it difficult to locate a populated game.

Inversion Screenshot 8

If you are in the market for another ‘Gears clone’ you will do well with Inversion, but if you are hoping to experience something revolutionary in the genre, Inversion won’t take you the whole way – there’s enough that is new in Inversion to give it a unique position in the genre but to my mind not enough of this is done well enough to make it stand out as a game-changer.

The Good: Zero-G combat is unique and challenging; the story is interesting; multiplayer is free; co-op campaign.

The Bad: No offline splitscreen; Story has some plot holes; gravity manipulation is dull point-and-click.