PS3 Review: Inversion



If someone gave you the bullet-point rundown of the things you’ll find in Inversion, it might sound like an enticing change from the abundance of bland Gears of War knock-offs. A cover-based shooter where gravity is both your most powerful asset and your worst nightmare, where you can levitate and fire objects (or even other people) at your enemies and where walls suddenly become floors during the middle of a firefight like an MC Escher painting with automatic weapons? Sounds interesting, right? Sadly, Inversion is a classic case of great ideas on paper being squandered and translated into a distinctly average game. Namco Bandai’s anti-gravity third-person shooter has the seeds of a gripping story and some potentially clever ideas at its core, but that potential fails to flourish amongst all the plot holes and generic gameplay.

Family man cop Davis Russel is on his way to drop off a birthday present to his daughter when mysterious invaders – bald, hulking brutes who look like they just finished rehearsal for their GWAR cover band – spring up from nowhere to unleash war upon humanity. With his surly, renegade partner in tow, Russel makes a beeline for his apartment building, only to find his wife dead and his daughter missing. With advanced gravity-bending weaponry at their disposal, the monstrous invading army quickly takes over, ripping up city streets, killing thousands, hurling survivors into prison camps and rounding up Earth’s children for unknown reasons. Russel seizes his chance to escape, stealing some anti-gravity weapons, hell-bent on tracking down his daughter and discovering a way to save humanity.
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It’s probably best not to ponder the glaring issues in logic plaguing the game. Why do the invading captors give their prisoners powerful, gravity-harnessing weaponry – the equivalent of prison wardens handing AK-47s to the inmates with the assumption that, nah, they probably won’t use them to kill everyone and escape, right? Good question! How does Davis know to immediately start calling his new toy the GravLink when the inhuman invaders speak an indecipherable language? Beats me! The plot is riddled with gaping, Grand Canyon-sized holes. There’s still an interesting and relatively unique story in Inversion’s ‘occupied America’ story (in comparison to the 37 billion US military and/or space marine shooters saturating the market, anyway), but it’s mostly undone by all the nonsensical gaps in logic, shoddy character work and bland voice acting.

Even with its story being plagued by Swiss cheese logic, Inversion would be a lot more fun if it didn’t sink like a lead weight when it comes to pacing. The problems start with the opening, where you’ll encounter awkward flashbacks within flashbacks that jerkily push you into the story, but that’s just the beginning of the issue. Even after the establishing opening scenes and subsequent obligatory tutorials, at every turn, Inversion annoyingly interrupts your fun like an overprotective dad poking his head around the door while his kid has friends in their room. When the action heats up and you’re given access to gravity weapons and big guns, it should be a major turning point where you’re given the chance to unleash inventive destruction, but you’ll be yanked out of the fun every few minutes for cut scene after cut scene with a wildly uneven and disconcerting cinematic-to-gameplay ratio. Even during gameplay, you’ll be subjected to overly lengthy ‘have your pal boost you over obstacles’ animations every minute or two.
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That jerking pace helps make the game feel even more disjointed and disappointing, but the often fun gameplay is hampered by its restrictive nature, too. In essence, it’s a cover-based, third-person shooter akin to Gears of War – you duck behind cover, pop up to shoot things, move forward, lather, rinse and repeat. Where Inversion mixes things up is by tossing gravity weapons into the mix. Early on you’ll get your mitts on a “GravLink” device, which allows you to harness gravity and use it for your own nefarious means, catching enemies in your grasp and firing them into the sky, at walls or at their friends. The GravLink comes with an increase or decrease gravity setting, so you can shoot stuff to make it weightless or hit it again to make it heavy. You can also levitate rocks, cars, debris and even lava to use as projectiles against foes.

The gravity-bending has a larger part to play though. Certain sections of the map act as sort-of “gravity ramps” – step onto the glowing blue sections that occasionally pop up on the floor and suddenly gravity will get flip-turned upside down and you’ll be walking along walls. There’s also sections of the environment where you’ll hover weightlessly, quickly hurling yourself between floating points of cover. Evening the playing field, though, your enemies have the same abilities up their sleeve, too; you might be ducked behind a wall only to find your foes have taken to higher ground to shoot at you and are now dancing on the ceiling like Lionel Richie.
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The gravity-warping shenanigans aren’t anything new – the mechanics of Inversion are shamelessly borrowed from Half-Life and Dead Space – but they’re combined to make familiar, overworn genre gameplay a lot more interesting. There’s certainly fun to be had in knocking open a petrol drum, levitating a liquid ball of gasoline and firing it at enemies to light them up. The GravLink can be used in clever ways to make combat easier and more entertaining, like being able to summon out-of-reach ammo and guns to you like a Jedi master, making enemies weightless to propel them up and out into the open to make them an easy target, or just yoinking them to within arms reach for a melee kill.

Sadly, while the gameplay is decent and certainly enjoyable, Inversion rarely embraces its best ideas, choosing to limit their use in unfortunate ways. The gravity-flipping ‘Oh crap, the floor is now the ceiling!’ mechanics are restricted entirely to spots where you see blue points on the ground, so you won’t be doing it as and when you want. Those moments feels very limited, scripted and incredibly short, and while the concept has the potential for more free-form, inventive Inception-style gunfights up and along walls and ceilings as you change gravity to get the upper hand, the restrictive nature of the game means that you’ll never be doing that. To pad out the package, there’s obligatory online multiplayer modes and the option to play the campaign through with an online buddy in co-op mode, but the same problems naturally carry over there, too (and the online servers were pretty barren at time of review).
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Inversion isn’t terrible and has its fun moments, but like an underachieving student, it’s just content to sit at the back of the class doing the bare minimum, wasting its potential and copying from the people sitting nearby. The fun gravity-twisting mechanics give Inversion the potential to be a unique, inventive alternative to the generic swarms of third-person shooters crowding the market. But while it manages that to an extent, it fails to capitalize on its best (mostly stolen) ideas, happy to be a Gears of War clone with a gravity gun.

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Inversion is available for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.
Click here to buy the game from Amazon.co.uk.