STAFF REVIEW of Inversion (Xbox 360)

Friday, June 15, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

Inversion Box art I remember first seeing the trailer for Inversion with it showing as if the world?s gravity was turning and being reversed, having you fight on the side of a building behind cover. I thought that would have been an interesting gameplay mechanic and have been looking forward to it ever since. Now Inversion is here and I once again see the power in careful marketing and trailers, as playing though the game, it?s almost like I?ve been given the old bait and switch.

Inversion is developed by Saber Interactive which you?d probably know from creating Timeshift a few years ago. They took a central idea and wrapped a game around it, and it worked pretty well in Timeshift. In Inversion, they had the gravity manipulation idea and did the same thing, but the completed product just never seems to come together. It took a friend to point it out to me, but in essence, Inversion?s gimmick is mostly centered towards an ability that allows you to lift enemies out from behind cover for you to openly shoot them at will. Mass Effect fans will know how familiar this seems, and while there are other uses for gravity manipulation, such as being able to reverse gravity and making enemies heavy and pinned to the ground, it?s a far call from what was shown in trailers long ago with a topsy-turvy world.

With a modern day setting, Davis Ruseel finds himself suddenly thrown into a conflict in his one peaceful city by an unknown barrage of enemies. These armies of half-naked muscle-bound men that speak mostly gibberish are called the Lutadore and they are killing anyone that gets in their way with some unseen weapons and the ability to seemingly control spots of gravity. When the invasion happens, Davis and his friend Leo Delgrado set out back to his place to find his missing daughter but soon realize this invasion is nothing ordinary, as there are spots in the city that seem to be hit with zero gravity, causing chaos everywhere.

Davis and Leo will stick together throughout the entire campaign in search of his daughter, though if you?re playing solo, you might as well get used to staying near Leo as he?s going to need to be revived many times towards the end of the game with his inept AI. I will admit, there?s a twist near the end that I did not see coming, as the story to that point was very cliché and never tried to be original, but the twist and ending had me raising an eyebrow. I won?t spoil anything but the story is very bland and predictable until that point.

The main hook of the game is that Davis (and Leo) can eventually manipulate gravity with their Gravlink devices. They can eventually either increase or decrease it on any given target on command. There are a few more uses to your Gravlink other than lifting enemies up from behind cover, such as tossing barrels and cars into enemies, but it?s scarce when you?ll use these tactics as you?ll always have to be behind cover if you want to survive. If controlling gravity sounds like fun, it should be, but it generally isn?t since you?ll mostly just use it to lift enemies in the air to make them easier to shoot. If this sounds like the Singularity skill from another game, that is because it essentially is; and if hurling a floating object reminds you of another, that?s because it is as well. While including either isn?t necessarily a bad thing, neither is really executed very well. You have to be so precise at aiming exactly on your enemies because if you miss in even the slightest amount, the gravity field nearby won?t affect them in any way. The same goes for throwing objects with the Gravlink, as it?s hard to do when you?re constantly getting shot at and not behind cover.

There are some sections of gameplay that take place in zero gravity; here you?ll be floating from cover to cover, hiding behind floating pieces of debris. It sounds exciting on paper, but when you?re having trouble fluidly moving from cover to cover while getting shot at from multiple angles, it becomes frustrating quickly. Davis can only hold onto designated pieces of floating debris in these sections and selecting the right piece of cover under fire can be tricky. In almost every situation, you?re more encouraged to simply stay put and pick off Lutadore?s as they come towards you rather than trying to play dynamically. Having been able to flank an enemy from above or underneath would have been exciting; too bad it?s not included here.

The main feature that Inversion got me excited for long ago was a gravity mechanic that seems to have you defying gravity and fighting on the walls or ceiling is here, but in very limited and predetermined placements. Eventually you?ll happen upon glowing pools of gravity that seem to rotate the world for Davis and Leo. This is where the world becomes disorientating but exciting, having to look at all angles for enemies. These gravity shifts is where Inversion almost seems to realize its potential?almost. While these gravity shifts are very cool and exciting, I can count the times on my hand how many times you get to experience it throughout the campaign. If this was somehow built into the main mechanic of the game, it would have been incredibly more exciting, but instead it only happens a handful of times over the course of Davis? story in pre-scripted events.

Inversion is a third person shooter with an emphasis on gunplay as well. While you?re not given many options for guns (nor are they balanced very well), the targeting is sloppy, controls never seem to feel right, and you don?t feel like you?re powerful at all since every enemy is a bullet sponge. The same can be said about using your gravity powers as well, as getting the proper aim down takes almost too much time out of cover and becomes frustrating enough that you?ll simply play the game like any other shooter.

You?re constantly ripped out of the action with an overabundance of cutscenes that happen all too frequently but without much meaning behind them. This makes it incredibly difficult to become immersed in Inversion?s world with its already weak storyline. This isn?t helped by the boss battles, that at first seem exciting, but that?s until you realize it?s only the first of many times you?ll be fighting the same bosses over and over again. The boss battles are frustrating and incredibly cheap, yet you aren?t always given the tools you need to complete the job beforehand. It comes down to pattern memorization for most of them, but having invulnerable bosses while waves of enemies shoot you isn?t terribly fun at the best of times. This isn?t helped with the massive spikes in difficulty in the latter half of the game either.

If you want a roadmap of how Inversion plays, it would go something like this: Shoot, take cover, shoot, make comments with Leo about your daughter, cutscene, shoot, cover, cutscene, boss, cutscene, and repeat for eight hours. Most shootouts are in a corridor where it?s not terribly difficult to clear the wave of oncoming enemies but the repetitive boss battles don?t help break the tedium in any way.

You don?t have to play alone though, as online co-op is an option if you have friends who?ve also bought Inversion. Sadly, it?s only with friends though, as there?s no matchmaking with random players nor is there drop-in and drop-out allowed, making it a journey just to get a co-op game going from the beginning. Oddly enough, I found myself almost constantly out of ammo when playing co-op. I don?t know if this is because when you?re playing solo and Leo is an NPC, he doesn?t pick up ammo, but with another player they do, leaving little to go around for both players.

There is also an online multiplayer component that ranges from multiple modes to even having a mode called Survival which is essentially its own Horde Mode for up to four players. While Survival isn?t terribly exciting, it becomes frustrating with the cheap enemies and shared lives between players. I?d love to tell you more about the other multiplayer modes, but the whole time I?ve had the game I?ve only been able to get into one online match due to the lack of people playing online. To give you an idea at how few people are playing this online, I was ranked about fiftieth in the world on one of the leaderboards, which speaks volumes. It doesn?t help that you need a full lobby to even begin a game, so expect to sit around for a long time to even try and get a game started.

A few hours in and you?ll get a familiar feeling if you?re a Gears of War fan. Gears of War has clearly influenced some of the art, weapons, mechanics, and setting design, yet only with normal sized people. I found that I kept telling myself ?Wouldn?t it be cool if?.? The whole time, rather than feeling and experiencing it. A cover system that is very finicky, guns that never feel powerful or precise, bosses that get repeated, and a mechanic that we?ve already seen before make Inversion a tough sell for me to recommend. It felt like a majority of the game was made longer to artificially lengthen the game yet offered no real reward for doing so.

While the game may boast gravity manipulation, take that claim with a grain of salt, as the really cool sequences are very far and few in between and is scripted into the level design. While flinging cars into enemy faces never gets old, it never feels like you?re given full control over gravity manipulation. With some intriguing gravity puzzles, maybe the game would have felt fresher, but the lack of these simply makes Inversion a bland and mediocre shooter that will get forgotten and sadly never realizes its potential. By the time I got near the end of the game I was more ready for it to end than I was looking forward to an intriguing ending.

Overall: 3.0 / 10
Gameplay: 2.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.0 / 10
Sound: 2.0 / 10


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