An off-the-wall adventure
All things considered, reviewing games is one of my favorite parts of the job, but every once in a while—when the intern’s locked safely away in his cage—I get tasked with slogging through the digital leftovers that no one else wants. Sometimes, it’s a sports game that strikes fear into the heart of the butt-bouncing, spellcasting hardcore of EGM’s Review Crew. Other times, I’m stuck with a muddled mess of motion-controlled “meh” I inherited after selecting the short straw. And, in a few rare instances, it’s because I actually want to play the game because everyone else seems dead set on hating it. My recent time with Inversion is an excellent example—and, more to the point, the perfect poster child for why I keep an open mind to the red-headed stepgames born of the lackluster slumps our industry seems to stumble upon each summer.
I’ve seen quite a few prosaic piledrivers aimed in Inversion’s general direction since release; while the game’s far from perfect, I was genuinely shocked at how quick most were to dismiss it. Honestly, I think there’s a lot to love here. For starters, the sci-fi whore in me loved the storyline, and despite Saber Interactive’s apparent aversion to modern tenets like seamless cutscenes and playable story sequences, I actually found myself eagerly dispatching bad guys to see what would happen next.
Not that I’m saying the plot doesn’t borrow liberally from Gears, Resistance, and Halo (because it does), but there’s a certain sense of Hollywood sensibility to the flashback-driven tale—and, despite the anti-hype, I was consistently taken aback by the way this little-loved title admirably introduced and made use of new mechanics. Granted, I would’ve killed to have seen this concept executed by a developer of Naughty Dog’s caliber, as Inversion features a ton of instances where Saber would have been better off to keep control in the player’s hands or simply letterbox their cutscenes. But the choice to present an origin story—a far cry from Epic’s “drop you off in the deep end” approach—was a welcome change that kept me interested throughout the game’s 8-hour-plus campaign.
From a gameplay perspective, the basic shoot-and-cover mechanics are as tight as you’d expect, and Inversion’s gravity-based mechanics are well integrated into the game’s plot, imparting a genuine sense of discovery and awe. I’m also a huge fan of the game’s environments, which—beyond being fun to look at—make great use of Havok’s Physics and Destruction middleware by frequently wrecking the landscape with all sorts of gravity-born bedlam.
Admittedly, mastering the mechanics associated with the Gravlink and the game’s zero-g sequences took a bit of getting used to, but once you realize the power associated with breaking from the standard shooter elements present in Inversion, you’ll realize you’re capable of some disgustingly satisfying maneuvers that let you forget the rails for a bit and just get lost in the fiction. Between boosting bad guys out of cover, zipping along through zero-g cover to flank an enemy, and changing the path of a level by altering gravity on in-game obstacles, I had a ton of fun with Inversion’s oft-insulted “gimmick,” and while we’ve seen elements of the above in games like Mass Effect and Dead Space before Inversion floated in, the fact that Saber took the ball and ran with it as the thing adds a lot to the mold in my opinion.
That said, the game did let me down on a couple of core components related to co-op play. For starters, if I need to have someone on my friends list to invite them to a co-op campaign game, it ain’t drop-in, drop-out co-op—and, for some idiotic reason, Saber opted to forgo the ability to open up campaign games in favor of a party-driven invite, which essentially means you have to either know someone else who owns the game or go into competitive multiplayer to recruit campaign companions. Alongside Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Inversion earns one of 2012’s biggest facepalms to date as a result.
Another annoying aspect: the timing on “buddy” related maneuvers like opening heavy doors or receiving a helping hand to reach a second-story surface, both of which take forever. And when I say “forever,” I swear by all that is holy that I was able to brew a cup of coffee in the time it took the protagonists to exit a frickin’ parking structure.
The rest of multiplayer was OK, but it’s light on leveraging the game’s gravity mechanics. Inversion does feature a wealth of modes that are adequately executed for the five or six gamers out there who aren’t already busy playing Call of Duty or Battlefield, but that isn’t where this game shines.
The main thing I walked away with? For all the hoopla behind the gravity bit, Inversion’s a solid shooter with a refreshing approach to the whole “origin story” that left me wanting more. And, though they didn’t dial some of the finer points, Saber did a great job of keeping things moving, offering numerous nods to classic 16-bit design and modern sci-fi in the process, making this one a hidden gem for third-person shooter fans.
SUMMARY: Inversion won’t win any awards for innovation, but once you push past the rubble and get into the meat of the experience, it’s built on a surprisingly strong foundation that gets more right than wrong—more than I can say for several of this year’s more polished action titles. If you think you might like it, I’d highly suggest ignoring all the negative hype and giving it a try.
- THE GOOD: An intriguing plot bolstered by a great sense of gameplay progression.
- THE BAD: Dated presentation and piss-poor co-op matchmaking.
- THE UGLY: The amount of time it takes two grown men to help each other up to a second-story ledge.
Inversion is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on PS3.