The newest entry in the third person cooperative shooter genre comes from the development house behind the recent 10 year anniversary update of the pivotal first person shooter Halo. Gamers who have had the pleasure to enjoy the excellent Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary can attest to Saber Interactive’s fantastic skill in delivering an excellent gameplay experience using their in-house Saber3D physics. With Inversion, Saber enlists the additional help of the Havok physics engine (Heavy Rain, Motorstorm, Uncharted) to literally tip the world on its side with a unique gameplay twist (literally) that is sure to leave gamers a bit disoriented.
For starters, it would be silly for me to ignore the fact that Inversion is a blatant rip-off of the incredibly popular Xbox 360 exclusive, Epic Games’ Gears of War. For all intents and purposes, Inversion plays nearly identical to Gears of War or Army of Two; the gameplay is all about moving rapidly from cover position to cover position, popping out (or over) and picking off the swarming enemies as efficiently as possible. At times, enemies will engulf the two protagonists, forcing our heroes to resort to brutal melee combat using the massive machete-like bayonets lashed to the business end of their hyper- accurate shotguns. Indeed, machetes may not be chainsaws, but the similarities between Inversion and Gears of War are impossible to deny.
The similarities are enough to have Gears fans crying foul…just like they did for another fantastic one-off, EA’s Army of Two. Like Inversion, EA’s buddy-shooter borrowed heavily from Epic’s two-player cooperative masterpiece, yet included a series of unique team-based obstacles and a patented “Aggro” gameplay mechanic; both of which helped Army of Two stand as a franchise all its own.
Inversion’s hook is gravity – characters are donned with special backpacks that give the ability to form gravity portals that can be used to either eliminate or double the gravitational pull. In some instances, allowing gamers to literally turn the world on its side. The visual effect is even more surreal than it sounds as pedestrians, cars, and other objects to suddenly plummet from their now-vertical sidewalks, and slamming onto the sides of buildings.
The gameplay follows the story of Davis Russell, a big city police officer, and his foul-mouthed neighbor Leo Delgado. Russell and Delgado are driving home after a long double-shift on the force. Russell is looking forward to spending the day with his wife and daughter, but as they arrive at their condominium complex, they notice a commotion. Edging up to see what is going on, they are suddenly faced with a number of incredibly large, fierce, and callous warriors – ferociously blasting away the waves of screaming bystanders.
Davis and Leo grab a pair of shotguns and dispatch of the enemies – or “Lutadores” (think Road Warrior-meets-Conan the Barbarian) – then head towards Davis’s apartment where he discovers the lifeless body of his beloved wife. He then spots his daughter – alive and scared – moments before he and Leo are overrun and captured by the invading alien Lutadore forces.
The story picks up about a month later, as the two are housed in a Lutadore prison work camp. They are given a dangerous assignment in the drill core and are assigned gravity pack or “Grav-Link” allowing them to manipulate the localized gravity to aid in the removal of debris. They two use the packs to blast an escape route through the rubble under the camp, eventually escaping in an attempt to find Davis’ daughter and try to put an end to the enemy invasion.
The Grav-Links are imperative for traversing the destroyed city and fighting against the Lutadore forces. Gamers will use them for everything from seemingly minor duties – exposing hidden enemies or throwing items – to major earth-changing gravity tilts and the like. Admittedly, the effect is really cool – but the actual mechanic is a tad complex, especially in the heat of battle. I felt like I was never able to truly capitalize on the special force as much as the developers intended.
The presentation quality is actually quite good – the visual quality delivers an impressive sense of scale and nicely detailed cityscapes. The environments allow for a surprising amount of destruction, permitting gamers to blast away concrete columns and raze building walls to expose hidden enemies. It is very reminiscent of the early Red Faction GeoMod, although in the case of Inversion most of the destruction is scripted. The cutscenes are plentiful (a bit too plentiful at times) and well produced, and If there is one major gripe, it would be the fact that while the voice acting is solidly presented, the script Is overly laden with cheesy machismo lines that would have even the Jersey shore fans cringing. This decision to include constant rants of cursing and sexist comments renders nearly all of the characters distasteful and difficult to associate.
Thankfully, the Gears-like combat is solid and rewarding, with some of the best PS3 shooter controls yet found on the console. The weapons feel powerful and accurate, and the gamer is seldom left without ammunition readily available. Like Army of Two, certain obstacles will call for teammates to work cooperatively to give a boost or to open a tough door – although I would have to say that Army of Two does a much better job at directing the gamer to these cooperative locations and hinting to the required help. There were times that my partner and I wandered around looking for that magic spot to trigger the circle on the floor giving us a hint of where to go next.
As with Gears and Army of Two, cooperative play is the optimal way to enjoy Inversion. I played through the story with a friend over the PlayStation Network, and while there was a bit of lag during some of the more frantic skirmishes, the game ran as well or better than our usual co-op fare. I was not so impressed with the confusing cooperative matchmaking however, which took us a good 20 minutes figure out how to set up a proper co-op campaign without any instruction on how to do so in the manual.
The competitive multiplayer gameplay is the standard skirmish and team-based material. Oddly, the multiplayer menu is artificially lengthened by including separate unique selections for 8-player “small” matches and 12-player “large” matches, and Grav-Link options of the same three game modes. Sadly, without a proper Quickmatch option it will take about a half hour of searching before gamers realize that the multiplayer lobbies are all but empty. On a positive note, Inversion did not require the input of any access code to play online.
Inversion is not the most original title, but it does have some incredibly unique aspects that make it worth taking a look at. Army of Two and Gears of War fans will be especially pleased with the similar buddy-based gameplay as long as they are willing to look beyond the game’s shortcomings. It is only too bad the multiplayer is all but nonexistent at this point.