From the first moment I popped in Namco and developer Saber Interactive’s third-person shooter, Inversion, I was smacked in the face with a sense of familiarity. Not just a passing glimpse that tugged on the recesses of my mind and fired a few long abused synapses that reminded me of games long passed, but a feeling that I had seen and played this exact game before. Only better.
Inversion isn’t a terrible game, but it certainly isn’t a good one. It is an average one that has some fun elements that are familiar to a fault. On the plus side, PS3 owners who never played the 360 exclusive Gears of War will not be assaulted by the constant similarities in the same way. No, instead they will just have a mediocre and generic game to contend with.
Gears of Inversion
We can get to the story in a moment, but the first thing worth discussing in regards to Inversion is the gameplay. It is identical to Gears of War in almost every way. The cover system, the way you change weapons, and even the weapons themselves are all taken straight out of Gears.
The primary weapon that you most commonly run across is even a slightly modified version of the Retro Lancer (although it is closer to the chainsaw-wielding Lancer in its power). Go ahead and check out the weapon in the picture below and see for yourself.
For the majority of the game, you will be limited to the assault rifle, shotgun, and sniper rifle. A semi-auto rifle (that bares a striking resemblance to a Hammerburst) and rocket launcher are introduced later, but for the majority of the game those are your choices—and even then you will have to rely primarily on the shotgun and assault rifle. Late in the game, a few more weapons are introduced, but you won’t have much chance to use them in the 8-ish hour campaign.
Beyond the lack of variety, the bigger issue is the bland and generic feel of the weapons. They are inconsistent in their power and range, so there is never much need to use anything else. Instead of finding some weapon that suits your specific styles, you will frequently just be using “gun” or “gun 2.” There is no character to the weapons, a problem that plagues all aspects of the game.
Ammo is also exceedingly scarce at times, and more than once I was heading into a mini-boss fight with almost no ammo. This felt like an artificial impediment used to increase the challenge. Instead it just annoyed me, and forced me to run in circles until I found something to shoot. I was even forced to stab a massive and powerful enemy to death more than once, which was not nearly as fun as it sounds.
The game is a cover-based shooter, and here it functions adequately enough. There are always conveniently placed blocks and cars to hide behind, and there are destructible environments — sometimes. Like so much in this game, the destructible environments are inconsistent. Sometimes you can jump on a mounted machine gun and relive your favorite moments from Rambo, massacring enemies dumb enough to charge you and leveling entire buildings. Other times you won’t be able to shoot through a car. The game chooses what you can shoot through based on the situation, and there is a very scripted feel to it all.
The main gimmick of this game, and the thing that supposedly sets it apart is the Gravlink. This is a weapon you pick up early on that allows you to mess with physics. It has two settings: blue, which can lift enemies and objects up and cause them to float; and red, which crushes them down. It has potential, but it is rarely used to any real effect. Throwing cars at people can be fun, but again, it feels scripted. Shooting the blue Gravlink setting (which will be your go-to for much of the game), is wildly inaccurate and often doesn’t do what you think it should. The red isn’t much better. Sadly this makes the Gravlink mostly useless, and something you will probably only use when you are dangerously low on ammo or a guy with a shield you can’t shoot is walking towards you.
Another bit of missed potential comes from the gravity bubbles scattered throughout the world. Occasionally you will come across an area that has no gravity and you bounce from place to place, occasionally fighting enemies along the way. It is a great idea, terribly done. The areas you can bounce between are very specific, and you need to look for a highlighted section. Even when you do see it, sometimes you can jump to it, other times you can’t. More often than not, you will have to look in multiple directions and just keep pressing jump until you eventually move. It is annoying more than cool.
A better implementation of this physics-bending tech comes when you hit a certain marker and the world shifts. If you are running on the floor and step on it, you may then find yourself on the side of a building, fighting your way down the building, shooting people in front of you and on the street, which is actually a ceiling under that scenario. There could have been some really interesting and original uses of this, but they are few and far between, only last for a few minutes at most, and are quickly forgotten.
Losing the script
Inversion begins when enemies known as the Lutadores invade and take over the non-Earth Earth. You play a cop named Davis, whose daughter is taken in the early days of the invasion. Along with your buddy Leo, the two of you escape a prison camp, meet up with a resistance cell, and go looking for your girl while blowing stuff up along the way.
If you say it quickly enough, the story is good — if more than a bit derivative — but in execution it is like eating ice cream too quickly. The characters are wooden and annoying. The voice acting is done by people that may or may not have been drugged and beaten on their way into the recording studio. It isn’t actively bad, but it is dull and flat. It is also repetitive, and I will be forever haunted by my AI partner shouting, “Am I alone here?” over and over and over again.
There are a few good moments that have you wanting to know more about what is going on, but they are presented with all the skill of a SyFy Channel made-for-TV-movie. There is no life or character to it. This is hammered home by the fact that there are no collectibles throughout the game. That may seem like a minor issue, but it feels as if the game itself doesn’t even buy into its own mythology. You learn very little about the world, and it leaves the setting feeling hollow.
This vapid feeling is reinforced by the enemies. All six of them. That is an exaggeration, but you will continue to run across the same enemies over and over again — and not just the grunts, but bosses too, which gets old fast. There was a point where several times in a row I came across the same two enemy soldiers, one wearing a football-like helmet, the other with long dreadlocks and goggles. I began to refer to them as Lenny and Bob, and soon felt a pang of remorse after killing them several different times. After seeing them again and again in common battles, I felt good to know they were reincarnated, and less guilty for killing them dozens of times.
Playing co-op online with a buddy is the way to play. Ammo sharing can prove to be a pain with two, but playing with a real person makes the gameplay feel less forced. Oddly, there is no local co-op, just online.
Multiplayer (In theory)
There are several game modes, including all the hits you would expect like deathmatch, team deathmatch, and objective-based modes. A horde-mode called “survival” that places you and your buddies against waves of enemies. They are all fairly predictable, but there is an issue that you can’t blame on Namco or Saber Interactive: There is no one online.
Both the 360 and PS3 multiplayer lobbies are ghost towns. Occasionally you will find a match, but in a week I found a full deathmode match just a handful of times. The few times I did, the game felt like a race to get to the best guns scattered around the map. Still, it offers an enjoyable, if not all that original online offering.
Games that are similar to other titles in the same genre are not uncommon by any means, but Inversion is more than similar. It’s is built off of the backs of other games that are far more fun and creative. This makes playing through a decent, but instantly forgettable experience.
If you are positively in love with third-person shooters, especially Gears of War, you can justify the relatively quick playthrough. If not, you probably won’t miss this painfully generic game.
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Namco Bandai)