Stop me if you've heard the backstory to Inversion before: On an otherwise routine day on the job, police officer Davis Russell finds himself in the middle of an invasion by a bunch of tribal-painted humans called Lutadores. He returns home to find his wife dead and his daughter missing. He sets out to find his lost child amid the war-torn Vanguard City with help from his partner, Leo Delgado. The plot is pretty by-the-numbers, and it sets the tone for the game. From the moment the story starts, you know how it is going to go, and it lives up to the cliché but fails to captivate the player.
Inversion is a generic third-person shooter with a cover system, regenerating health, and the usual assortment of assault rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles for weapons. If you've ever played a TPS since Gears of War, you could probably hop into Inversion without a tutorial.
The only interesting weapon you have in Inversion is the Gravlink, which is a harness that allows the player to manipulate the gravity of objects. At the start of the game, your only power is Low Gravity. This fires a burst of energy that causes the target and anything nearby to float. This can be used to lift objects out of your way or drag enemies from behind cover. As the game progresses, you'll unlock the ability to throw objects at enemies a la the Half-Life 2 gravity gun. Finally, you'll be able to switch to a High Gravity mode, which allows you to lock enemies in place or drop heavy objects on them. The gravity device is ammo-based, with each shot taking up one bit of ammo. Once you run dry, you'll slowly regenerate some of the missing energy, although that means you'll take longer to pull off another gravity trick.
The Gravlink is a neat device marred by a few minor problems. For one thing, the hit detection is pretty spotty, especially with Low Gravity. This spotty accuracy also makes the manipulator a bit unwieldy to use. You can grab a barrel and throw it an enemy, but why bother? Most of the time, that means using a Low Gravity shot to lift the object, grab it with the manipulator while it blocks your view, and then shoot it at a foe. Alternately, you can just shoot them in the face; it has the same effect but is much quicker. Ammunition is plentiful enough that the manipulator is only necessary in areas where it's all but forced onto you.
Inversion's levels have little personality. At first glance, they're almost indistinguishable from Gears of War or any other modern shooter set in a ruined city. Chest-high walls and ruined buildings are such a common sight, and the Lutadores are some of the blandest villains imaginable. What should give the levels a bit more personality is the gravity distortions throughout Vanguard City. In some places, you'll find little cyclones of energy that cause you to switch vectors, forcing you to stand on the wall or ceiling instead of the ground. In others, you'll find places where gravity has vanished entirely, leaving you in a zero-gravity field where the only way to move around is by kicking off objects or occasionally using small bursts of your Gravlink's manipulation power. They're pretty cool ideas, but they don't really work well in practice.
The problem is that both of these gimmicks are severely underutilized. Most of the time, vector switching is a linear choice of "switch the area you're standing on." It's a neat visual but has little gameplay value aside from the "ooh" factor. In the zero-gravity sections, the AI has little way of compensating for them, so the best way to play them is to park behind one object and treat it like any other cover section. Trying to kick off and move around is riskier and less beneficial than hiding behind a floating rock until everything is dead. Compared to something like Dead Space's similar Zero-G segments, there's just no real sense of tension. Enemies don't really close in on you, there's little reason to move around, and what should be an awesome set piece ends up being boring.
Inversion's primary problem is that it had interesting ideas but lackluster execution. It's an amazing idea to be able to control gravity or fight on any surface or having a tense and exciting mid-air gun battle. The actual gameplay, however, is dull. Aside from a few areas where switching your vector adds meaningful choice to the gameplay, you're going to spend the bulk of your time playing the game exactly as you would any other third-person shooter on the market. Ideally, Inversion should have been developed so that its gimmicks were defining features. Instead, they feel like something stapled on to a generic TPS. Inversion is doomed to obscurity because of its numerous "me too" shooter elements that are almost universally executed better in the original games. It doesn't help that the gunplay feels — if you'll pardon the pun — weightless. There's no sense of impact to any of your weapons, and even throwing a heavy object at an enemy feels weak and unsatisfying.
To its credit, Inversion offers a bunch of multiplayer modes, both competitive and cooperative. The gravity powers and manipulation are here in full force and work better than in the main game. They're still iffy, but it's a lot easier to overlook when playing with or against friends. All of the staples are here: Deathmatch, King of the Hill, you name it. There's also a Horde-like mode, where players can try to survive against increasingly difficult waves of enemies, and a Cooperative mode, where two players go through the campaign together. The multiplayer's not a bad use of time, although even a week after release, I was having trouble finding other online players. Inversion is not a title to pick up if you're expecting a thriving online community.
As expected, Inversion's graphics are bland. Brown war-torn cityscapes and the occasional futuristic location do little to make the game stand out. The cut scenes are poorly directed and often jarring and out of place. They pop up and interrupt the flow of the gameplay before tossing you back in, often in ways that don't mesh with the cut scene's ending. The music is so generic that it's utterly forgettable and rarely adds to the experience. Particularly annoying is the Lutadores' voice acting, which is supposed to be "difficult to understand" but comes across as incoherently garbled without subtitles. The rest of the cast isn't bad, but there aren't standout performances, either.
Inversion isn't bad, but it isn't good, either. It's a generic, dull third-person shooter that is competent enough. Aside from some issues with aiming the Gravlink, everything works about as well as it should, but that's the kindest thing one can say about the title. Forgettable enemies, bland locations, boring gunplay and a clichéd story combine into a product that has little entertainment value. If you want a new shooter to play, it makes for a fine rental, but it's not worth a purchase. Even the multiplayer, the game's strongest feature, suffers from an anemic online community. Sadly, Inversion is a prime example that good ideas don't equal a good game.
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