When Inversion was first announced, it didn’t grab much attention. Every now and again something would pop up to remind everyone that the game still existed and then it would submerge back into the depths. When I first heard the concept “Gears of War with crazy gravity effects,” I thought it had potential. I got my hopes up.
Do you like Gears of War? If so, you’re in the target audience for Inversion. Ironically, you’re also in an audience that makes this game that much more unacceptable.
An enemy race of creatures rise up from the ground and begin destroying cities and enslaving humanity using weapons like machine guns with bayonets attached. You and your buddy start out in prison, trying to escape and find your family. Occasionally, in combat, enemy spawners will pop out of the ground and the only way to stop them is to throw a grenade into them.
…I can’t even remember which game I was talking about anymore.
The point is, Inversion apes Gears of War in every possible way. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Darksiders steals everything it has from other games. It’s also pretty rad. Inversion, not so much.
Enough with comparisons. Let’s talk about the game itself.
Inversion does not put its best foot forward. The opening section (a turret section, no less) actually had me laughing at how clunky everything felt and how bad everything looked around me. Maybe it’s a good thing, because it tempered my expectations right away.
The game definitely gets better as it goes along, but the game just doesn’t feel right. Moving from cover to cover works fine for the most part, but is a definite step back from games like Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. That is, when your character actually takes cover. Every cover-based game has that moment where you want to take cover and end up standing beside it or jumping over it, but this game had that moment for me at least twenty times. That’s unacceptable. Your character is also oddly slow about moving sideways when stuck to a piece of cover. It seems like someone covered all of the surfaces with flypaper.
There are also difficulty spikes that can be insanely frustrating. Too often, Inversion will lead you into an area where you will be immediately shot and insta-killed by an RPG. It doesn’t even have the common decency to warn you that anyone had an RPG. Snipers can also be far too quick on their trigger. Sometimes you’ll be dead before you even get the left bumper fully-recessed. No warnings for that, either.
Even still, all of these flaws pale in comparison with the game’s biggest problem: for a game called Inversion, there’s shockingly little inversion.
It literally takes hours to get to a point where you’re using the gravity-bending mechanics in a meaningful way. Once you finally get your Gravlink, they can be pretty cool, but the amount of time it takes to get to them is, frankly, unacceptable. Especially considering that the best moments of the game are the moments where the game feels justified in its existence.
Fluidly switching planes of combat from the floor to the side of a nearby building can be pretty awesome. These moments are all heavily scripted, of course, but it’s significantly more fun and impressive than any of the other gravity mechanics. Like everything else good in Inversion, there’s simply not enough of it.
There are some pretty interesting moments where gravity is almost entirely non-existent. These sections are neat, but don’t really pan out in gameplay. It’s a mixture between the vertical sections in Dark Void and the zero-gravity bits of the first Dead Space, that regretfully doesn’t work as well as it sounds. Highlighting sections of floating cover and pressing the action button makes your character float towards it, taking cover behind it. Instead of peeking out to fire, he instead raises up out of cover entirely, floating above it until the left trigger is released. The problem is that moving through the environment is disorienting and the controls are unresponsive. When you combine that with quick deaths, it can get annoying quickly.
In standard ground combat, you get a combination of gravity powers to switch between. Blue powers make gravity lighter, raising enemies out of cover. Red powers make enemies heavier, slowing them down. It’s pretty simple. You can also grab objects and throw them around. This can be pretty fun, but it’s nowhere near as satisfying as the “zero-point energy field manipulator” that was introduced in Half-Life 2 eight years ago.
There’s a lot to like about Inversion‘s mechanics. Sometimes the mix of crazy gravity and environmental destruction hits just right, but the game spaces out these moments with too much filler in between. The one saving grace in the game is used too sparingly, making the game more of a slog than a delight.
[+Gravity Mechanics Can Be Fun] [-Clunky Controls] [-Too Much Like Gears of War] [-Laughable Opening Section] [-Takes Far Too Long To Get Powers]
Inversion looks and feels like a budget title. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s hard to complement much when the style is so generic, but also technically busted.
Texture pop-in is a huge issue for this game. Sometimes it takes literal seconds for the majority of the textures to fade in. I haven’t seen a game this plagued by the issue since the original Mass Effect on 360. Sometimes, it can be hilarious, though. Once, I was looking at a seeming blank wall and when the texture finally loaded in, it revealed graffiti of a naked woman. I had to set the controller down because I was laughing so hard.
Environmental destruction is a nice addition to the Gears formula. It’s sometimes done well here, but often it’s just plain broken. Pieces of geometry splinter off and glitch out in ways that I haven’t seen since the early days of physics. Think Max Payne 2.
This would all be more acceptable if the game wasn’t so generic. It’s a post-apocalyptic shooter and it does nothing to change that. There was never a moment where I thought “That’s clever,” when thinking about the world or its visual style.
That’s not to say it always looks bad. Some of the particle effects, particularly the blue and red powers, look surprisingly good. The motion blur when switching gravity planes is quite awesome, as well.
The sound design is adequate and the voice actors do a surprisingly decent job of delivering the overly melodramatic story.
You can tell that Inversion was made on a tight budget, but that’s not what’s holding it back. Saber Interactive made a game that, with all of its somewhat competent gameplay ideas, has surprisingly little originality.
[+Nice Effects] [+Environmental Destruction] [-Horrid Texture Pop-In] [-Strange Physics Issues] [-Disappointingly Generic]
Value is what puts the final nail in the coffin for Inversion. Being a budget game is one thing, but releasing a budget game and asking $60 is nearly criminal. In a world where Deadly Premonition releases at $20, putting a game like Inversion on store shelves for three times that price is a giant “Fuck you!” to consumers.
I try really hard to not compare low-budget games with their AAA counterparts, but Inversion takes so many steps straight out of Gears of War’s book that it’s hard not to. If Inversion was priced at even $40, it would be much harder to dismiss as another Gears clone. As it stands, Namco Bandai have priced this game into direct competition with it and it simply can’t stand the heat.
Inversion lasts for about 7-8 hours, but at least three of those hours feel like padding. Recycled mini-bosses make the game frustrating and repetitive and it’s unlikely you’ll ever want to go back for a second playthrough.
Online co-op is available if you’re into that sort of thing, but I was unable to try it out. There’s also online multiplayer, which allows you to use the gravity mechanics from the single player, but is ravaged by low player-counts and laggy gameplay. I can’t recommend it.
Were Inversion not priced the same as any other game on the market, it would be a much greater value proposition. As it stands, there are literally dozens of better games in this same vein, most of which can be for significantly cheaper now.
[+8 Hour Campaign] [+Multiplayer] [-Priced Too High] [-Replayability Is Unlikely] [-Multiplayer Won’t Hold Attention Long]
Inversion is kind of a mess. There are definitely fun moments, but every single one is overshadowed by the amount of crap you have to wade through to get there. I honestly can’t recommend Inversion to anyone. If you’re a huge fan of Gears and just have to have another fix, you’d be better off playing through the Gears series again or even buying the DLC. Inversion simply isn’t a good enough game to scratch that itch.
If you’re dead set on buying Inversion, I will at least ask you to wait on a price drop. At a budget price, this game is more than acceptable. $60 is almost highway robbery. There are plenty of games that I have enjoyed that fall into the “buy this when they’re cheap” category. Dark Void, Bionic Commando, and WET are chief among them. Inversion is not as good as those games, but falls into a similar category.
Please don’t buy this game at full price. Budget games should be budget games.
[+Gravity Mechanics Can Be Fun] [+Nice Effects] [+Environmental Destruction] [+8 Hour Campaign] [+Multiplayer] [-Clunky Controls] [-Too Much Like Gears of War] [-Laughable Opening Section] [-Takes Far Too Long To Get Powers] [-Horrid Texture Pop-In] [-Strange Physics Issues] [-Disappointingly Generic] [-Priced Too High] [-Replayability Is Unlikely] [-Multiplayer Won’t Hold Attention Long]