It is always refreshing to see a new title on the shelves amongst the mass of sequels and franchises which seem to have become a staple of the current generation of consoles. Indeed it is even more refreshing to see games try something new, especially with a genre as tried and tested as the third person shooter. So imagine the delight when Inversion floated into view with the words ‘breakthrough gravity-defying gameplay’ on the packaging. But for all the promises of offering up something new Inversion lacks anything startling to shake up the genre.
Indeed the few original ideas lurking in Namco’s third person shooter never feel as if they’ve been fully explored to realise their potential. Perhaps worse of all however is just how familiar Inversion looks and feels. With its post-apocalypse world, bulky lead heroes and an invading alien horde you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into a cheap Gears of War knock off. You would be forgiven because that is exactly the case. There is nothing subtle about Saber Interactive’s aping of Microsoft’s bad boy and about as much depth as well.
You take on the role of David Russell, a member of the Vanguard police department. He’s a father and his daughter is about to celebrate her birthday. He heads home with his partner to give her a present before... do I really need to go on with this? Predictably all hell breaks loose as a mysterious alien race takes over and Russell’s daughter goes missing. He and his partner are quickly captured and eventually break out, turning the invader’s weapons against them. It’s a serviceable plot but one that becomes stupidly daft as the game heads towards the end but enough to push things along so you can shoot the next bad guy in the face.
For the most part Inversion plays out as predictably as you expect. Crumbling cityscapes provide adequate cover for Russell and his partner (who pretty much takes care of himself for the most part) to crouch behind so enemies can be picked off. Inversion tries to shake things up by giving you a gravity defying weapon to play with and occasionally turning levels on their head. Disappointingly though the gravity gun has been done better elsewhere and the idea of flipping the shooting gallery stage on its head is never fully explored.
The gravity gun is handed out early in the game but only in the final third of the game do you get given all the bells and whistles. You get two main firing modes which allows you to lift enemies up from behind cover to make them easier to pick off. However, as enemies bob about in the air, you realise it’s just as quick to shoot them from behind cover. Meanwhile you can also pull enemies towards you and fling them into scenery or their mates. The same can be done for random objects lying around the levels but annoyingly you can’t just pick them up. Instead you have to give them an initial burst with the gravity weapon so they are floating, reel them in and then throw them about. Frankly gravity guns have been done to death now and Inversion’s feels nothing special. It's more of a blunt instrument, useful only as creating battering rams, and that is what you spend much of your time using it for. Never at any point does Inversion’s gravity gun feel like it can be used for delicate jobs instead of lobbing cars about.
The other trick which Inversion wheels out in a bid to break free of the standard third person shooter template is flipping the vectors. Ceiling becomes floors and vice-versa. It’s a lovely idea but one that you never get any control over. Instead it happens at set points in the level so any hope of turning the tables on your enemies with some cool Inception style hotel corridor moments never materialise. Instead it simply becomes another way of the game giving you a slightly different shooting gallery to work through. It's a major disappointment as there is much potential in the idea and instead if feels like a missed opportunity. Perhaps more disappointing however is just how linear things are. For a game which tries to play around with gravity there are never any real options for heading in a different direction, instead you plod onwards along the same well beaten path.
Occasionally you get moments in the levels where gravity has taken a holiday altogether and you have to float to the next section. It sounds interesting but even in these areas you move through the space by floating from cover to cover. Even here Inversion can’t shake off the staple of third person shooters. Meanwhile the rest of the game feels familiar. Enemies are dumb for the most part and stick behind cover, stubbornly refusing to try and flank you. Elsewhere there is little variety in those you shoot at and the game annoyingly wheels out some of the same mini-boss battles a few times during the game. Throughout things aren’t helped with some difficulty spikes.
Multiplayer isn’t hugely inspiring either. The standard modes such as deathmatch and the like are present along with a mode called ‘King of Gravity’. Here only one player can have the gravity powers and the others have to kill them to steal it. Unfortunately it seems rather unbalanced and those without the gravity powers can expect to die. A lot. Meanwhile the single player game can be played co-operatively which is often helpful at some of the more difficult moments but in truth giving your partner a leg up is about as much teamwork as you’ll be required to do. Survival mode is the best of the multiplayer modes and plays out like Gears of War’s Horde mode. Here working together feels a lot more satisfying and for once the gravity gun is better realised with players lifting up enemies for their team to finish off.
It is a shame that the gravity elements are never fully expanded or simply feel like rehashes because much of Inversion is decent. The graphics and colour palette might be a little on the bland side and the weapons lacking punch but the shooting is solid enough. Unfortunately though it feels like many other third person shooters out there, particularly Gears of War - right down to the muscles and blades on the guns. That is fine but it does somewhat make a meal of it. Executing the gravity elements of proceedings better could have a gone long way to lifting Inversion upwards. As it is Inversion is a solidly unspectacular shooter, which is a shame.