At first glance Namco's newest action game, Inversion, looks like a breath of fresh air in an already overcrowded genre. With its wacky gravity gimmick, large bosses, destructive environments and explosive set pieces, it wouldn't be hard to cut an impressive trailer that makes this third-person shooter look like the must-own Xbox 360 game of the summer. There's just one problem: A three minute trailer I can handle, but six hours of Inversion feels like a punishment.
This is the story of Davis Russell, police officer and family man. Mch to the dismay of his hot-tempered partner he's mellowed out since having a daughter, When aliens suddenly attack their home city, these two heroes leap into action to save the day. Before long they're shooting futuristic soldiers while buildings blow up around them.
But Davis isn't very interested in saving the world; he just wants to find his daughter. Word is that these invaders have spared the children, instead enslaving them and taking them to their home base. Davis and his partner, Leo Delgado, don't know if this is true, but it's the only shot they have. So the two men set off on a thirteen chapter adventure to save Davis' daughter and save the world.
In case Inversion looks familiar, it's because this is nothing more than a blatant Gears of War rip-off. I don't say that to be cheeky, nearly every inch of Namco's newest game looks and feels like it was rejected by Mark Rein and Cliff Bleszinski of Epic. The basic idea is to hide behind boxes and walls for cover, wait for the perfect moment and then shoot, shoot, shoot. You do this every step of the way, essentially running from one covered spot to the next hoping to not die.
From time to time you'll see a spark of originality. The gimmick here is that the aliens have brought wacky physics with them, allowing people and objects to float. They can also shift gravity, allowing players to literally fight on walls and scurry around the ceiling. This leads to some creative firefights where you're forced to not only worry about the enemies in front of you, but also about the bad guys on the ceilings and walls. Even if it's a gimmick, I had a lot of fun running along the sides of skyscrapers in the early parts of the game.
Eventually you're given control over a gravity gun, which should be the start of creative level designs and physics driven puzzles. Your gravity gun has a couple of different modes, including one that makes everything float and one that weighs things down. You can use the heavy gravity to lower bridges and make it impossible for enemies to walk. The light gravity is fun because it allows players to make enemies and other objects float, allowing you to grab onto them with your tether and throw them at bosses and other baddies.
Sadly, that's about the extent of the gravity gun. The developers never found a way to do much more with this gimmicky mechanic, so they chose to just repeat the same types of puzzles over and over again. Pretty much every boss battle is won by weighing him down with the heavy gravity and throwing red explosive barrels at them with the light gravity. Inversion feels like it's only scratching the surface of what's possible with a gravity gun. I find the game's simple-mindedness to be irritating; this should have been so much more.
For a game with a very basic storyline, there are a surprising amount of cinemas found in Inversion. The first half of the game has so many that it started to feel like a Metal Gear Solid game. The action would stop for no reason, often to watch the two characters chat about what's going on. This would have been better served as voice over and not a full cinema. The first few levels feel like all you're doing is walking from one cut scene to the next, which really hurts the pacing of an action game.
Even with all of the cinemas, I didn't learn all that much about either Davis or Leo. I know that Davis is a father, but that's only because they remind us of that fact every chance they get. Outside of that, these characters are barely fleshed out. Perhaps that's why some of the game's twists lack any emotional impact, because I genuinely don't care about either of these characters.
Inversion grinds to a halt whenever a boss shows up, which can be multiple times in the same chapter. These battles are always presented in an arena-style environment, mostly testing your ability to throw random objects with great precision. Some of these bosses are big and impressive, the type of thing you expect to see in this style of action game. Unfortunately, every one of them is cheap to the point of being frustrating.
A lot of these battles will take some time, generally five or more minutes. This means that you'll be forced to constantly search for more ammo and change locations around the arena. This is all well and good until you get killed with a one-hit death. I found myself having to retry nearly every boss because I was suffering cheap deaths, always from something I couldn't see or wasn't expecting. This is especially frustrating when you're only one or two more shots away from taking the boss down and die out of the blue, something that happened repeatedly late into the game.
The other problem is that the same bosses are repeated over and over again. You'll see the slave driver boss at least a half dozen times, always with the same attacks and strategy. There's no reason for these bosses to be there, unless the developers were afraid players would blow through the short story mode too quickly. Like so much else in this game, the bosses make Inversion look lazy.
When you're not spending an hour trying to beat an especially tough boss, you'll be forced to play through a series of linear stages in some generic locales. The game starts out strong with a city being torn apart by alien gravity weapons. However, it doesn't take long before you're running through underground caverns and other boring areas. You've seen a lot of this before in better games.
By the end of the game I was left wondering why they even included the gravity gameplay in the first place. It's only used in a few puzzles and there aren't very many moments when you're actually fighting on the ceiling. The real problem is that you have no control over jumping from the floor to the wall to the ceiling. Instead you are forced to stand on a specially marked spot that will send you tumbling to the wall or some other platform.
From time to time you'll have to fly through a low-gravity field, which requires players to leap from one floating platform to the next. This helps to break up the Gears of War-like action; however it comes with its own set of problems. Most of the time you're doing little more than slowly floating to platforms, usually without the worry of an enemy strike. Eventually the enemies will show up, including one late addition that introduces an annoying quick-time event component completely out of the blue.
Visually speaking, Inversion looks a lot like most other Unreal Engine 3 games this generation. Everything from the levels to the characters look like they were discarded ideas from Gears of War. The enemies, the Lutadores, are a cross between Warhammer 40K's space marines and Quan Chi from Mortal Kombat. Everything is big and rough looking, all in the most predictable way possible.
Although you can tackle the Lutadores by yourself, Inversion is a lot better when you bring a friend along. Sadly the level designs don't take advantage of the multiplayer component, but it's still nice to have somebody else around seeing all of these crazy twists unfold. Best of all, a friend will be ready to revive if the boss kills you in one hit. Adding a second player functionally fixes many of the difficulty problems I had with the game. It's just a shame there isn't more for the two of you to do.
Beyond the co-op mode, the game also features a twelve-player competitive online component. Inversion packs in all of the common multiplayer modes (death match, king of the hill, etc.) and adds the gravity gun to the mix. It's a lot of fun weighing down bad guys rushing after you, or shooting a friend into the air for all to see. The gravity gun definitely introduces a new element you don't normally see in online shooters. A lot of these good ideas are marred by poor execution, few people playing online and lame map designs.
By the end of the game I was completely stumped. Not only was I disappointed in the journey, but I was left with far too many unanswered questions. The twists range from dumb to outlandish, to the point where it's hard to take Inversion seriously. The emotional ending is ultimately unearned, just leaving me cold.
Inversion has enough wild moments to make up a really strong TV commercial. Sadly, the rest of the game is a disjointed mess. The best moments in the game happen within the first two hours, the rest is just a sad collection of poorly written cinemas, generic level designs, repeating bosses and one hit deaths. Six hours later, it turns out that I have an aversion to Inversion.