It’s telling that the first thing to happen in Inversion is a turret sequence.
Readers may be familiar with “The Asylum” film studio, which generates thinly veiled copies of popular movies on shoestring budgets for direct-to-DVD release, usually coinciding with the release of the film they’re copying. “Transmorphers,” “Megapiranha,” and “The Day the Earth Stopped” are some of the films that have tried to scrim some dubious cash from undiscerning consumers, and their infamy has afforded them their own sub-genre: the “mockbuster.”
With acknowledgment to Zynga, Inversion feels like gaming’s first unabashed mockbuster. Game studios borrow and refine the mechanics of others all the time, but Inversion’s pastiche of influences is so complete that there isn’t a single element that hasn’t been done somewhere else, and done better. Though it’s a technically competent 3rd person shooter, the experience is constantly beaten down by its overwhelming design lineage, silly plot, and the unrealized potential of its core idea.
Players are cast as Davis Russell, a lukewarm-headed city cop who just wants to head home and visit his daughter on her birthday. Unfortunately, his attempt is interrupted by hideous, muscular, barbarians wielding guns-with-comically-oversized-knives-strapped-on-them burrowing up through the ground and blowing everything up in sight. Together, with his Hispanic partner and best friend,
Dominic Santiago Leo Delgado, Russell dedicates himself to carving a path back to his daughter- or die trying. (You may, dear reader, move on at any point when you decide that things are sounding just a mite too familiar.)
So Davis and his buddy get to the headshotting and cover-vaulting, before things take a turn for the weird, and enemies start manipulating gravity with backpack-like apparatus’. In no time, Davis and Leo have appropriated gravity-backpacks of their own and started using them to lift objects, grab and throw them at enemies, and solve simple weight-based puzzles. (You may, dear reader, move on at any point when you decide that things are sounding just a mite too familiar.)
As Davis and Leo get further into the web of intrigue surrounding these subterranean sub-human monsters, they discover that the gravity-backpacks are useful for shunting enemies out of cover, but not much else. They then discover- a priori -that the monsters are called “Lutadores,” and that they’ve disrupted gravity all over the planet. Davis and Leo discover sections of the city that are completely devoid of gravity at all, and that they need to navigate these zero-G environments, sometimes fighting enemies along the way, but fearing death from every angle. (You may, dear reader, move on at any point when you decide that things are sounding just a mite too familiar.)
The fight continues, but the tapestry of hope becomes threadbare. All Davis wants to do is find his daughter, and despite Leo’s protests that they can’t go on, they push forward into the belly of the beast. Here they encounter a litany of repeated boss-battles that often involve using their gravity-backpacks to lift heavy things, and then throw or drop them on the baddies, while fighting off their underlings at the same time.
You should, dear reader, just move on at this point.
Inversion looks like it was made with discarded concept art from every game put out by Epic and id Software in the last decade. There’s a dull but vaguely futuristic look to the early environments that merges unpleasantly with the grotesque enemy designs and violent window dressing. In fact, Inversion is quite violent, but it’s off-putting in a childish way and doesn’t serve an engaging purpose. It doesn’t go far enough to occupy the same morbid absurdity of Gears, but it’s definitely distracting and unnecessary.
That said, the lighting and particle effects at work here are very nice, and there’s great display of environmental destruction at points.
Inversion’s biggest problem is that it’s impossible to not think of other games while playing it. It should be noted, that what Saber has built here is reasonably technically sound, and mechanically there’s nothing seriously under-developed or broken. But there’s a point at which mechanical competence is a pointless achievement, and sadly, Inversion starts at that point and only digs deeper.
It’s a huge shame, because a 3rd-person shooter with the ability to manipulate gravity sounds like a great idea. However, the emergent possibilities of the mechanic aren’t given the structure they need to flourish, and as a result, the gravity shifting is only good for pushing enemies out of cover or pinning them to the ground. That itself might sound unique, but all it really does is expedite the shooting, not expand it.
Elsewhere, Inversion’s plot is often deeply silly, in spite of its dead-serious delivery. While waiting for things to develop, players will end up watching many cutscenes that ought to be skipped. The plot does briefly shake to life two-thirds in, with a scene that drops a major twist on the characters, accompanied by some of the best reactionary voice-work ever put to disc. It’s not good, mind, but the stupid sincerity and shock displayed by the characters is hilarious enough that it threatens to raise the stakes from “bad” to “so bad it’s good.” But like the rest of Inversion, the twist proves inconsequential.
Red Faction, Gears of War, Dead Space, Army of Two, Half-Life 2, Ratchet and Clank, Rage, Fracture.
Inversion would deign to cull elements from each of these games and house them under one roof- an awesome proposition. Regrettably, it amounts to a barely-competent shooter with an off-putting aesthetic, ludicrous plot, gimmicky hook, and a frustrating tendency to repeat its boss-battles more than a JRPG. So, perhaps those should be listed above as well.