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XBox 360 Review: Inversion

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It has become common for developers and publishers to follow several basic rules:  keep making franchises, add an online pass, and copy from the best.  Inversion takes a cue from a couple of these ideals and puts a gravity spin on it. Sure, there are far worse shooters than Inversion, but there are several others ones that are better as well.  This is a cover-based shooter, which of course, clones Gears of War, but it falls short of that lofty title in its story, multiplayer, and overall gameplay.

Visually, the game world looks amazing, just don’t look at the character models for too long or that amazement will be short lived. The character models–both for the protagonist and the antagonist–are painfully plan.  It looks as though the enemies that you encounter in the game all come from the same mold and the developers did not try to mix or change them up at all. This feeling leaves you not caring and just wanting to finish blowing through them with whatever gun you are using at the time.

Inversion‘s story is the typical invaders come and try to take over the world and people are trying to up rise against them variety. The antagonists do not speak English, so there is no point in trying to understand what they are saying. You control a cop who was investigating an incident when these invaders came. Your partner also joins you because “you can’t go through it alone.” The motivation that the main character has in the game is to find his daughter. It seems as though they took her, along with all the children, for a reason that is not explained. And, throughout the game, every time he gets close or find a clue we seem him cry out in anguish only to be calmed by his partner.  It is repetitive to say the least.

People that you find throughout the world will often fall into the typical apocalypse archetypes of run away, become a slave, or fight alongside of you (but this last group will keep saying phrases about still being doomed).  Different locales are visited throughout the course of the game, ranging from ruined city to space station. The space station levels do show how impressive the designers’ imaginations are, but why they did not use them throughout the rest of the game is puzzling.

In Inversion, the whole world stuffers from a type of gravity shift in which there are pockets. These pockets have no gravity. There is no explanation as to why gravity is messed up, but it does add an interesting twist on the shoot and cover style game mechanic.

Fighting enemies is quite entertaining thanks to a slew of neat gravity-related abilities that help elevate the gameplay beyond a mere Gears clone. With a device conveniently provided by their would-be invaders, the protagonists can fire pulses of energy that can either increase or decrease the force of gravity at the location they hit. This starts with simple applications like shooting enemies with a low-gravity shot to lift them up and out from behind cover or hitting a heavy overhanging object with a shot of high gravity to make it drop down and crush enemies below.

On the downside, there is a lack of multiplayer. It is not that there aren’t decent game options but rather a lack of players. After trying for several days it became frustrating to find a decent game. When I did, I ended up with game modes that forced players to be cheesy and take advantage of map designs and gameplay flaws that make matches extremely one sided.

In the single player, from the start of the game to the end, you’ll fight waves of guys, whom are mostly bald, with different sets of armor and guns. There are breaks to fight area mid-bosses (ones with the gravity guns themselves) as well as area bosses (the slave traders). In between fights there are some puzzle elements that involve gravity going from place to place and moving objects out of your path.

Things get significantly more interesting when you gain the ability to manipulate and toss objects that have been floated with low gravity. For instance, you can kill a distant, RPG-wielding enemy by lifting him out of cover, pulling him toward you with the grav-link, performing a melee finisher on him while he hangs helplessly before you, and then grab his launcher to blow up his buddies. Creative players will find plenty of neat ways to wreak havoc with these powers, and it’s all complemented with a highly destructible, physics-driven world that begs to be ravaged. The fun is just as devious as it sounds, but sadly, it doesn’t come without a price.

Between the dynamic shadows, destructible environments, and all the physics-intensive tomfoolery, the game demands a lot out of current-gen consoles. While it mostly keeps it together at an acceptable framerate, the game does everything a half-step slower than the expected pace. To call it “sluggish” would be an exaggeration, but it is a bit more, shall we say, deliberate than some players will enjoy. Thankfully, the combat is laid out with this in mind so you never feel as if the game needs you to be faster than it allows, but one can’t help but wonder how much more enjoyable it might have been if things happened at a faster pace.

This plays into some of Inversion’s larger issues as well. Even between firefights, pacing can feel labored, mostly because the developers felt like throwing in-engine cutscenes before and after nearly every battle, even the minor ones. Granted, they’re all pausable and skippable, but mid-level, I just want to play. I don’t need a cutscene informing me that two enemies just appeared and I should take them out. Additionally, despite all the real estate afforded to storytelling, it never comes together to form something cohesive or compelling. The requisite pieces for a decent science fiction story are there, but the writers and voice actors seem to have lacked the combination of time, resources, and savvy necessary to assemble them together.

On top of that, some of the rehashed boss battles in the latter third of the game can run long, and the multiplayer is a total throwaway. Once you adjust to how awkward it moves along and understand the possibilities the gravity gameplay affords, Inversion becomes something memorable, even if it never quite becomes spectacular. And we have no shortage of “spectacular” in this business, while we have a serious deficit of “memorable.” But with an average length (six to eight hours) single-player campaign, and no real reason to replay it, Inversion holds on to be only a few notches better than passable.

 

 Inversion is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes. This game can also be found on: Windows PC and PlayStation 3.

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