If Galileo knew players were harnessing the concepts of gravitational theory in a video game, the physicist would turn in his grave. Valve's once-remarkable use of seesaw and gravity gun technology in Half-Life 2 pioneered the way for Portal's experimentation with the laws of inertia, momentum, and velocity. Now, the forces of gravity intersect with Inversion's third-person foundations to create firefights that sound intriguing during a development pitch, yet the end result feels weak in comparison to Prey, Dead Space, and Unreal Tournament.
Buddy cops Davis Russell and Leo Delgado await execution from a band of tribal psychopaths speaking broken English, occasionally punctuated by faint traces of understandable vernacular. How did the duo arrive here? Davis' hell began as normal as any other civilian's populating the fictional metropolis of Vanguard City. On his lunch break, the two police officers narrowly avoid a car crash trying to deliver Davis's daughter's birthday present before bedtime. A head-on collision soon becomes the least of their worries. Sadistic mercenaries launch a coordinated attack on the bustling urban sprawl, throwing the ordinary city into unfamiliar chaos.
Just hours after the initial invasion, thousands of citizens remain locked in wasteland jail cells, working in mining fields and living off meager rations while the savages kidnap children for unrevealed means. Unlike the prisoners around him, Davis keeps hope that his daughter survived the incursion. As a dad on a mission, his goal is clear, but the truth is much more grim.
Blindfiring, while safer than leaning out of cover, still leaves you partially exposed.
The narrative beams with Gears of War inspiration. Davis and Leo embody two military police partners expertly trained in foreign firearms. While Davis portrays the stoic protagonist unwilling to show but slivers of emotion, the unwaveringly loyal Leo plays the support role, always egging Davis on when he needs a morale boost to pick up the hunt for his missing daughter. Together the pair brave onslaughts of subterranean humanoid armies that burrow up through the asphalt shouting obscenities in a language akin to Yoda-speak. All that's missing are the 24-inch biceps and gruff babbling.
As a top contender for most idiotic bad guy moves, the alien Lutadores give Davis and Leo free reign of two Gravlinks, gravity manipulation backpacks that facilitate their later hard-fought escape from captivity. This ordinary excavating tool alters the gravitational fields around an object, enabling pockets of zero gravity or extreme density. The same concept applies to combat. Instead of the tired "you first, no you first" dance of waiting for entrenched enemies to expose their delicate heads, a well-aimed low gravity blast levitates those campers in the air for several seconds, disorienting their retaliatory attempts as they regain their bearings. From there, targets can be gripped with the Gravlink's tether or hit with a burst of high gravity to plummet ten feet back to earth at terminal velocity.
The majority of combat emulates the better parts of third-person shooters with indistinguishable outcomes. Heaving barrels, rocks, and cars diversifies the hackneyed shootouts, but rather than blindly hurling bits of detritus at encroaching Lutadores, I preferred to pull the actual enemies in close and launch them off cliffs, into lava, or through plywood towers with bone-shattering efficiency. The shooting never feels particularly useful, however. The aiming suffices for extended assaults, yet the Lutadores rarely react to weapon fire. They merely shrug off the incoming rounds until you get a lucky shot at their vitals. Even the heated plasma rifles do little to faze their absentminded persistence.
Forcing enemies from cover has its benefits, but the Lutadores won't hesitate to do the same to you.
Maneuvering around the locales amid heated exchanges is a test of perseverance all the same, and boss battles require perfect evading of grenade storms, laser whips, and flamethrowers lest you be instantly killed by an absolutely inescapable cheap shot. Davis is the softest protagonist I've played in a shooter of late, dying mere seconds after rolling from cover, but at least you'll get plenty of practice defeating identical robot drones and Lutadore mechs.
Davis and Leo also encounter scripted anomalies that launch the friends about the world. Stepping into one of these blue vectors suddenly inverts your perspective, turning that office ceiling into the floor, and the nauseating effect toys with the brain's comprehension as you watch stray Lutadores walk up neighboring skyscrapers. Less frequent instances of zero gravity pepper the monotony. Davis and Leo periodically soar from platform to platform, navigating the freely suspended remnants of city blocks like Isaac in the first Dead Space, with no intermittent control between destinations. Brief skirmishes play out during these sequences, and launching yourself to the next platform under the shadow of gunfire is a death sentence. Switching from low to high gravity – which grants Davis a protective shield otherwise – is impossible during these engagements. Rocket launchers and homing missiles become unavoidable, spiking the difficulty to inconceivable levels that all but the most patient of gamers should be wary of.
If gravity isn't fueling that destruction derby lust, however, destroy the scenery. For such a bleak future, the environments are astonishingly bright. Collapsed mine shafts, drenched suburbs, and sci-fi train stations act as masters of ceremonies to Davis's and Leo's rampant mayhem. Pillars fragment, scaffolds collapse, and barricades disintegrate under the influence of heavy arms fire, leaving trails of blood, gasoline, furniture, and dismembered legs to decorate the ransacked apartments, crumbled streets, and unkempt prison camps of this grimy post-apocalyptic tour.
Don't expect too many sudden perspective shifts.
The sparsely populated online servers blend shooting and gravity manipulation better than the campaign. Several game modes even modify the Gravlink's uses. However, not once did I find a full lobby of twelve players. I partially attribute this sad matter to the confusion surrounding the actual release date – and during E3 no less. 90 percent of my time spent hunting the opposition boiled down to thoughtless sprinting around each map, looking for the other two or three competitors not camping on rooftops with overpowered chain guns. At least forcing cowering gamers out of cover with a quick, unexpected, low gravity detonation made for satisfying, albeit brief, moments of excitement.
Survival (Horde) mode makes the strongest case for anyone looking to visit Inversion's twisted reality. Four players cooperate against endless waves of intrusive Lutadores, and bending mother nature to your wills in the absence of proper cooperative campaign matchmaking almost justifies the cost of a rental. Almost.
Inversion treads dangerously close to the line of knockoffs with its middling gimmick and gameplay inspirations. Whatever saving grace the story offers is bludgeoned by C-list acting and gaping plot holes large enough to squeeze a sequel through. A last-minute revelation 60 seconds before the credits roll sours every rescue and virtuous action undertaken after the third chapter. The plot twists should have made my jaw drop, but there's no dramatic buildup. The pacing crucifies any memorable reactions, and the developers just pull back the curtain and shove the answers in your face. At its completion, Inversion left me drained. Not drained in a physical or emotional sense, just drained from indescribable indifference.
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Saber Interactive
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Number of Players: 1-2 (Campaign), 2-4 (Cooperative), 2-12 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC