By John Walker on July 31st, 2012 at 4:00 pm.
Saber Interactive’s Inversion came out on our console cousins at the beginning of June. It’s now with us on PC, with a decent port. But is it a decent game? I took on the forces of gravity to find out, and here’s Wot I Think.
There are certain times when reviewing a game where a note on my pad isn’t enough. I have to stop playing and turn to the Word document, because it needs to be written down as a paragraph. This one. Inversion just killed me as I emerged from a cutscene.
Inversion is the sad tale of a nice gimmick in an extremely average, derivative game, such that it never gets to shine. The gimmick is the frequent lack of gravity, from making objects float, to walking on walls and ceilings. The reality is a cover shooter with an NPC buddy that somehow manages to do nothing original despite this.
And it is a real shame, since clearly a vast amount went into the game. We’re told a tale, such as it is, about an invading force of human-like enemies who have turned the pleasant streets of America into a crate-filled warzone, kidnapped our children, and apparently eradicated womenkind from existence.
You play, er, some guy, a cop trying to get home for his daughter’s birthday, when all hell breaks loose. Eventually arriving back to his apartment he finds his wife dying, and his daughter missing, and is now on a mission to get his baby back, baby back, baby back. He’s accompanied by his cop partner, er, some other guy, and together they instantly turn into action heroes. The death of his wife instantly forgotten, our man is intent only on finding his daughter. (Which shouldn’t be too tricky in a world only populated by men. It is the very strangest thing that seemingly no women have survived the invasion, and of course the only female enemies are the rarely appearing special ninja types.)
Unfortunately, it throws so many storytelling devices at you right at the start that it gets itself in a muddle. We see a moment from late in the tale, our man about to be executed, informing us that he couldn’t save his daughter. Then we go to the very start, see our cops before the madness, and get hurt. There’s staggering about in confusion, wounded, there’s being captured by the enemy, and then you get given the game’s main device, the gravity changing doodah (GCD) with all its abilities. You can reverse gravity, increase it, and grab floating objects to throw them. But this is that other gaming traditional false start, and for some reason or other you end up with a much more limited version, frustrated that you can’t carry on playing how you just were.
At this point it gets into its routine. Run down very tight corridors, taking out shooting galleries of enemies, occasionally make stuff float, and probably about sixteen times throughout that, get interrupted by a cutscene.
Some games get too carried away with taking over in the early stages, then finally let you loose to play – not here. Here the interminable interruptions are a plague for the entire game, almost ever open corridor or doorway triggering a cutscene that invariably shows your character doing what you were doing anyway – firing at some enemies, diving into cover. Although, not always that last bit. The game does have a rather odd habit of a cutscene walking your character into enemy line of fire, then dumping you back in control as you’re being killed. Gee, thanks.
After that, sadly, it becomes rather a list of obvious mistakes in a shooter. From not being able to walk through huge open gaps, to checkpoints immediately before cutscenes and long walks, to there being no internal logic for the gravity meddling, you realise you’re just being funnelled through the game pressing the buttons when it wants you to. Try to handle a firefight in your own way and your buddy will start shouting at you in horror for not having done it the scripted way. “Use the device on that container!” he’ll boom, even though you’ve no real need for it, until you realise the game won’t budge until you do. Inconsistencies are far worse the other way, too. An obstacle that in one scene you’ll be forced to levitate out the way is completely immovable in another. There’s never a sense of improvising with the toy, and mostly a sense of its impotence.
Another really disappointing example of where what looks like enormous fun ends up being restrictive tail-following, comes with the flying sections. For reasons the game thinks is its story, certain areas have no gravity at all, meaning you can fly between floating objects to reach the other side. But rather than being a moment of freedom, once again you’re beholden to the scripted path, just pressing Space to move between the obligatory obstacles, and sometimes shooting enemies in the area. This could have been absolutely tremendous if they’d only let you have some sort of genuine interaction.
The same goes for the surprisingly rare sequences where you walk on walls and ceilings. Rather than being a fun ability with which you can improvise, they’re instead completely meaningless, enforced surface changes, almost never interacting with another plane. You might as well have stayed on the ground.
But as I said before, clearly a huge amount of work has gone into this. Huge sets, crumbling-yet-floating cityscapes, enormous enemy bases and a decent variety of locations are all betrayed by the game taking place in them. The incessant waves of identical enemies present no interesting challenge, other than the game’s terrible recognition of headshots, and astonishingly, it even repeats boss fights.
“There’s no way we can hold them all off!” shouts my buddy, the screen completely clear of enemies. This comes not long after he threw yet another grenade at me, blowing me up and forcing me to restart at the beginning of a checkpoint. Later in the fight we are actually getting overwhelmed (as the script demands) while a remote voice says the train will arrive in 3… 2… 1 seconds. We’re manning turrets, completely surrounded by enemies and a giant metal vehicle, and of course it goes to the seventy-ninety-sixteenth cutscene that level. A cutscene in which we’re completely clear of enemies, able to saunter casually on.
And it pretty much goes like that, for a very long time. My buddy also has access to the gravity powers, and uses them at the stupidest moments. He also provides that always-golden entertainment of being able to lose a level for me by getting too hurt. When he gets too damaged, it’s my job to ignore everything that’s going on in a fight and run over to him, press E, and then… help him up. That’s literally it. No first aid is offered, he was just having trouble getting to his feet. Ridiculous. And very often, forces you to get killed as you do it.
All the way through, you feel like you’re playing what should have been great fun, but is instead just mediocre or annoying. Shooting galleries are shooting galleries, and picking off the enemies can be as fun as it is anywhere else. But the irritations are so frequent and tiresome that they become your overriding sense of the game. And there’s only so much patience I have with levels failing to load properly, meaning they’re impossible to finish until you restart.
Oh, and it has what I think I can safely declare as the dumbest twist in all of gaming history. I’m tempted to recommend people play it just to encounter the ludicrous nonsense. It’s so implausible, and so filled with plotholes, that it makes it almost worth experiencing.
But it isn’t. Which is a shame. Much of the game’s construction is bursting with effort, and the cities are often fantastically built. But sadly the game you’re actually playing is uninspired, frustrating, and buggy, horrendously under-using the potential of its core gimmick.