Wot I Think: Inversion

By John Walker on July 31st, 2012 at 4:00 pm.

Why are fatties always baddies in games? Where are the goodie fatties?

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.

See that giant mech suit? You don't get to go in it.

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.

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55 Comments »

  1. Ubik2000 says:

    Spoil! The! Twist! Spoil! The! Twist! Spoil! The! Twist!

    I mean, we’re never going to play it.

    • frightlever says:

      The twist is that he’s mixed up the date of his daughter’s birthday and it was actually yesterday.

      (NB: apologies if this actually IS the twist.)

    • Zarunil says:

      After reading this, I know I’m not.

    • caddyB says:

      Indeed. Just tell us!

    • Groove says:

      Spoil the Twist! (with spoiler tags obviously)

      It’s the only thing I was thinking at the end of the article and I’m glad some right-thinking soul beat me to it.

    • SominiTheCommenter says:

      Is it an ?

    • The Godzilla Hunter says:

      Your daughter IS THE ALIEN OVERMIND. And, er, it was her plan all along. Also, the gravity device is CAUSING ALL THE PROBLEMS. And your friend betrays you! or something.

      And of course, you are actually a tomato.

    • Jesse L says:

      You were actually already on the ceiling. THE WHOLE TIME.

      • EPICTHEFAIL says:

        Also, Rosebud kills Dumbledore.

        • The Random One says:

          The twist is that in the ending it turns out your character is autistic and is imagining the whole thing.

          But right before that, your character meets Gordon Freeman. Which means Half-Life is part of the game’s continuity, which means it’s part of his imagination. Portal takes place in the same continuity, which means he also imagined it, and since the Space Sphere is in Skyrim the Elder Scrolls universe is also part of it. The mudcrabs in Skyrim are clearly the same as in Fallout, so…

          Long story short, every single game is being dreamed up by one guy, who also happens to live in a universe in which Jewish resistance fighters killed Hitler.

    • Electric Dragon says:

      Here it is: SPOILERS OBVIOUSLY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7K78_Zrgpig#t=13m15s

      • brulleks says:

        The twist is that your character is actually David Cameron.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Bruce Willis is a sled.

      • Zarunil says:

        Your partner is a bicycle!

        • Ergates_Antius says:

          The gravity device is actually your father and all the aliens are your sister

          • Ragnar says:

            The gravity device doesn’t actually manipulate gravity. It creates a pocket free from manipulation, while the whole world is manipulated around it.

    • Eddy9000 says:

      You wake up and realise that it was all a dream.

      Actually I googled the twist and it’s pretty hilarious.

  2. adonf says:

    Oh, good. I was wondering why there were no mentions of this game on RPS. Now I know it’s because the publisher tried to sweep it under the carpet.

  3. Skeletor68 says:

    I would also like this spolier in RPS writer form

  4. Mist says:

    I do wonder in cases like this… are the models, the sounds, the textures, the AI-routines (ok maybe not those) reused? I know series like CoD will re-use assets, and big companies like EA probably share content amongst their projects, but it just seems like such a waste if a majority of content is just thrown away. How many cars, soldiers, crates (…), etc. have been modelled in the history of video gaming?

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      Ah, but if you don’t, players and reviewers will complain that you didn’t put any effort in.

  5. SanguineAngel says:

    Ditto on the spoiler

  6. MadTinkerer says:

    You know what’s hilarious but also kind of sad about all of us begging for the spoiler? No one’s spoiled it yet. Which means no one reading this so far bought it. No one.

    I don’t think even Hydrophobia was this unpopular.

  7. Vagrant says:

    Ever since early videos of Dark Void, I’ve thought that a zero-G cover-based shooter is a fantastic mechanic searching for a good game.

    • Bhazor says:

      They already did.

      Can’t find a decent video of it but Uncharted 3 featured vertical gunfights where you scramble around the side of a cliff/building taking cover behind signs and rocks and scrambling to avoid falling hazards. Pretty cool but not the main focus of the game. Which could be why it works.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Dead Space had that 0G section. Found that rather terrible, if you ask me, even though the shot-off limbs were floaty.

  8. ceenima says:

    Spoiler:At the end, Leo reveals that he actually found the corpse of Davis’s daughter in the Russell family apartment, but couldn’t bear to tell Davis himself.

    IT’s true.

    • Linfosoma says:

      @ ceenima: Nothing better than to play an entire game only to find out that your only motivation was a complete waste of time!
      It’s like those endings on TV series when everything turned out to be just a dream.

    • felisc says:

      Oh come on, what’s that baby “spoiler” you brought here.
      You should have advertised it with CAPS and lots of !!!!!. maybe even a link to a cat gif.
      That’s how we all wanted it.

  9. liquidsoap89 says:

    Piggy from Enslaved (console game) was relatively un-evil. And as far as I remember, the fatty from F.E.A.R. was helping you do stuff (although I seem to remember him BECOMING evil…).

    And my character in Saints Row 2 was a fatty, does that count?

    • LTK says:

      And more recently, Ellie in Borderlands 2. The fat security guards in Half-Life: Opposing Force weren’t exactly evil either. What else have we got?

    • liquidsoap89 says:

      As far as I can tell Declan Leuvaarden from the Witcher isn’t evil, so to speak. Although I’m only in act 3 so that could change. OH! And what’s his face from GTA4 was a pretty big guy.

  10. John Walker says:

    I can’t just post the twist of a new game!

    • EPICTHEFAIL says:

      Give in to the Dark Side, we`re running out of endings to complain about.

    • liquidsoap89 says:

      That’s alright, somebody else already did!

    • BooleanBob says:

      I had a think about your question, John. I could only come up with Glottis, Duane and Pearl Henderson, and Ebisumaru. Not a large (oho!) selection, but one with unquestionable pedigree, I’m sure you’ll agree.

  11. mrmalodor says:

    Here cum da powaa

  12. Wisq says:

    Every time I see this, I read it as “Introversion” and I’m all excited to see something new from them. And then I’m disappointed,

    Some sort of weird optimistic dyslexia, I guess.

  13. RegisteredUser says:

    “Spec Ops: The Line 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 reference to war movies and that people actually die in war, thus making it an overall pretty miserable deal.
    The reality is a cover shooter with two NPC buddies 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(Spoilers?), such as it is, about a once-been rescue force, who have turned the pleasant streets of Dubai into a dust-filled warzone, kidnapped the local inhabitants, and apparently eradicated a good portion of them from existence.”

    Couldn’t help but feel that’s what I should have read “over there”. Just tickled my “Say, that reminds me of that OTHER game” bone and was too close to not do.

  14. Xardas Kane says:

    To be fair, the two plot twists (if anyone’s asking – SPOILERS: the city the game takes place in is actually a dome that’s part of some random spaceship and the bad guys are from another dome where it all went Fallout on their asses, the second twist is that your partner found the daughter dead at the beginning of the game) could have at least been intriguing, but the delivery is absolutely atrocious. I don’t know who wrote that thing, but it was the equivalent of someone messing up a joke about halfway through and backtracking awkwardly. Kind of embarrassing and really, really not funny.