At what point does homage tip-toe into the realm of plagiarism? Well, wherever that point may be, Saber Interactive’s, Inversion certainly teeters dangerously close to the edge. Let’s just say that, anyone who has spent so much as a moment with Epic’s Gears of War trilogy will feel immediately at home with just about every aspect of Inversion’s design. Gruff, no nonsense heroes? Check. Muscle bound alien invaders? Check. Roadie run? You better believe it. Gun/blade hybrids? Oh, you know it. With the exception of its one, admittedly well implemented and rather cool, unique concept, Inversion could almost stand as some loosely linked Gears of War spin-off.
The thing is, these brazen similarities do raise an important question? Does derivative necessarily mean bad? Based on the quality of the product and the amount of fun I had playing Inversion, I’m inclined to say no. Don’t get me wrong, new concepts and fresh ideas are downright essential to the progress of the medium, but sometimes, just like a big summer movie, I’m happy to leave my brain at the door so long as the quality of the product in front me is of a high enough standard. And that’s one thing Inversion definitely has going for it – its quality. It may rip numerous ideas and themes directly from Epic’s shooter, but the fact of the matter is; I’d prefer a well-made copy over a poorly made one-of-a-kind.
Inversion’s core gameplay may be that of a standard duck and cover shooter, but the mechanics and quality behind it are all of a consistently high standard. The guns feel sufficiently meaty and the range of weaponry is both diverse and well balanced. There’s nothing particularly new here, but what is, is largely very enjoyable to use. The enemies also prove relatively intelligent, and again, surprisingly diverse for a game of this ilk. A sense of repetition does begin to creep in later in the game (what with those pesky bosses being re-used and all), but by that point, the level design has improved to such an extent that you aren’t likely to care.
Still, while Inversion does take far too long to get into full swing, Saber’s one unique concept helps to keep the game ticking along nicely while also managing to give Inversion its own identity – the Gravlink. Working in a similar fashion to Half Life 2’s gravity gun, this fine piece of weaponry allows you create pockets of low and heavy gravity. Got an especially dug-in enemy that needs dealing with? Why not lift him out of cover before using your gravity defying powers to hurl a parked car at the poor sod. Heck, you could even force his surrounding down on top of him, squishing him like some kind of alien pancake. The use of these abilities are all limited by the scenery and the rather linear level design, but the combination of gravity defying powers with brutal pop and shot gameplay delivers a surprisingly enjoyable experience.
Adding to the sense of gravity defying madness are the alien invaders’ little bubbles of zero-G and the game’s knack for literally turning the world upside down. The zero-G sections are admittedly just like those found in Dead Space, but do serve to provide some well-timed twists to the core gameplay (especially when those sword-wielding lunatics start throwing themselves at you). Again, it’s all a little too linear to be truly groundbreaking, but these moments, especially later in the game when the full tactical possibilities of the combined mechanic are genuinely exploited, do help Inversion stand out from its more illustrious inspiration.
As for the world-turning flips in gravitation, well, they’re more for looking cool than anything else. Finding yourself fighting on the ceiling or on the wall might look ace, but in practical terms, rarely adds anything to the standard gameplay. Again, it’s only later in the game, when Saber seem to pull their proverbial finger out, that this mechanic begins to have a genuine effect on how you approach each battle. Rather than the basic visual change that it offers for the majority of the game, in the final straight, you’ll suddenly find enemies shooting at you from just about every direction, giving Inversion a new tactical edge that is largely lacking for the first 75% of the adventure. I don’t know why the level design improves so dramatically as you creep towards the closing credits, but it’s a shame that the whole game was not imbued with the same high levels of design quality. Yes, it’s nice to go out on a high, but there is simply no reason why the rest of the experience isn’t of as equally a high standard.
You’re probably wondering at this point whether Inversion even has a story. Well, it does, and the reason I have left it so late to bring it up is that, surprise, surprise; it’s not very good. Again, riffing shamelessly on the Gears of War template, Inversion’s story is built around an alien invasion that leaves the remaining humans fighting for survival and liberation. There is a somewhat outrageous plot twist along the way, but that is more laughable than emotionally effective……it’s not helped by the relatively dire script and delivery either.
Playing as one of two supposedly everday cops, you’ll be tasked with gunning down an army of alien invaders. Although more humanoid than the Locust, the Lutadores, while sounding like a group of Mexican wrestlers, have that classic chunky Epic design and, while not nearly as threatening as the more gruesome Locust, do provide a very similar selection of enemy types to mow down on your way to freedom.
Your co-op partner does a decent job of finding cover and taking down his fare share of enemies, but as one would expect, Inversion is a more enjoyable experience when played in co-op. The level design isn’t as well suited to co-op play as it is in Gears and is of a generally lower standard throughout, but being able to pull an enemy out of cover for your buddy to happily blow to smithereens does imbue the experience with a pleasing sense of violent camaraderie.
With so much of Inversion feeling like the best bits of two games forced together to admittedly surprisingly solid results, it’s the multiplayer aspect of the package where Inversions often feels like its own unique beast. Although home to the usual list of team deathmatches and king of the hill variants (and of course, the now customary Horde rip-off), Inversion does include a host of game modes that put the gravity-defying gameplay to genuinely good use. From kill streaks that literally turn the world upside down to maps that run coherently across the floor and ceiling, Inversion’s generous collection of online modes might end up proving the games’ most memorable feature.
A handful of bugs and some long loading times undermine Inversion’s otherwise solid technical framework, but, despite these hiccups, Saber has done an admirable job of making this mid-budget title look far closer to the triple-A release it is so clearly attempting to ape. It’s lacking the polish of Epic’s work and is certainly a little too po-faced for its own good, but get over the rough edges and largely derivative design and a surprisingly solid and often highly enjoyable shooter awaits.
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