Review: "Inversion," or Gears of Gravity

I want to apologize first readers (and to a certain extent developer Saber Interactive and publisher Namco Bandai) for the review of Inversion that will follow. After playing through 12 of this third-person shooter's levels and its multiplayer, I knew it was unlikely that Inversion was going to get me on its side. Based on the seven or eight hours that I spent with it, Inversion failed to make a convincing argument for me to keep going and so very many more for me to just walk away.

THE BASICS

In Inversion, you play as Vanguard City police officer Russ Davis (or in its two-player co-op, Russ and his partner Leo), who is caught in the middle of an invasion by the Lutadores, gun-toting, primitives from parts unknown as the city's gravity starts going nuts. Buildings fall and then start to float and the locals are either killed or captured.

But Russ has to survive—his daughter is missing and has probably been rounded up with all of the other children of the Lutadores, so he grabs a gun and a Gravlink—a gravity-inverting device attached to a backpack—and he and Leo make a run for it to find the kid.

For a couple of minutes, I was half-convinced that the brawny Lutadores were somehow precursors to Gears of War's COGs, and that Inversion was going to serve as some kind of commentary on the excessive self-seriousness of Epic's still really, really good shooter. No dice: the story (and accompanying flat, awkward VO) start off bad and just get worse.

Your Gravlink can be used to reverse the gravity on objects and enemies making them temporarily weightless (and at about the halfway point, you'll gain the ability to increase the gravity of objects and bring them to the ground). The level design is informed by the broken gravity, so frequently the corridor shooting is broken up by open spaces with floating debris that you have to float through, using the floating yet oddly stationary rubble as cover when Lutadores attack. Orienting yourself in space during these sequences can be anything from a challenge to an outright chore and on more than one occasion, I found myself floating and overshooting my intended piece of cover right into an enemy's line of fire. This is compounded in the multiplayer where other gamers far smarter than Inversion's brain dead AI can pick you off at your leisure.

Thankfully (I suppose), the shooting isn't especially accurate with any of the weapons (which are all lacking in any sort of strong tactile response), and Russ can only take a couple of bullets before dying on the Normal difficulty setting.

From a production standpoint, the visuals are solid enough and actually get quite interesting in those last few chapters as the story gets especially ridiculous (wait until you find out where the Lutadores came from), but some of the faces aren't quite great and there is something really, really wrong with Russ' fluffy hair. The checkpoint system could also have used some work (i.e. Inversion needs more and more judicious checkpoints), leading to quite a few instances of dying and having to sit through an enemy's arrival cutscene multiple times.

Honestly, look back on my time with the game, there's nothing I can offer in terms of a reason to check it out.

WHAT'S GOOD

The idea behind the core mechanic and gameplay conceit are interesting

The ability to increase and decrease gravity on your enemies and surrounding objects is a simple, engaging mechanic on paper.

WHAT'S BAD

Give me a cool mechanic, but don't let me use it too much

Russ and Leo's ability to pick up and fling objects using the Gravlink isn't exactly original to Inversion, but we've all enjoyed tossing enemies around in games like The Force Unleashed or Psi-Ops. The problem with Inversion is that with the exception of some of the boss characters, you'd have a better chance using the game's inaccurate weapons than trying to pop out of cover, reverse gravity, target a throwable object, and then toss it at an enemy behind their own cover.

It's not that Inversion keeps you from using its gravity-defying mechanic, it's that the combat doesn't encourage it all that much.

Repetitive boss battles

By the third time you encounter the obese slaver boss, you'll wonder if Inversion has run out of anything interesting to throw at you.

Yes. Yes, it has.

THE VERDICT

There was a germ of a good idea in Inversion at some point, but everything surrounding it—from the look and feel of handling weapons and manipulating gravity, to the look of the game, to its so-bad-it's-bad story—effectively bury whatever that good idea was. Ultimately, it's a shoddy, unappealing experience with nothing to offer shooter fans or even the morbidly curious.

Inversion is available now for the Xbox 360 and PS3 from Namco Bandai.

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