Inversion hands-on preview

Namco Bandai claimed right before our recent hands-on with Inversion that the game’s central conceit, that you can manipulate gravity in all sorts of ways, is most certainly not a gimmick. In fact, we were told, Inversion will do no less than revolutionize the third-person shooter. After playing the game, we’re not convinced (yet) of either of these claims. It’s possible that Inversion has some innovative tricks up its sleeves, but we didn’t see them in the demo we played, or in the hands-off live demo we watched.

Above: Just a typical morning commute

Aside from the notion of gravity anomalies and gravity manipulation, Inversion is a standard third-person shooter with assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, and mounted machineguns, while your character sprints, takes cover, and aims down sights. The environments that we saw included a ruined city devoid of civilians and some kind of space station or possibly a junkyard in space. The world looks nicely detailed and crumbles beautifully under the onslaught of bullets and grenades, with cover becoming a diminishing resource as enemies whittle away at your hiding places. At one point we manned a mounted gun and systematically demolished an entire multi-story building, with enemies inside, simply by carving away the supports with continuous gunfire. It looked damn good and was quite satisfying.

There are two main ways that the player can manipulate gravity, at least from what we saw so far (there may be more abilities revealed later). The first is a simple gravity-powered grappling hook that can snag and reel in objects and enemies. Used against regular troops, it’s mostly for amusement as we found we could grab a guy, pull him toward us like Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, and then perform a disgusting execution where we stomped his head into the pavement. A more practical use for the tether is to take out heavily armored enemies who are resistant to bullets. It’s a simple matter of picking up a car and throwing it at them. We also saw how you can create impromptu cover by picking things up (like cars) and setting them down wherever you want your cover.

Above: Moving cars for cover is useful against entrenched gun turrets

The other big gravity tool is a ball of energy that shoots out in a straight line and then explodes, creating an area of zero gravity. This lifts enemies into the air where they float helplessly – but after a moment of disorientation they can still return fire. The game throws a lot of enemies at you, so you’ll need to use this ability to perform crowd control. It’s also extremely useful for pulling dug-in troops out from behind cover. Other than a shockwave move that just knocks nearby enemies back, that’s all we’ve really seen in the department of gravity powers that the player can use. So far it looks fairly limited and not particularly creative. We were expecting to do all kinds of crazy things with manipulating gravity, although again it’s possible that there will be more interesting abilities revealed.

The non-player controlled gravity tricks in Inversion occur in gravity anomalies. At one point we were fighting foes on the street of a city when suddenly gravity shifted ninety degrees and we flew onto the side of a skyscraper as the camera tilted to match the new orientation. It’s cool and surprising at first, but then you realize you’re still playing the game like a normal third-person shooter – the only difference is that the world is at a “crazy” angle and the textures under your feet are of windows instead of asphalt.

Above: Gameplay wise, you're still just running around and hiding behind cover

A bit further on, though, we did get a glimpse of how the gravity shifts could get really cool – we were oriented on a wall, but up ahead the gravity was normal, so some enemies were on the ground (but looking as though they were standing on a “wall” to our perspective). We were able to lob grenades forward from our position, which then passed through the gravity transition and changed their arc sideways, curving toward the ground and exploding at the enemies’ feet. Finally, this was the kind of thing we were looking for in Inversion. We really hope that the game provides more of these moments and iterates on these ideas, because there is a lot of promise in the concept.

The hands-off part of the demo showed an area that was completely without gravity and provided a different kind of gameplay from the standard running around on the ground stuff. Amongst huge pieces of floating architecture, the player pulled himself from object to object using the gravity tether. Both the player and enemies essentially had to hang on to pieces of cover, so everyone was flying from one handhold to another and popping off shots. It reminded us of Dark Void’s vertical cover sections, although it seemed to flow more smoothly and appeared more dynamic.

Above: In this zero-G level, an interesting aspect of the level design is the abundance ofcurved surfaces, allowing you to circle around and attack from multiple angles

The other issue we encountered playing Inversion had nothing to do with the gravity tricks. We found the actual third-person shooting controls to be a bit clunky and unintuitive. The way the main character sprints and attaches to cover feels weird, the aiming was really twitchy, and for some reason the aim down sights mode is a toggle – instead of holding the left trigger and releasing it to go back in cover, you have to hit the trigger a second time, which caused us to constantly pop out of cover and then get stuck being peppered with bullets because we expected to go back into cover when releasing the trigger. Luckily all of these control issues can easily be fixed since the game won’t be out for another year.

So, is Inversion’s twist on gravity just a gimmick? It’s possible, but we can’t say for sure yet, especially with so much time left in its development. Its snappy production values lead us to believe it’s no shabby knock-off of other shooters, though, and like we said, there is a lot of promise in the gravity shenanigans. There are also the co-op and multiplayer modes, which could provide additional options for toying with gravity. Currently the game is set for a release date of 2/7/12 on PS3 and 360, so we’ll surely have more opportunities to see what other ideas it has for playing with its own set of twisted rules.

Feb 4, 2011

Matthew Keast
My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.