Inversion – Hands-on Preview and Interview

Shooters and I have a very odd relationship.  It’s very much the same sort of relationship one would expect from the average male towards a world class porn star whereby you know what you’d like to do, you know that the beauty before you is both unparalleled and exciting, yet you’re also painfully aware of the fact you probably won’t push the right buttons at the right time and end up fumbling around like a frightened kid with their first girlfriend, Calvins in a ball on the front seat past eleven on a school night.

There is no denying, however, that modern shooters play with the eye more than most other genres and the likes of Crysis changed the way we, speaking as a well documented graphics whore, approach games from an aesthetic standpoint.  The fact that I am inherently dire at shooters is also well documented, but it doesn’t stop me from having a vested interest and so when I first laid eyes on Inversion at this year’s E3 I was immediately taken in.  Had it not been for Kingdoms of Amalur coming along, coupled with not being able to get anyone to talk to or any more than a few minutes of hands-on time with Inversion, it would have been my sleeper hit of E3.  Thankfully, I was able to rectify both situations at Gamescom.

Inversion is, without a doubt, one of the most satisfying games I’ve played in a very long time and had me hooked from the first few moments of gameplay.  Between the use of gravity to alter perceptions yet never kill the flow, to the genuine co-op aspect where each player exists not only as cover or health restoration for the other, but can work in tandem to pull of some spectacular kills, Inversion offers a fresh perspective on the cover-based third person shooter.

Without going in to too much detail on the story prior to review, you play as ex-cop Davis Russel, who lost his wife when aliens invaded earth and wreaked havoc with their own weaponised gravitational forces.  During the invasion, Russel’s daughter disappeared and so you now fight your way through the alien horde with your partner, Leo Delgado, in search of your missing child.  On the surface, it could realistically be any run of the mill shooter in terms of storyline, character design and and environmental aesthetics but the one thing that sets it apart from the rest is the use of gravity as both an offensive and defensive tool.  The problem is that some people may not connect with the way the game utilises gravity in the same way that I did, and so would ultimately be left a little cold as it becomes “just another shooter”.

The beauty of having gravity as a tool within the game is that it changes the way the player has to think.  What was once the wall could suddenly become the floor in an Escher-esque twist, while enemies attack from all angles as they run along walls and ceilings towards you. Throwing a grenade at a foe may seem like the simplest of tasks in most shooters, but Inversion’s twisted take on reality means that you may not necessarily be throwing into the typical field of gravity, so once that projectile hits whatever gravitational plane is being taken up by the enemy… it’ll obviously be affected and could veer off to one side, or towards the ceiling… whichever is the natural floor. As well as the environmental gravity distortions, the player also has the use of weaponised gravity through the use of the Grav Link, allowing them to create rifts of either low-G or high-G, depending on what best suits the situation.

It was a fascinating trip, and I asked Producer, Ken Mah, if this meant having to think in an entirely different manner when it came to creating the environment as all walls and ceilings were also floors, potentially. “When we’re creating the levels, it’s almost like they have to create three different levels and then find a way to attach them all together. It makes our first drafts a lot more complicated and takes a lot more time than if we weren’t doing it that way.”

As with any cover-based shooter, it’s not about holding your ground with an automatic rifle, taking down enemies with ease as enemy fire appears to bounce off your seemingly impenetrable skin… this is preservation of life and ammo at all costs, thinking about every shot and whether it’s worth taking the chance from a particular point of cover.  At one point, there were more enemies than I had ammo and Ken explained that we could also use the Grav Link to our advantage to conserve rounds, encouraging me to whip one of the enemies into the air and propel it towards some of the others while he took it out with his assault rifle, leaving us with fewer enemies and no wasted ammo.

As someone who took a while to start thinking with portals, I asked Ken if progression through the game was easier once the player started to think with gravity. “The Grav Link itself has a pretty decent learning curve, for example when you’re playing through you almost want to think of it as a grenade as it’s radius based; it affects an area, so it’s a lot easier to get enemies if you aim for the feet.  When you’re utilising what we call ‘mobile cover’, if you’re trying to use smaller objects such as a barrel, you can use that to deflect enemy fire but that would require a degree of manual control and so a better player would be able to deflect more fire than a new player.  It’s a lot of fun, especially if you think about multiplayer – if a guy is charging at you with a shotgun you can maybe grab a garbage bag so even though it’s a smaller object, if you’re used to it then you can be charging at each other, deflecting his shotgun shells with it and then hit him with a garbage bag.”

It’s not just low gravity that the Grav Link can dish out though, and Ken explains that there’s an option for high gravity later in the game once you’ve progressed and upgraded the device, which allows you to root your foes to the spot and make everything in their radius heavier than normal.  Perfect if some guy is happily laughing away as his minigun empties thousands of rounds in your direction, destroying what little cover you have left… and suddenly the minigun becomes too heavy for him to hold up.  The environment is, as briefly mentioned before, destructible and so it’s important to remember that anything that’s not nailed down can also be used as mobile cover once it’s been hit by a blast of low gravity, whether it’s a barrel, a sheet of metal or even a vehicle.  If it can move, it can be used as a floating shield.

I normally feel a little overwhelmed by shooters unless I can sit on a mountain side and take out dozens of unsuspecting enemies using a scope that could bullseye womp rats from a T-16, unless they’re leaning more towards the arcade style of Borderlands where you can quite easily keep running around in circles emptying an 800-strong clip until the encircling enemies die.  It doesn’t bode well when the producer hands you a controller and asks you to join in, knowing that you’ve already made it clear that you’re “crap at shooters”, much to their enjoyment.  Thankfully Ken was right when he said that you didn’t actually need to be good at shooters to enjoy the game, as long as you understood the Grav Link and were supported by someone who wasn’t actually crap!

“The good thing about having the Grav Link is that even if you’re not too good at shooters, you can always play through it as long as you find someone else that was really good because the Grav Link is great for adding support.  You can keep your distance, you can throw grenades, use your sniper rifle and just pop enemies up out of cover for the other person to shoot.  The Grav Link allows you to be a lot more creative – you don’t have to use guns, and if I had a little more time it’s entirely possible to beat this entire demo using the Grav Link alone.  It takes some time as you have to wait for it to recharge, but if you’re careful with it then you can go through and beat every enemy with just the Grav Link.”

Some thirty minutes after I walked into the presentation area, I left knowing that I was right back in Los Angeles when I first laid eyes on Inversion’s modest booth, dwarfed by the enormity of those surrounding it, and thought there was something special about Inversion.  I know it’ll never be in my top ten or even twenty games, but that’s down to my preference of genre and nothing else… I want to sink hundreds of hours into a game and become invested, whether it’s the people, the history, or the locations and I know that Inversion won’t give me that. What it will give me, however, is a chance to enjoy a shooter that’s not Gears of War, or Vanquish… something that I’ll have to think about before I toss a grenade into the air or whip an enemy across the sky like a clay pigeon for my co-op buddy to take out.  It’s gritty, it’s frantic in places but, most of all, it’s different.

Inversion is due for a North American release on February 7th 2012, hitting European shores on February 10 2012 and will be available for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

Last five articles by Mark R



  1. FC360 says:

    Hey look a blue Halo Reach Shield lol looks interesting will have to find some gameplay footage some time

  2. Mark Mark_S says:

    You see those kinds of shields in alot of games. Just a style of forcefield.

    Looks good though, detailed, love the destructible terrain and the coop. I think its just one of those games i’d probably throw up playing though. Don’t usually get motion sick but that looks intense. Like you said, frantic and different. In a gaming world of sequels, what more could you want.

    Nice preview Mark :)

  3. Edward Edward says:

    This game sounds like the sort of thing that’s going to give me more incentive to get back into shooters. If it’s intriguing even you, I know it’s worth my time.

    Great article, by the way :D

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