It’s been quite some time since Electronic Theatre last got hands-on with Inversion’s campaign, and in that time a great deal has changed. At the time, we were informed that the team at Saber Interactive were planning on making the videogame a co-operative experience, but to exactly what extent it wasn’t known. Now, nearly a year closer to release, Inversion has gone from being a one-man army experience to a virtual buddy pic, bringing some drastic changes along with the plot focus.
The entire campaign, from start to finish, can be played as a co-operative title by two players, either online or via a local network. When playing solo, your buddy while be controlled by the videogame’s artificial intelligence, whereas in Electronic Theatre’s previous hands-on, he simply wasn’t present. The ‘he’ in question is Leo Delgado, a character who now plays the Dominic Santiago to Gears of War’s Marcus Fenix, and is present in all of the story development sequences witnessed in this hands-on session.
Having started the videogame at the very beginning Electronic Theatre was able to evaluate a fair portion of the story. Opening as a prisoner of the Lutadors – the enemy force that enslaves the human race as the videogame begins – the player is given brief opportunities to learn the basics of their own accord. There’s no pushy-parent training mode, no on-screen instructions and no virtual hoops to jump through. Instead, you’re given a gun and some guys to shoot: in the modern industry, on platforms which have long established their core audience, is there really anything more still to be asked for?
This introductory gameplay takes place as part of a strange time paradox, in which it appears to be a flashback but is actually foresight of the events to come. The reason for this is most likely explained further beyond the limits of which Electronic Theatre played, and of all the story elements this is genuinely the only interesting aspect: Inversion is a ham-fisted affair, delivered with paper-thin characters and a clichéd tale of hope/revenge. This is not a videogame that will be championed for its storyline, but gameplay however, that’s another matter.
One of the most notable facets of Inversion is its destructible scenery. Ignoring Red Faction’s recent dynamic presentation and Bodycount’s shredding mechanic and instead option for predetermined points of impact, Inversion is no less impressive. In fact, to the casual observer it’s more so, as Inversion is grounded by the real world, and as such it’s not metallic structures, ramshackle huts or underground lairs that are being torn apart, but entire faces of buildings, with floors and pillars crumbling and destroying everything below them. Any gamer with a keen knowledge of design will acknowledge that there are trigger points placed throughout the environments and hitting these will cause the destruction, but the level design is so masterful that it’s never obvious where these triggers reside.
Unfortunately, the melee attack system is less successful in both design and execution. Specific instances (such as when a certain weapon is equipped or status effect is in play) will offer a contextual trigger: pressing the B button at the appropriate time will execute a canned animation that guarantees impact. Outside of these however, it would be easy to suggest that the mechanic is a little poorly judged. The collision detection offers only a very small hitbox, and missing will leave you far too vulnerable for far too long.
Of course, the unique selling point of Inversion is its gravity mechanic. The cover system, co-operative gameplay and assortment of weaponry could easily be confused with any other third-person action videogame that’s followed in the wake of Gears of War, but the Gravlink is a fairly unique idea. The device features two polarities, one which reduces gravity and another which increases it. The tactical implementations of this are surely obvious, but before any freedom to experiment is given the player is tasked with some light puzzle solving. What’s more, levels do hide a number of bonus items that increase the capacity of the Gravlink, but only if you can reach them. The potential for logistical puzzles surrounding this element should not be understated.
In addition to the manual gravity control, Inversion features a number of zero-gravity areas. These are certainly interestingly designed, far more open to interpretation than Dead Space 2‘s and bringing just as much verticality to the gunplay as Damnation‘s high rising skyline, and yet they still feel perfectly balanced in terms of control and combat. And this may well be the ethos of Inversion; a videogame which takes elements from many different titles and combines them into a brand new experience. It may not be a groundbreaking piece of work, but there’s no denying that Inversion looks set to become a strong competitor in the action videogame genre.