Inversion review: Gears of Snore

As a kid, there were only two things I truly loved: playing with a motley assembly of action figures, and reading Ender's Game. Inversion, somewhat implausibly, manages to combine Past Me's favorite pastimes. Its topsy-turvy, gravity-switching third-person shooting hearkens back to the portion of Ender's Game most ripe for a game spin-off: the Battle Room. In Inversion's best moments, the player and enemies alike float and dodge through the air, without a care in the world until a hail of bullets interrupts their physics-defying backstroke.

The rest of Inversion, though, feels like it was slapped together with all the focus of a child weaving nonsensical yarns in a sandbox. Interesting abilities get the cold shoulder in favor of an obnoxiously intrusive plot that unfolds without the slightest shred of adherence to logic or reason. Modern-day cops take on hulking, Mad-Max-wannabe tribal men because ... hell if I know.

It seems like the kind of story that would have emerged if Child Me ran out of police-themed figures and decided to break out WWE wrestlers to even the odds. And so, instead of taking its gravity mechanics to new heights, Inversion largely opts to make pew-pew explosion sounds with its mouth – resulting in a haphazard, hackneyed Gears of War clone that feels like it's made of pathetic, flimsy plastic.%Gallery-130923% If nothing else, Inversion stays consistently nonsensical from beginning to end. It kicks off with an ordinary day in the lives of Standard-Issue-Bro Davis Russel and Standard-Issue-Bro-Sidekick Leo Delgado, interrupted by the barbaric, incoherently babbling Lutadores who lay siege to the city, kill Russel's wife, kidnap his daughter and imprison any survivors at their evil, gravity-powered ... dig site.

You, of course, are supposed to spend the game asking what the Lutadores are, why they're here and what they're looking for, but it's impossible to do so without falling down a near-bottomless plot hole to your brain's grisly, awful death. For instance, how can these dumb-as-dirt savages operate hyper-sophisticated gravity technology? How did no one ever notice their colossal dig site right outside the city? Oh, and here's a fun one: why are they even called the Lutadores? The name just sort of pops up mid-game with no rhyme or reason. Hell, I doubt the Lutadores could even pronounce "Lutadore."

Naturally, Russel and Delgado escape while whispering sweet, sweet nothings of wholesome bro-ness to one another. Oh, and shooting things – lots and lots of things, in fact. Using such thrilling armaments as Assault Rifle, Sniper Rifle, and Shotgun (until a couple more interesting options open up super late in the game, anyway), you pilot the not-so-dynamic duo through battle with legions of same-y meathead baddies. At the very least, the shooting mechanics are serviceable and enemy AI isn't offensively dumb. I suppose the best thing I can say about Inversion is that it is technically functional.

But wait, what's that in the sky? Is it a bird? A plane? Some form of superhero who exists expressively for the purpose of battling tedium? Sadly, the answer's a resounding "none of the above." Instead, it's our old friend gravity. Unfortunately, rather than lifting Inversion from the sleepy doldrums of shooter mediocrity, it merely serves to elevate your hopes and then mercilessly slam them back down to earth. Here's how it works: for most of the game, Russel and Delgado are equipped with two gravity powers. One makes things levitate off the ground and another makes them crushingly heavy. Sounds like it'd be perfect for puzzle-solving, right? If only.


Inversion's gravity powers instead end up being put to the most basic of uses. Zero gravity, for instance, mainly functions as a means to lift enemies from behind cover, not unlike the biotic Lift skill from Mass Effect. The levitation power also features an object launching ability that basically mimics Half-Life 2's gravity gun, but with unnecessary time spent lifting, say, an explosive barrel, plucking it from the air, and awkwardly fumbling to aim it at enemies – who, I might add, have been shooting you the entire time.

The heavification beam, meanwhile, is at its best when yanking down objects to create impromptu cover points against bosses. Or at least, it would be if there was actually anything improvised about it. Those cover points are already meticulously arranged, so it's generally just an extra step in your never-ending quest to avoid being chewed up and spat out by a bullet blender. Inversion then recycles the same five or so bosses repeatedly over the course of its eight-ish hour runtime, so even those parched drops of novelty dry into dust before it's all said and done.

Beyond that, gravity shifts are totally out of your control. Even when Inversion does its best impression of the mid-air Inception tussle (which sounds like an incredible dance move) or it suddenly "vector shifts" everyone from, say, the window to the wall, it's fairly underwhelming. Floating involves catapulting yourself between cover points, but – as always – it's generally in your best interest to keep your head down. It ends up being standard cover shooting, but with a clunky, poorly thought-out hint of Dead Space 2's far, far better anti-grav sections. Vector shifts, meanwhile, are neat in a whoa-now-we're-fighting-on-a-skyscraper-ceiling sort of way, but there's little substance to them.

Inversion also packs a suite of incredibly predictable multiplayer modes. Cooperative play is basically just like single-player, except now you have to wait for a friend to locate occasional teamwork zones (Open a door! Climb a fence! ... Yeah!) instead of relying on an NPC whose robo-brain knows their every nuance better than you will understand any single thing in your entire life. On the competitive side there's deathmatch, team deathmatch, and CTF – each making full use of Inversion's bargain bin weapon selection and pedestrian level design.

Then there's King of Gravity, which – in addition to being something I badly want to print on a business card – grants one player the ability to levitate everyone else into the air. The power is meant to change hands when the King finds his head under a gun-shaped guillotine but, unless you're dealing with a colossally terrible player, that rarely happens. As it stands, a wave of the King's magical levitation wand is generally a death sentence, and the end result is cripplingly unbalanced.

As I mentioned earlier, the greatest praise I can offer Inversion is that it works. Nothing's flat-out broken, and a few anti-grav setpieces even provide momentary (though incredibly fleeting) thrills. That aside, Inversion is so generic that I'd sooner recommend just about any other of gaming's numerous cover-based shooters ahead of it – especially since its anti-gravity mechanic barely even factors into the grand scheme of things. Failing that, why not try playing with action figures, reading Ender's Game at the same time and seeing what you come up with? Inversion's set the bar pretty low so, seriously, no pressure.


This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Inversion, provided by Namco.

Nathan Grayson is a Dallas-born, San Francisco-based freelancer whose work appears on Rock Paper Shotgun, GameSpy, Eurogamer, VG247, and IGN, among others. His three great loves are puppies, manticores, and puppies again. You can follow him on Twitter at @Vahn16.

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