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Inversion preview: New perspectives on an old game


The gimmick in Saber Interactive's Inversion -- combat across multiple planes -- isn't quite enough to carry the lackluster shooting. Like Dark Void, Fracture, and Timeshift before it, Inversion relies heavily on its unique twist to set it apart from other shooters, while leaving the central mechanic unpolished.

As the perspective flipped repeatedly throughout the demo, I was distracted how similar the game's set of flimsy guns felt. Sure, baddies stick to walls in completely separate gravity planes (turning firefights into more than just what's directly in front of you), but shouldn't shooting at them be more fun?

Gallery: Inversion (E3 2011) | 23 Photos

At several points during my demo, a Namco brand manager suggested that I eschew the various guns at my disposal in favor of the main character's base powers: the ability to make something light enough to be lifted (or to drop them back down even heavier than before), and the ability to fire those items as harnessed by the "Gravlink" (note: not Gravlax). Think: Half-Life's gravity gun, albeit with a leveling curve that allows larger and larger items to be lifted and thrown as the game progresses. I was told the final limit is tossing cars, but the demo was devoid of projectile vehicles.

The Gravlink allows you to blast an area with your anti-grav ability, thus lifting things like explosive gas tanks from the ground and enemies out from behind cover. You'll want to lift enemies from their hiding spots, grab them (or an item) mid-air and go from there.

That strategy played out frequently, but with less excitement than I expected. I'd enter a new area that had to be cleared of bad dudes, throw something explosive in their general direction, and take cover. With unlimited access to the Gravlink, I spent the vast majority of the demo flinging items and people this way or that -- a concept made thrilling by Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, but flatly employed by Inversion. Without any flair to the enemy animation or their reactive tactics, the "grab stuff and fling it around" fun of SW: TFU wears a little thin.

As the final product will place limits on the Gravlink, I worry that the gameplay will be even less lively with a heavier reliance on shooting. The big twist there, of course, is the varied planes of enemy interaction. Glowing wells in the world transfer you from the ground to the wall (only now the wall is the ground), or from the wall to the ceiling, and enemies pop out of cover on each plane as expected. Enemies didn't seem to noticeably react to my fire, instead soaking up a certain number of shots before crumpling to the ground.

The only wrinkle I found in this rote shooter experience is the ability for enemies to attack you from any particular plane, meaning you'll have to juggle a variety of perspectives every now and then. In my experience, this meant that I had to find a somewhat obtuse piece of cover in order to avoid being riddled with bullets -- something I was told would force players to think more strategically about gameplay, but did little more than frustrate me.

Inversion only has another six months or so before its scheduled launch, so I'm a bit less optimistic than Dave was back in February about how much it could improve. The basic mechanics of shooting are functional, but the game feels uneven, despite Saber Interactive's play with gravity.

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