Silver Lining: Inversion and the fear of the great beyond

Taylor Cocke
T. Cocke|08.06.12

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'Silver Lining' is a column from freelancer Taylor Cocke dedicated to highlighting moments of real potential in less than perfect games. This week he examines Saber Interactive's Inversion. The following may contain story spoilers.

Inversion's opening sequence is rather affecting. Protagonist Davis Russel is tied to a pole as a monstrous Lutadore priest babbles on in a difficult to understand tone, preparing to sacrifice the former police officer. In his ostensibly final moments, he begins to remember how he got into the spot he's in. He's lost his family, his city, and soon, his life. It feels like a man reading his own suicide note – he's given up hope and is ready to die.

It certainly sets a tone for the rest of the game, which is mostly told as a flashback. Humanity has lost the war against the invading aliens. The people of Vanguard City have been broken down by the relentless invasion of the monstrous Lutadores. And, if the opening sequence establishes anything, it was a war that they were destined to lose. Davis is on a game-long search for his daughter, and the possibility of saving her seems to be the only thing keeping him going.
%Gallery-130923%You would be forgiven for mixing up Gears of War's Locust with Inversion's Lutadores. They're both hulking creatures bent on conquering all of humankind. They both drag massive weapons into battle. And they both serve as antagonists in rather similar, if wildly divergent in quality, third-person, cover-based shooters.

Inversion's Lutadores raise the terror level by focusing their efforts on capturing humans – something the Locust only dabbled with, specifically for sustenance. Lutadores capture humans as prisoners. But why? They seem uninterested in peace, so bargaining chips in the form of prisoners of war would hardly be useful to them.

As Davis and his partner Leo make their way through Vanguard City to find Davis' lost daughter, they often come across people who have been indoctrinated to take the side of the Lutadores. In the most literal sense, these people have given up on their humanity in the face of adversity. During Davis' drive to find his daughter, these indoctrinated people serve as an example as to what could happen to him if he lets himself be overwhelmed by grief. Throughout most of Inversion's campaign, you're forced to wonder how and why these evil beings are doing these horrible things.

Despite the clear moments of opportunities for rumination, Inversion chooses to bury them in fast-paced, yet rote third-person shooting. Early on, it becomes obvious that this could be a story about a hyper-masculine, categorically generic space marine of a police officer losing everything and dealing with his own mortality. I wanted them to take a moment, smell their burning civilization, and wonder where it all went wrong.

And then, the big reveal (spoiler!): The Lutadores have been sacrificing people in order to appease some sort of higher power that has set massive domes over both their cities and Vanguard. What a twist, right? Turns out these chaotic, destructive monsters are simply afraid of what's more powerful than they are and have turned on a weaker race. This moment left me wondering where Davis' breakdown was. There was no hesitation, no moment of weakness. Davis and Leo simply powered on.

There is a moment where Leo wonders if the Lutadores were, at some point in the past, human. Perhaps their hopelessness has twisted them, but Leo and Davis don't spend much time wondering, preferring to shoot their faces off instead. To me, this is the moment that is most telling about Inversion. It's a game about the corruption of humanity by way of an overwhelming faith, but it chooses to ignore that for mindless action. Just like Spec Ops: The Line has managed to explore what goes through the mind of a soldier, Inversion teases at what relentless violence and despair can do to the human mind.

Unfortunately, it never really goes through with that promise. A game in which the necessity of violence is in question can't succeed when the violence it's questioning is never-ending. Paradoxically, the lack of break in Inversion's action results in an extremely boring experience. Breaking up the blowing away of Lutadores with some well-placed thoughtful moments would have gone a heck of a long way.

In the final moments of Inversion (again, spoiler!), it's revealed that Leo knew that Davis' daughter was dead the whole time. The entire campaign was based around a lie to a father. Davis' entire motivation is based around his faith that his daughter would be alive at the end of the tunnel. He shot his way through his fellow man to make his way to her, and she was never there. He manages to stop the Lutadore threat, only to die (or so it seems) in the process, saving millions more lives, and yet it was all based on a lie. In the end, the only thing between the destruction of humanity and salvation is one man's faith.

Both Davis' hopefulness and the Lutadore's corruption come by way of an acceptance of the unknown. In both cases, they are driven by the idea that their lives are something they can improve by way of some great sacrifice. In Inversion, faith is not something that is inherently positive or negative, but something that can be wielded to great effect. It's both a lesson and a warning of the power of people when they fear nothing more than what they do not know.

Taylor Cocke is a freelance writer currently living the Bay Area, who has written for 1UP, Official Xbox Magazine, Playstation: The Official Magazine, VG247, and more. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcocke.
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