Having just witnessed the failure of an English rugby team to do the simple things well, it's crystal clear that there's something to be said for doing the basics right, in any field. So many games try to overreach or overhype, often falling prey to their own marketing hubris, singular technical errors that can ruin an experience, or forgetting that most crucial of aspects: that games are supposed to be fun.
Last year there was a game that did everything right. Was it particularly original? No. Did it resurrect the finest moments from a decade of first person shooters? Absolutely. Activision's Singularity was a silly, over-the-top game that shamelessly ripped off conventions from several seminal FPS titles, establishing an incredibly satisfying shooter romp that made up for its lack of innovation by being absurd amounts of fun. It was solid, robust and offered players gravity guns, biotic powers, slo-mo, remote control bombs, fly-by-wire rockets and lots of Raven's characteristic limb removal. It knew what it wanted to do and it did it very well.
Sadly, though, it received the marketing budget of a Parma Violet and virtually no-one bought it even though we told them to.
That's not a mistake Namco Bandai are going to be making with their gravity-tinged shooter: Inversion. Namco themselves are touting it as the 'Inception of videogames', which is a bit misleading if we're being honest. The only real link this game has to Nolan's film is that the trailer for this game wholeheartedly steals Hans Zimmer's blaring horns from the movie. In essence, Inversion is another game with pleasantly robust third-person shooter mechanics (much harder to get right than its FPS cousin we'd wager), when we tested it out it felt very much like Army of Two with less ridiculous bromance and more gravity guns...and that's not a bad thing.
There's a plot involving aliens (named the Lutadore) and their control over the forces of gravity and the enslavement of Mankind and how we are completely unprepared, overwhelmed and utterly at the mercy of these new overlords...but it only really serves to provide a backdrop to the real story. Central character, ex-cop Davis Russel, another gravelly voiced thirtysomething, incapable of growing a proper beard or adequately using a razor, has had his wife killed and daughter kidnapped. He stumbles across some alien tech called the Gravlink that allows him to affect and generate gravitational fields in close proximity, and goes out to take the fight to the Lutadore.
It's all pretty standard stuff. You can snap to cover at the tap of a button, peer out with a flick of the sticks and rain bullets upon wave upon wave of foes. This being a game all about gravity manipulation, though, you have a few special attacks - courtesy of the Gravlink - at your disposal. For starters, there are two settings for the Gravlink, which can be fired at an area much like an RPG launcher. A blue light on the pack strapped to Russel's back indicates that you can fire an anti-grav pulse that will reduce gravity, sending items, enemies and cover in the affected area floating in to the air. Happily, thanks to a dismemberment system that allows you to shoot off kneecaps and hands, there's a certain grotesque humour to be found in picking off bits of your adversaries as they're swimming haplessly through thin air. Flick the pack over to red, and suddenly the Gravlink will be able to fire off pulses that increase gravity, slamming enemies to the ground, often with skull-fracturing results. These attacks are handy for dealing with the more intelligent Lutadore soldiers, but there's also a shockwave attack for close range, which often comes in handy as hordes of mindless, enslaved human charges attempt to swarm over you in numbers.
The level design and incorporation of the Havok physics engine is all focused around with gravitational shifts and, indeed, the planes of action will shift around, with enemies coming at you across what at first appear to be walls and ceilings, forcing you to continually shift your perspective. Sadly jumping between these planes is not open to player control, with jump pads located in fixed positions to allow for such transitions, although there are hints that we might see a more relaxed approach to plane-shifting in the multiplayer. A Namco rep confirmed that there is to be a mode called 'Hourglass' which see players fighting to gain control of a high vantage point - similar in a way to King of the Hill - with planes shifting each time someone reaches the area in question. There will be a variety of online modes and you will be able to play through the whole game in co-op. with a second player taking on the mantle of Russel's partner Leo Delgado.
Havok also plays a part in the destruction modelling for the levels as well. Gunfire will rip through cover, areas that look stable initially will quickly reveal themselves to be akin to a tentatively stacked scrapyard-cum-adventure-playground, with items from explosive barrels to bits of rock, to burnt out cars to maimed corpses and limbs available to be pelted at one's foes via the Gravlink. It makes for a shifting battleground, although the demo we played through was relatively relaxed, we rather hope Saber Interactive will take full advatange of the various mechanics they've brought into play, allowing for frenetic tactical firefights on four different planes, with plenty of natural ammunition strewn about the place. Time will tell.
That last tenet holds true for a number of things. Inversion shows promise, that much is certain (not to mention some excellent box-art), and the core gameplay proved pleasantly satisfying during our 15-20 minute hands-on time with the game, but whether or not Saber can manage to vary up the challenges and the gameplay sufficiently enough remains to be seen. Singularity got around that by constantly feeding you a new awesome gadget or power every half hour or so, but the guns in Inversion are pretty stock, nothing out of the ordinary at all at first glance, so much depends on the Gravlink it would seem. We'll be checking the game out again at Gamescom, so we'll have more for you after next week.