Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 (version tested)
Developer: Saber Interactive
Publisher: Namco Bandai
The fact that an achievement has popped up saying "Dudebro!" is warning enough, but Inversion sets out its bromantic stall fairly on. Davis Russell and his trigger happy crime-fighting partner Leo don't quite go so far as playing air guitars or chest-bumping like Salem and Rios in Army of Two, but at least the latter game knew it was big, dumb, frat fun.
Inversion's biggest test of all might come in the form of just how seriously it ends up taking itself.
The story, of course, pulls all of the emotional strings you'd expect a Gears of War clone to pull. Good cop Davis has a wife and daughter, much to the macho mirth of Leo, but when a slavering mob of dimension-jumping fiends known as the Lutadore invade Earth and start enslaving everyone, his wife bites the bullet and his daughter has vanished. With his city in ruins, interred into a labour camp by his alien oppressors, there's only one thing Davis has left to fight for - the chance that his daughter might still be alive.
Beyond that, it's difficult to describe Davis as anything more than your run-of-the-mill, nondescript, macho thirtysomething, with brown hair, and some grizzled stubble, though having not seen the story fully unfold, there are still room for surprises.
Inversion's big hook, of course, is its Gravlink, the Lutadore device that Davis and Leo manage to pilfer on their way out of the prison camp. When set to blue, you can fire it at objects and enemies to fling them into the air, with an added bonus being that floating debris can be used, much like in Half-Life 2, as projectiles to throw at your foes. When the Gravlink is switched to its red setting, you can crush enemies to the ground, rendering them incapacitated for a moment, and unable to move.
Happily, Leo's AI is incredibly Gravlink-friendly, and he'll spam the gadget at every opportunity in helpful fashion, giving you a wide array of things to fling at oncoming enemies. He's a great combat asset and, best of all, doesn't get in your way a huge amount. But the game is also fully co-operative, and it was with a fellow journalist that I spent the bulk of the few hours I had with the game. It's probably for the best that you can't use the Gravlink on your companion, though that didn't stop us trying it every so often.
The Lutadore have bigger force-manipulators too, that allow them to change plains of attack, tear up entire streets, and blast buildings and structures with pockets of zero gravity. Practically, this means a number of things - first of all, enemies can approach from the walls and the ceiling, so a greater awareness than you might find in other third-person shooters is certainly required. Secondly, there'll be parts of levels performed in low-gravity, with one chapter having Davis and Leo gliding across a blitzed library, hopping languidly from one floating bookcase to the next, using fragments of concrete for cover in mid-air, and fending off similarly airborne aggressors.
The early stages we played were engaging, but relatively unassuming - the weapons matched those you'd expect to find in any game of this ilk (pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles, the odd rocket launcher). The Lutadore came in similarly familiar roles - fast and light, lumbering tanks, crafty snipers etc. But there were one or two boss battles that proved very welcome indeed, with one against a hovering bot of sorts, and the second coming against an enormous mech that had to be felled with gravity-flung explosive barrels, and then ripped apart at close range once you'd brought it to its knees. Sadly, although there's no limit to the number of times you can help resurrect your team-mate, he went and bought it somehow in a completely inaccessible area, so I had to finish the bastard off myself.
Inversion is an incredibly solid game, though, perhaps a little too much at times. In utilising the Gears template, it's gone a bit overboard with the weightiness of everything. There's a pleasant amount of feedback from the guns, but movement and aiming is horribly slow and sluggish. That aside, though, it's certainly not disagreeable at all, and the Gravlink powers at least provide some sort of hook.
However, although I'm loathe to make value judgements before I've played it through to the end, I can't help but feel like Inversion could end up being something of a wasted opportunity. Although the multiplayer hints at a greater array of weaponry - railguns, flamethrowers, Lutadore pulse rifles - it's the Gravlink itself that's perhaps a little worrying. Blasting foes with projectiles is more fiddly than Valve made it, and the two gravity powers get old pretty quickly. Moreover, and I acknowledge that having played Gravity Rush I might be criticising Inversion unfairly here, it's a shame you can't flip onto the walls or ceiling at will.
The regimented feel to everything extends to multiplayer, where the Gravlink powers merely amount to the ability to momentarily incapacitate a foe. The levels, whichever mode you're in, are too big to take advantage of the multiple plains of attack, and they've been designed with seemingly little thought on how to make what really is a central mechanic with HUGE POTENTIAL work to the greatest advantage.
The elevator pitch for Inversion is so great: Imagine a third-person cover shooter that sees you manipulating gravity, blasting enemies with increased force, or suspending them in mid-air; hurling debris and objects at your assailants, and backflipping onto the walls and ceiling for multiple angles of attack. That sounds great. So why do I feel so underwhelmed? I'm praying that when July rolls around all of my fears will be banished. Two and a half hours is not long enough to get a full feel for a game...maybe. I really do hope that I'm wrong, but I'm not sure that I will be.