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Float like a butterfly, drop like a brick – Inversion hands-on

Saber Interactive aims to make telling left from right, and up from down exceedingly difficult with its gravity-defying shooter. Read onward to see if Stace Harman experienced vertigo, or not.

Davis Russel, Russel Davis

In 2012’s third-person shooter, Inversion, you play the role of Davis Russel. I like to believe that in choosing to bestow upon its protagonist a name which can be inverted and still sound perfectly acceptable, Saber Interactive is having a little chuckle to itself.

Davis Russel may not find it quite so funny were he to be told that he’ll be playing second fiddle to the real star of the show, however. He needn’t worry about being upstaged by his vanilla co-op partner Leo Delgado – whose name does not invert in anywhere near as pleasing a manner as Russel’s – nor the humanoid-but-not-quite-human invaders that have killed his wife and abducted his daughter.

No, stealing the spotlight is, in fact, the humble force of gravity. As the gameplay trailer shows, being able to manipulate gravity with his fancy Gravlink device opens up a number of potentially interesting gameplay options and combat tactics for Mr Russel.

Not least of these is being able to levitate enemies from behind cover and pull them towards you - thus making their tummy go funny as they get the feeling of going over a speed bump – before smashing them in the face so hard that their head explodes.

[The] Gravlink device opens up a number of potentially interesting gameplay options.

Or picking up debris, conspicuous red barrels and even body parts a la Dead Space to send them hurtling at the misshapen enemy folk who, to ensure everyone plays fair, have their own gravity manipulation devices and so can do to you what you do to them.

These options, along with an area of effect attack that explodes those caught in the epicentre and levitates those further away rendering them helpless, form a handful of the Low-G attack options that I see during my brief hands-on time with the game.

Up high and down low

The Gravlink, being the versatile device that it is, also has an inverse function: High-G, which allows for altogether more oppressive forms of attack. Hitting an enemy goon with High-G forces them to the ground and renders them unable to move, allowing you to topple structures upon them, shoot them whilst they lay prone on the ground or get up close and personal with a melee attack that has them exploding like a soggy bag of giblets.

There’s just as much fun to be had manipulating the environment for indirect kills as there is in using your Gravlink on the bad guys directly: switching between High-G and Low-G to violently shake a bridge causing those standing on it to fall into the lava below, for example. Or firing a pulse of Low-G into the lava itself to encapsulate a large globule of magma to be fired at the ubiquitous red barrels, causing a pleasing chain reaction that ends with a tower toppling over like a game of oversized Jenga, crushing those below.

Finding gravity switch points allows you to jump between planes.

The other half of Inversion’s DNA is that of a cover-based shooter. Here, the Gravlink’s High-G setting facilitates the creation of impromptu barricades, pulling down large metal crates from where they’re suspended overhead or parts of crumbling buildings to form sticky cover most reminiscent of Gears of War.

Further complicating the creation of cover, however, is that enemies will not always have the decency to be standing on the same gravitational plane as you, meaning that they may be halfway up a wall or on (dancing?) on the ceiling.

Finding gravity switch points allows you to jump between planes yourself, somersaulting sideways to stick to the wall or throwing grenades from one plane to another and watching as the are affected first by one surface’s gravity pull and then by another, altering their trajectory and resulting in some potentially mind-bending physics-based attacks topped off with a pleasing Havok destruction model.

Which way next?

The use of multiple gravity planes inside a large cave system turns an otherwise familiar environment into a labyrinth, with use of walls, ceiling and floor necessary to progress. On top of working out which direction leads to the goal, multiple enemies shoot from multiple angles keeping me on my toes and use of both High-G and Low-G Gravlink powers are the final slap in the face to conventional physics.
Few puzzles are present in this build, instead Saber appears to be content with introducing your flagrant disregard for gravity via the more immediately gratifying combat options and from traversing the environment - a section that has you tethering yourself to large chunks of floating debris appears similar in principle to Dead Space’s zero-G sections.

Online co-op has been confirmed alongside competitive multiplayer for up to 16 players. Though there’s no word yet on what modes will be present or how tight a rein will be put on your gravity shifting powers to prevent bouts turning into a chaotic mess – there’s a danger that everyone could end up floating around like they’ve been drinking Willy Wonker’s Fizzy Lifting Drink.

Inversion E3 2011 Trailer

With some smart level design the gravity manipulation concept can be elevated beyond that of a gimmick but whilst plenty of games have done great things with generic central characters driven by basic motivations we can only hope that there’s more to Davis Russel’s story than we’ve heard so far to help flesh him out a bit.

There’s still more to be said about exactly where all this gravity-bending takes place with Namco Bandai specifically avoiding calling it Earth and scant details have emerged about the were-they-or-were-they-not-once-human invaders.

Saber Interactive have form with toying with forces of the universe, having previously released 2007’s Timeshift - a solid enough shooter that failed to set the world alight – but they’ll be hoping to make more of an impact when they take gravity to task in early 2012.

Inversion is due for release on PS3 and 360 on 7 February 2012 in the US and 10 February in PAL territories.

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