Inversion hands-on preview – normal gravity is sooo last year

The last time we played Inversion, we left with an unanswered question: does the game offer more than a gimmick? Well, after playing some more of the game we’re still not sure, but we do know that the game does present more imagination surrounding its gravity-based antics than we had thought previously. We’ve seen some awesomely mind-bending environments as well as an entirely new function of the Grav Link, which is the technology used to manipulate gravity. By now we’ve seen enough to know that if you enjoyed playing around with the physics in Just Cause 2 to create your own brand of fun, Inversion is another game to keep tabs on.

Above: See the dudes on the ceiling taking cover?

As a quick refresher, we’ll break the game down again. It’s a third-person cover-based shooter where the mysterious bad guys have caused all kinds of devastation on Earth with their gravity-based weaponry. Much of the levels we’ve seen take place in a vast, presumably evacuated, ruined city. Everything looks like your typical apocalyptic landscape – that is, until you encounter the gravity shifts. You can be running along a street full of wrecked cars (which form convenient bits of cover for your shootouts) when suddenly gravity does a ninety-degree cartwheel and you’re now standing on the face of a skyscraper. Initially what we saw of this didn’t amount to anything more than a re-textured version of what you faced before: instead of asphalt under your feet it was a line of windows; instead of cars to hide behind it became neon signs and air ducts. Yet now we’ve seen more gravity twists, and we’re glad to say it’s starting to look a lot more promising.

We saw a level where the ground has ripped open and lava is flowing everywhere – except we’re not talking about standard lava flows you jump over – we’re talking about waterfalls of lava flowing in all kinds of directions through the air. It was also a place where the direction of gravity shifted from one section to the next, meaning that at any time, enemies could appear standing on the ceiling or using cover sideways on a wall. We realized that the ho-hum uses of gravity we saw before were the training-wheels portion of the game, where the devs don’t want to throw too much at you too soon. We just hope that the twists in gravity get super-duper crazy later on in the game, because the potential to create MC Escher levels is limitless.

Above: On a small level, the game even changes the shape of enemy silhouettes – you’re dealing with targets that have a wide horizontal profile instead of vertical, which changes the way you aim at them, especially if you’re going to headshots

Then there’s the Grav Link, which has more uses than what we’d seen before. We already knew how it could fire a ball of energy that creates an area of low-G at its impact, lifting enemies up from behind cover so you can shoot them like flailing meat balloons. We also knew it could use a grapple beam to pick up objects, but we didn’t really see all the fun to be had with this. You can pick up and throw just about anything, including enemies. You have to remove gravity from your target first, but if you slurp up a hapless soldier you can perform a nasty Gears of War-style execution or merely toss him into his buddies. You can pick up even large objects like cars and move them around, providing cover that you can place where you want (also in the game’s co-op mode, you can have one guy carry a car as a giant riot shield while the other guy fires from behind it). We also saw a cool trick where if some flammable liquid is in a puddle on the ground, you can lift it with low-G which then causes it to glom together into a warbling sphere, which when grabbed and tossed becomes napalm.

What keeps things interesting is how dynamic the physics of the world are. Cover gets chipped away rather quickly so you can’t just pop and shoot forever. Enemies hang out on rickety towers just begging to get demolished by a toss of a car or a (living) body. At one point we encountered men running across a narrow suspension bridge above us. Although the four men were exposed and easy to hit, their concentrated fire made it extremely dangerous to try to shoot them one by one. Instead we discovered that a simple tossed barrel was enough to send the whole bridge crashing down. Or alternatively (and more hilariously) a shot of low-G would cause all the men to float up from the bridge, and when the low-G effect ended, they had drifted apart so that when they came down, it wasn’t over the bridge.

Above: These sad sacks are slaves – they have to attack you or those slave collars will do something nasty to them (presumably). You can also use the Grav Link’s shockwave attack to send these fools flying

The next section of the game introduced us to the Grav Link’s previously unrevealed power: high-G. Changing the suit’s blue-glowing effects to a wicked red, high-G does as one would expect. It forces enemies to the ground, where they struggle helplessly to stand. It seems to make them even easier pickings than low-G because in the latter state they can still fire back at you. Of course, the tradeoff is that it won’t bring them out from behind cover. Certain enemies will be weak to either low-G or high-G as well. But the most interesting aspect of high-G was that it could be used to pull certain structures, like crates hanging from cables, down onto the field, providing another way to create new cover if you are paying attention to what’s above you.

That’s what is probably most promising about Inversion: it will get your eyes roving areas of the environment you’d normally ignore in a shooter. You’ll be watching for enemies and useful aspects of the environment on every surface presented to you. The weapons you’ll use, outside of the Grav Link, are standard rifles and shotguns, but mundane perennials like frag grenades become more interesting when you can throw them through space and have them curve in a totally different direction – and you can plan for this because you can see where the shifts in gravity are flowing. So we still can’t answer that burning question with certainty – does Inversion offer more than a gimmick? But now we’ve seen that the potential is there for it to be more than that, and we’ve seen that the devs have the imagination to possibly pull it off.

Apr 22, 2011

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