Saber Interactive created 2007's TimeShift, a first-person shooter with a time-twisting gimmick that wasn't particularly well received. Now they're back with Inversion, a third-person shooter with a gravity-twisting gimmick. Will history repeat itself?
Saber Interactive's Matthew Karch was on hand at Gamescom on Friday to give us a brief overview and a look at the gameplay of Inversion, first revealed in October of last year.
Inversion is the story of the alien Lutadore invading the Earth, using gravity-twisting weapons to turn the world's major cities upside-down, sometimes literally. In the midst of this invasion, 28-year-old police officer Davis Russel struggles to reunite with his family.
The game will have online competitive multiplayer, but the focus today is on the single-player experience. Inversion is actually built with co-op play in mind, with the second player controlled by AI while playing alone.
Our first glimpse of gameplay immediately brings gears of war to mind. The protagonist manoeuvres through ruined city streets, fighting off an alien menace that appears seemingly out of nowhere. He uses a combination of Earth weapons and stole alien tech, giving him the power to control gravity, as demonstrated when a shot is fired at a pile of rubble, raising various bits into the air. Tires, oil drums, and various bits of debris float in a distorted bubble, joining the ash and trash constantly swirling in the wind, showing off the game's powerful physics engine.
Physics is a huge part of Inversion. Karch explains that games with realistic graphics are everywhere. Saber Interactive believes that physics are the future. To that end the company worked with the physics masters at Havok to help create Havok Destruction, a powerful physics destruction engine.
He says that the Havok folks stopped by to look at the game earlier in the week and were impressed by what they saw.
I have to admit, I was impressed as well. On screen the protagonist is involved in a deadly firefight. Using gravity distortion powers he floats several of the enemy into the air, making them easy targets. Then one of them uses the same power on him, and he floats for several seconds, trying desperately to draw a bead on his enemies.
The action moves further down the ruined section of city street, where some aliens appear on a bridge spanning two buildings. Explosives blow the bridge apart, pieces of it flying everywhere. Shattered bits of bridge dangle precariously off one side of the building.
The effect brings to mind the impressive demos NVIDIA released several years ago for its PhysX technology. They really stood out back then, but you hardly hear about them today.
Back on the screen, Matt and crew show off some of the game's gravitation warp features. One minute you're walking on the ground, the next minute the world turns sideways, and you're making your way along the walls of a building. Up ahead, gravity turns to normal, and aliens are shooting at us from the ground.
The main character readies a grenade, and the line representing its trajectory bends with the spatial distortion, its arc changing with the gravity. The grenade flies through the distortion, switches trajectories, and lands amidst the aliens, exploding.
"The engine worked that out on its own," Karch explains. Once the gravity effects were in place, the trajectory mechanic adjusted to compensate.
A lot of impressive things happen on the screen. Cover is blown apart or lifted out of the way. Normal objects become deadly projectiles once gravity powers are applied. With so many variables in place, Karch tells me they have 60 people playing the latest game build every day in order to work out how the players will capitalise on the game's physics once it hits store shelves.
I am impressed, but I can't help but be wary. These folks created TimeShift, after all, and it was one of my biggest disappointments of the current generation of hardware. The game with so much promise ended up being an average shooter with an interesting gimmick.
The gimmick this time around is more impressive, and the game's physics engine is definitely something I'd like to play with further, but will the core experience and online multiplayer match the mechanics, or will it fall flat?
Hopefully TimeShift won't tell.