A lot of non-gamers I’ve talked to say that one of the reasons they don’t play is because the rapidly moving camera makes them feel sick. After playing Inversion, a third-person cover-based shooter from Timeshift developer Saber Interactive, I think I understand how they feel.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, aliens have invaded earth, defeating the human race using the technology to alter gravity at will. You are David Russel, a cop-turned-freedom fighter fighting to protect your family and save the human race.
Ok, so the story’s not especially important. What’s important is how the game sets itself apart from all the other shooters because, you know, there are a lot of them.
The core gameplay is reminiscent of many established franchises. It involves a mix of Gears of War‘s cover system and Red Faction: Armageddon ‘s use of destructible environments. The similarity to Gears is especially palpable; they even use the series’ patented tunnel-vision squat-running. The weapon-set seems to be generic sci-fi shooter. In the demo I got to use three guns; an assault rifle, a heavy machine gun and a multi-rocket launcher. Like Red Faction most of the environment is at least partially destructible, so even if the guns aren’t exactly unique, they’re fun to shoot, and that’s what’s important.
What sets Inversion apart is the use of gravity as a weapon. Pressing RB/R1 shoots a projectile that will alter gravity in the vicinity of whatever it hits. You can change gravity in two ways: You can remove gravity, causing debris and enemies to begin floating in the air; which allows you to jettison free-floating objects at enemies a la Dead Space.
Explosive objects become bombs that can bring buildings toppling and take bridges out from under your enemies or increase gravity, which forces objects to plummet to ground, crushing opponents or providing cover in a pinch. Like many games built around a single mechanic, the application of changing gravity generally leads to built-in environmental tells; large blocks suspended by ropes are clearly meant to be pulled down, especially when they’re in a pattern that would give you cover as you advance across an area. Flammable tanks and barrels placed directly below an enemy’s stationary position. You get the idea.
Where gravity altering shines is in combat. The most basic technique – removing an enemy’s gravity, and thus, lifting them out of cover – alters the basic shooting out of cover strategy. Because players can take cover out of the equation, you’re encouraged to be much aggressive. Since cover is often destructible and enemies will use those same gravity tricks against you, not leaving cover will inevitably get you killed.
Playing with gravity is not relegated to combat, though. The aspect of the game that can be jarring comes when you add in that everyone can walk on the ground, the walls, and the ceiling. In certain places, designated by a glowing blue vortex, players can jump from whatever plane they’re standing on, onto the wall in front of them. The second portion of the demo took place in a large cavern; as you advance, not only was it important to be careful of what’s directly around you, but also of what may be coming along those other dimensions. Again, even the game is built as a cover-based shooter, it’s difficult to find effective cover when an enemy can simply walk up a wall until they take your hiding place out of their eye-line.
The wall-walking aspect of the game seems to be one of the games best features, but it also leads to some of the game’s biggest problems. Do it once, and it’s not so hard keep track of your position. Doing that two or three times in as many minutes, however, will leave you very disoriented (or at least I was). On top of that, there’s no map so finding where to go can be confusing at times. There is a an objective locator button, which shows a waypoint, but seeing where you are in proximity to your target isn’t always illuminating if the path there involves multiple jumps from plane to plane.
Though I didn’t get to play it, Saber Interactive told me that the game will also feature 16-on-16 multiplayer, using all of the same combat functions. I imagine that will be even more confusing, but will also create an equally frantic and tactical competitive experience.