Inversion just another version

Last updated 12:39 31/07/2012

FLOATING FREE: Inversion's one original feature is a "gravlink’" weapon that lets you manipulate the force of gravity.

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REVIEW: Inversion (Xbox360, PlayStation3). Namco Games.

Despite the limitless opportunities for creativity and complete lack of restrictions involved when constructing virtual worlds, the boundless potential of the video game format has never been more under-utilised. As technology improves and developers become bigger and better at what they do, you'd expect new standards of originality to be set and innovation to be at an all-time high. Instead, as bottom-line financial returns become ever more important, publishers are more likely to stick with a tried and trusted format than take a chance and experiment with something new.

Of the last 10 reviews I've written, eight of them have been sequels, spin-offs or reboots of existing franchises; so when a new title like Inversion caught my eye, I was understandably eager to get my hands on something fresh and original for a change.

Imagine my disappointment, then, to discover that despite its pretensions to be something new, Inversion is one of the most derivative games I've played all year. Taking what little inspiration it has from the already oft-imitated Gears of War, almost everything you'll find in this third-person shooter has been done before, and better, in another game.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the producers of the Gears trilogy must have blushed when they saw what Inversion had to offer. From the cover-and-shoot system to the co-operative team-based gameplay - right down to the level design, enemy AI and destructible scenery, it's all been lifted directly from one of the Xbox's most popular franchises.

Sometimes an unoriginal game can be saved - or at least livened up - by a gripping storyline or interesting characters. Alas, the plot and cast are just as trite and banal. You play as Davis Russell, a staggeringly bland and generic individual who ticks off almost every action hero cliche in the book. Surname for a first name? Check. First name for a surname? Check. Murdered wife and kidnapped child who must be avenged/rescued? You get the idea.

Throw in a seen-it-all-before invasion story and a laughable sidekick character that seems like he's been inserted simply as an excuse to pepper the script with buddy-movie catch phrases like "cover me!" and "I've got your back!" and you're left wondering if the developers were going for bit of tongue-in-cheek self-parody in the knowledge that the rest of the game is so derivative.

As if by way of apology for the barefaced plagiarism, there is one attempt to inject a little originality. As well as the usual array of pistols, shotguns and assault rifles, you're equipped with a "gravlink" weapon that allows you to manipulate the laws of gravity - lifting objects and enemies and hurling them around the battlefield one minute and bringing buildings and boulders crashing to earth the next.

The environment is also riddled with areas that send you plummeting skywards - walking on the ceiling, walls and floating in mid-air as the gravitational gimmick kicks in at regular intervals.

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Unfortunately, what could have been the game's saving grace is implemented so clumsily that the novelty wears off almost as quickly as the effects of the gravlink rays. After the first few times you find yourself upside-down, you realise that there's no noticeable effect on tactics or gameplay and the corridor-like levels are just as linear as they are on terra firma. There's a real sense of a creative opportunity missed when you consider what games like Portal managed to do with gravity puzzles and environment-based strategy.

It's not that Inversion is a bad game. It's reasonably well constructed, the graphics are occasionally impressive and some of the action-packed set pieces are well put together. If you're going to make a shameless rip-off, it probably makes sense to take your cues from one of this generation's most popular franchises.

It might seem like a cop-out, but developers know what they're doing when they churn these games out. If just a fraction of customers who bought and loved one of the Gears of War games decide they can't wait until 2014 for the next instalment, Inversion will be a must-buy for those eager for more of the same.

It's easy to whinge about the lack of originality in the games industry, but as long as copycat titles sell in profitable quantities, publishers can argue they're simply giving the people what they want.

- © Fairfax NZ News


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