This week, after the surprise of Spec Ops: The Line, Inversion has us back to being able to judge a game by the cover.
You know, thanks to Spec Ops: The Line, the world is a happier if rather bleakly confrontational place, but at the same time it's made my job a little more complicated. Its intense and well-structured story in the trappings of a load of generic realistic shooter xenophobi-fun proves that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, which is a shame because judging books by their cover cut out half my workload. For example, I would love to have judged Inversion by its cover, especially the box blurb.
You know how publishers seem to think the audience of AAA video games are the hairy monkey people from 2001 before the monolith showed up, who you have to beat around the head to make them pay attention to your tasty bananas, and that's why back of the box blurb has been reduced to a few flashy screenshots with one or two words beneath them in bold block capitals? Well, one of the selling points Inversion went for was the fact that there's chest-high walls in it with an accompanying pictures of the two leads chilling next to one. I'm going to judge the fuck out of Inversion by its cover! It's cover-based shooting, that is!
Another thing that illustrates how AAA games are terrified your soup-like monkey mind will be distracted from their game by the rustling of the leaves of next door's leylandii is the flash-forward where the action starts by skipping ahead to the very end of the game to assure us that shit's gonna get fucked, and which is fast becoming mandatory for second-rate shooters. It's not even like Inversion has a slow start. A game like Heavy Rain, where you spend the first six hours mooching around the house systematically running out of children, could have benefitted from the briefest of hints that you eventually get to see people's tits.
But Inversion's plot starts with about thirty seconds of a bloke working as a cop in a glittering utopian city before the earth cracks asunder and the armies of Lord Humungous burst in and start killing everyone. That's thirty seconds of things being perfectly fine before shit rockets fanwards that apparently haunted the developers with visions of players switching off twenty-nine seconds in, going, "Man, I ain't down for no things being perfectly fine, simulator, let's go flick staples at the cat!"
Our aforementioned cop/bloke/hero is named either Davis Russell or Russell Davis, I honestly couldn't figure out which, and he resembles the head of a Ken doll stuck on the body of a Wrestle Mania action figure. His daughter gets captured by the invaders and I guess she must have been keeping his insulin in her lunchbox or something because the desire to get her back is literally his only motivation. There's a point where fatherly devotion gets a bit weird, you know. I mean the world's being invaded, you could always stay home and make a new one. You're not going to able to do that if the enemy's gonna shoot your bollocks off while you're assaulting their headquarters looking for her.
So basically this is Gears of War with the Dom's wife subplot upgraded into the protagonist's sole character trait. The levels do the same Gears of War thing where they go "Hey look at this amazing skybox we spent months on. Bet you'd like to be playing around in that, wouldn't you? Now go crouch next to a wall and growl at things like a trapped stoat." The characters even stand like they do in Gears of War with their legs apart and an alert smugness to their posture like they're bracing themselves for the moment their six-foot cocks uncoil and thump to the floor.
"Yahtzee, you tired old late-twenties codger," I hear you cry. "Your opinion on swaggering meathead cover-shooters are well-documented. Why did you even pick this game up unless you had severe congestion and thought a few good sneers would fix it?" Well, you know me, I'm a sucker for innovation and Cadbury's Creme Eggs, one of which Inversion proported to possess.
The game employs a variety of gravity mechanics for example. Both the player and the enemy can cancel gravity in small areas to make enemies appear out of cover, a service that's questionably useful since the standard mode of behaviour for enemies in any cover-based shooter is to pop up and down like little wooden ducks anyway. You can also launch physics objects at enemies at high speed almost as if you can employ your gravity powers as a gun! Although for some reason you can only pick up and fire physics objects that have been in a zero-gravity field, so ok, firstly we're taking ideas from eight years ago and secondly we're doing it vastly worse. A mechanic in a shooter that's marketably less convienent than just pointing and shooting until the mans fall down is the very definition of a gimmick. So where are those Cadbury's Creme Eggs you promised me, Inversion?
There's nothing wrong with cover-shooting. Spec Ops, Max Payne, that new Deus Ex with the sunglasses twat; these illustrate that cover-based shooting is fine if it serves the game, if it's the glue connecting the actually interesting bits of the model airplane. But when the interesting bits exist only to serve the cover-shooting, then you're grinding the model airplane components to beef up the glue. You give us mastery over one of the fundamental forces of the universe and then suggest we just use it to make it slightly easier to shoot things behind cover? Not really a big picture sort of thinker, are you? I'm glad you were never given a Green Lantern ring, you'd probably just use it to conjure a magical green credit card to pay for a second-hand spud gun. Couldn't we use our gravity powers to, you know, fly?
Well, it's funny I should mention that. There are fenced-off zero-gravity bits, but all you're allowed to do is move back and forth between, you guessed it: COVER! When you're not on cover, all you can do is violently fart every ten seconds or so to nudge you a foot or two closer to cover. At one point, I was out of cover near the level's exit and tried to fart my way inside but bounced off one of the cover-shooter genre's beloved invisible walls because they would only let me in if I was in the cover next to it and pressed the contextual exit level button. Be ye video game, Inversion, or be ye checklist?
Oh yes, and sometimes there are predetermined gates that make gravity shift ninety degrees so you can fight enemies on the sides of buildings hiding behind signs and ventilation shafts, but it's just another way of inorganically connecting one shooter arena to the next.
So on the whole, a half-arsed plot full of boorish assholes and boss-fights repeated ad nauseum that squanders what potential it has in the name of taking the same AAA shooter box as always. And I'm not sure why they called it Inversion when you only get to walk on the ceiling like once. A more appropriate title might have suited it like Another Meaningless Distraction on the Inexorable Path to the Grave. Although there is one bit in the opening narration where Russell Davis Russell drops the title word while waffling on about how much things have changed lately.
Oh, okay, glad we cleared that up. So what the title is supposed to be saying is that this is the story all about how my life got flip-turned upside-down .
Yeah that reference won't seem dated at all: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Can we agree that the ending plot reveal of this game is really really fucked when you think about it
This Inversion perversion has ruined my immersion
So the Escapist Expo is still in September and you should still totally come, but also in October, I've got a second novel coming out! It's called Jam, and you should preorder it from Amazon and tfaw.com . It's about an apocalypse, with jam in it!