While its first console game (TimeShift) didn't exactly make developer Saber Interactive a household name among gamers (and neither did Will Rock on PC for that matter), it showed off the company's penchant for crafting slick proprietary engines that could pump out highly detailed, impressive looking visuals and great physics with relative ease. For their new game, Inversion, Saber has whipped up an all new (and even more gorgeous) engine that features even more stellar physics that go a long way in helping sell the game's amazing combination of free-fall and free-for-all shooting action. It's one thing to merely look at screens of Inversion and while watching gameplay footage enhances impressions significantly, it's only when you actually PLAY the game that you'll be totally floored by what Saber has created. What's here is sheer design brilliance married with edge of the seat action set in and around a game world where gravity can work either for or against you and your enemies.
I got to try the game out this afternoon at Namco Bandai's NYC press event and while I know it was going to be unique, I wasn't prepared to be as blown away as I was by the game-changing use of destructible environments, physics and environmental manipulation. If you feel the need for some sort of comparison, look to older games such as Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, Second Sight or the not so hot Gene Troopers that combined shooting action with physics-based powers that made these games a ton of fun. Conversely, you can think of the destructible environments from the Red Faction games, A dash of Half-Life 2's Gravity Gun action, a good sprinkling of cover mechanics found in many of today's third person shooters and add the "which way is up" level madness in the first Prey for good measure. It works amazingly well with the caveat of the game being initially confusing because you need to relearn nearly every skill you've picked up in previous shooters.
My own lesson came quite near the beginning of the demo. After watching the basic lift, throw, push and pull mechanics of the Gravlink, taking on the first few enemies was initially simple thanks to some quick shooting and gravity-tossed gas cans. An out of sight sniper was making things annoying, but it was the enemy with his own Gravlink that did me in. That's right, folks - some of the pesky alien types you'll be battling can do a bit of lifting and tossing of their own. In addition, any enemies you happen to grab can still fire on you as long as they're alive. Fortunately, there are so very many ways to dispatch them. Reverse gravity and slam them to the ground twice (crunch!), fling them over a ledge or into an explosive barrel (boom!), hold them in the air and shoot them or use them as a temporary shield... the list goes on and on.
One of the more amazing thing about the physics engine is how much stuff can be manipulated and used as part of combat. Smash a gasoline can and you can actually Gravlink the gas inside (!) and hurl it at enemies as a huge blob of liquid, then shoot it so it explodes on contact - lovely. Saber has basically opened up the combat to allow you to be as creative as you like with the weapons and Gravlink. You can destroy bridges or other structures to keep enemies from dropping in on you. Your AI partner is a smart cookie, tossing rubble, taking aim at your grabbed foes or lifting others up so you can take them out for starters. There are a couple of "physical" Gravlink attacks where you can take out a pack of enemies by slamming them into the ground or blasting them away depending on which mode you select. As these two moves consume a lot of power, they're best used when you need some breathing room if you get swarmed.
The main game is single-player focused, but Saber has wisely included drop-in/drop-out co-op AND an up to 16-player online mode that gives every player a Gravlink and some nice guns to play with. While this multiplayer mode wasn't playable, it certainly sounds pretty awesome and if the main game is any indication, things will get really crazy online with debris, bullets and bodies flying around. The demo showed off some fantastic effects all around with no noticeable slowdown issues even with multiple explosions, smoke and rubble doing their thing. The exploding bodies, blood and chunky bits you can manipulate probably mean this one will net a Mature rating, but the game isn't going for overtly gory from what I've seen.
As jaw-dropping as that all sounds, the next section of the demo had my brain doing back-flips. This portion showed off the amazing perspective change where my character and his AI partner encountered gravity-defying enemies running and shooting as us from an impossible angle that made it look like they were running around on a wall. It's tough to explain properly, but between the grenade tossing mechanics that allow you to toss explosives at foes on those different angles, to the warps that allow you to face enemies on different planes, here's where Inversion goes off the charts in terms of immersion and sheer innovation. After having my mind blown for a few minutes, the demo ended with an even more outrageous tease with a quick view of a gravity-free combat area. Unfortunately, this section wasn't playable, but I can only imagine how it's going to turn out.
Between the fast-paced combat, the fierceness of the enemy AI and the many, many ways to play through the section, this is going to be one of those games that light up message boards once more gamers get a taste. Slap this one on your radars and mark the date: February 7, 2012 (yes, the game will ship before the "end of the world") - PS3 and Xbox 360 owners are in for a total blast, that's for sure... More on Inversion as info comes in - stay tuned...