Even though it was announced just about a year ago, we got our first extended look at Saber Interactive’s latest game, Inversion--a third-person shooter where the main focus is on gravity and how it behaves and ultimately can affect gameplay. And since this force of nature is such an integral part of Inversion’s gameplay experience, Saber had to make sure it had the physics engine to back it up. Therefore, it partnered with Havok--maker of fine physics middleware--to create a new physics environment called Havok Destruction, which has already been used in some games as a means to accurately portray structural degradation. Needless to say, there were certainly some impressive moments generated as a result in the early build we saw.
Our demo began with a team of soldiers returning to a city that has been invaded by an unknown force while simultaneously being affected by some weird gravitational anomalies where down becomes up and left becomes right. This particular team of soldiers is trying to find out what’s going on in this urban location that has seemingly been torn apart by war, but their leader has an ulterior motive--to find his missing daughter. These guys are armed to the teeth with some pretty brutal-looking weapons and can take cover behind objects during firefights (not unlike those found in Epic’s Gears of War series). In fact, you can even perform blind fire and access other weapons in a very similar way. But where Inversion differentiates itself from Gears is in the aforementioned focus on gravity.
Since these soldiers are equipped with gravity devices on their backs, they can take a little bit of juice from these units and use them to pick up and manipulate individual objects in the environment. See a barrel a few feet away that you’d like to throw at an enemy? Just pick it up, aim, and toss it. If there’s any direct comparison we would make between this gameplay feature and something found in another game, it would be the telekinesis plasmid from the BioShock series that let you pick up objects and toss them at your enemies. But again, Inversion differentiates itself by also letting you pick up enemies from behind cover by using your gravitational powers. This causes them to float into the air for a few short seconds where you can pump some rounds into them. Naturally, this seems to be quite useful when firefights get more intense, but there’s another useful gravitational skill that helps you get out of a jam. It’s called the gravity shock wave, and it seems to instantly kill enemies in the immediate range of a blast caused by slamming your fist into the ground.
The catch for the shock wave and other gravitational powers is that you can’t use them at will. Depending on the skill you use and potentially the object involved, the energy in the gravity unit on your back drains appropriately--the more powerful the attack, the more energy it drains and the longer it takes to charge back up. It seems like a logical compromise that will prevent players from simply using gravity skills throughout the entire game and defeat enemies in easier fashion. Interestingly, there are also other gravity skills that haven’t been shown to us yet (they'll be revealed at a later date), but it’s worth mentioning that it seems that your enemies will have access to the same skills, including ones that let them levitate you off the ground from behind cover.
As the demo progressed, we were told just how the AI tends to behave when all of these objects and gravitational abilities are constantly changing the immediate landscape. In essence, the AI will behave in a smart way, recognizing when it's no longer behind cover, either because you picked up an object or simply destroyed it with weapon fire. And that’s something we saw a lot of in the later parts of the demo. In fact, at one point, you can take control of a minigun and start firing at enemies or at the structural points of a nearby building, bringing it down on top of your foes. It was impressive to see how the building realistically started to come down based on which support joints were destroyed with the gun, and it made us eager to see just how destructible some of the other environments in Inversion will be.
Other memorable moments from our Inversion demo included a massive building collapsing in the background that not only caused a gravitational wave to come tearing through the city, but also caused gravitational anomalies where you could walk on the sides of buildings while fighting enemies. The way grenades work when this is going on is interesting, as they’ll glide out in normal fashion and then fly toward the wall where the gravitational pull is affecting enemies. And that sums up our demo of Inversion. A lot of interesting things were on display, and we’ll have more on them as well as its various multiplayer modes (the game was designed with co-op in mind) in the coming months before Inversion’s 2011 release.