Where Saber's 2007 TimeShift offered time itself as a weapon, like a sort of homicidal Seiko, their latest actioner goes cover shooter with a different universal element - gravity. Its parallel is Gears of War by way of Inception's corridor bit, but with less intellectualism and more guns.
There's also more gruff swearing and battle chatter courtesy of lead character Davis Russel. His daughter is missing, that being the trend in games these days primarily being developed by thirty-something first-time fathers in need of character motivation. This former cop must fight through a home city invaded by murderous terrorists that only take time out from killing and inciting mass revolution to apply face paint and tear their jeans a bit.
In this he's aided by best mate Leo Delgado, essentially a walking, talking excuse for co-op and filling the 'best friend but also foreign' role - Dominic Santiago to Davis's Marcus Fenix. Oh, and the power to turn the entire world upside down helps too, of course.
Gravity has a number of applications in Inversion. You can crush enemies under cars, or send them floating off into the sky like helium balloons. You can bring set objects towards you and use them as a shield. Levels can turn from street fight to side-of-a-building fight, with cover provided by window ledges and electrical boxes. Even the lack of gravity changes things, with weightless combat reminiscent of zero-g Dead Space. This is the biggie. Anything not nailed down rises upward, and fighting through hundreds of bits of floating debris looks fantastic.
The third person combat is good enough to stand on its own, but as far as pleasant bonuses go, it doesn't come much better than using gravity itself as a weapon. At this stage, however, it's unclear whether this twist will be enough to keep things fresh throughout. There's a history of shooters that aren't saved despite ingenious mechanics. TimeShift? Time. Dark Void? Vertical cover. Fracture? Earth-deforming. All high-concept ideas that would be gold in the hands of better developers and, at the moment, we've not been shown enough of Inversion to decide which side of the fence this lands on.
What is definitely clear is that, with this being the first time anyone has seen the game since Gamescom last August, Saber Interactive have applied some major spit and polish.
Impressively, there actually feels like there's something worth fighting for too - the pull of your daughter and your home (civilians actually flee through firefights, and shooting too many gives you a game over) are bolted to Prey-like multi-surface platforming, a decent environmental spread (from dark tunnel-shoots to more wide-open warfare with a focus on flanking), plus the physics of the Havok engine provides a solid framework for making levels go all topsy-turvy. There's also, satisfyingly, a great deal of destruction: an early set-piece with a turret reduced a building front to bits, and enemies on balconies were sent crashing to ground level.
So, Inversion is promising. It feels big, solid fun and there are features here that genuinely haven't been done before. Ultimately, though, it will come down to one thing: how long Saber can spin out the gravity gimmick.