Genre-wise, it’s a turn-based stealth game – you operate an agency of Bond-esque spies, with seventy-two hours to prepare for an important mission. Or so I understand; I haven’t made it anywhere close to seventy-two hours yet. The game has a wonderful aesthetic, combining 007 with more modern espionage tropes, in a manner rather reminiscent of Syndicate.
Gameplay is divided into separate missions, in which you have two goals: to find the quest object (corporate files, money, prisoners) and the exit. Agents reveal the map as they go, trying to move around guard patrols and security cameras. You can hack security cameras, (if you have sufficient power), and guards can be knocked out or killed (but unconscious guards wake up eventually, and dead guards harm your score). In an early attempt, I managed to kill every guard on the level through the judicious use of laser-gates, but the price of cleanup meant that I actually lost money overall.
The lack of permanent solutions to the problem of the guards could be wearying, but instead it makes every level more tense: you are outnumbered, and outgunned, and the enemy will find you. As already mentioned, the game is hard – your agents can’t take more than one hit, and if they die, they die forever; lose all of your agents, lose the game.
The constant tension and fear reminds me strongly of the original X-Com: stepping out of the skyranger into the darkness, and hearing the noises of chrysalids in the dark. Whilst I am far more scared of the insect-things than I am Invisible inc’s enforcers, it’s nice to feel scared again in a turn-based game.
I found myself clinging to the shadows more and more, looking for any way round guards that didn’t involve my neural disruptor. Invisible inc. manages perfectly something that so few stealth games even attempt: it makes stealth the most natural course of action. In other games, you end up with dissonance between the gameplay and the aesthetic, and I find that extremely irritating: I don’t like having to play sub-optimally for the sake of the narrative coherence, or being forced to discard immersion in order to beat a level. Invisible inc. gives you spies who act like spies, and that is a rare thing.
It is, it should be mentioned, an early access title, but that isn’t noticeable – I own a host of nominally-finished games without half the content and polish. It doesn’t in any way feel unfinished.
Invisible inc. comes from Klei Entertainment, the studio who made (amongst other things) Mark of the Ninja, itself an original, interesting, and very polished game. With this addition to their creations, they become one of my favourite developers – they seem willing to push the envelope creatively (which is quite common), and good enough to do their ideas justice (which seems to be significantly rarer).
I’d like at this point to talk about the downsides, but I don’t have much heart too – the game is so close to perfect, in a genre that is easy to mess up, using a development strategy that almost always is messed up (I have a category on Steam for games that deeply disappointed me – a reasonable proportion of those are early-access). If I had to gripe, I’d like the ability to alter inventories in the overworld, rather than passing things awkwardly in the levels, but that is an ease-of-use fix, not a gameplay issue. The bottom line is that my favourite games tend to be turn-based strategy games of some type, and this is a wonderful addition to the genre. It seems to be updating reasonably frequently, but it doesn’t need to – I’m very happy with the game as it is, and everything else is a bonus.
The game’s website is here, and it is available on Steam relatively cheaply.