Invisible, Inc. Review

Losing has never been so fun

In the world of Klei Entertainment’s Invisible Inc., enormous multinational corporations have taken over the world and the titular espionage group has been compromised. With headquarters and a number of the organization’s best agents captured or eliminated, things are looking grim: if advanced AI system Incognita is not relocated within 72 hours, she will cease to be. Playing as the agency’s remote operator, it’s your job to spend those last three days collecting resources for the big mission — one that will take you straight into the dark heart of the evil empire.

This narrative is simple and straightforward, basically existing to provide a reason for the missions ahead. It serves this purpose well, although its lack of depth might be a bit disappointing for some; most of the story is told in small dialogue sections between stages, although additional details can be gleaned from character profiles and such. Regardless, this choice makes more sense when considering the larger picture. With little space afforded to the narrative, higher focus is placed on the game’s structure and mechanics: the area where it really shines.

Invisible, Inc. is a turn-based tactical stealth game with roguelike elements; to explain that latter bit, levels are procedurally generated — they have a different layout every time — and decisions made by the player are permanent. This means that if you accidentally click the wrong space when you move one of your field agents, you’re absolutely stuck with the choice you’ve made. Unlike other titles, there’s absolutely no room for trial-and-error. Running around willy-nilly and experimenting is a surefire way to get your entire team killed.

As you might have guessed, this can make things brutally hard, especially if you’re used to games where undoing bad decisions is a click away. It’s amazing how much there is to consider right from the get-go: there are highly intelligent guards to avoid, cameras to deactivate, optional safes to crack for virtual credits, and all too many doors and corners to look around. This latter piece is possibly the game’s most interesting strategic detail: though you can pan around the isometric map at your leisure, you can’t see anything that remains out of your agents’ sights. This makes it a vital necessity to sneak a peek of where you’re headed before barging in — even the slightest misstep can cost you the campaign.

Invisible, Inc. Review

Thankfully, even when it’s wiping the floor with you, there is a visceral satisfaction in the way the game earns its unforgiving difficulty. It’s cruel, but it just feels right: when you’re losing, it’s clearly your own fault, and this creates a drive to build a better strategy. Replay is outright encouraged, as well, with an option to carry over some of your progress if (when) you get your clock cleaned. Best of all, there are options available for beginners (an easier setting and a player-set number of retries, for example), and they’re a great help for the uninitiated that should still offer a fairly steep challenge — this humble writer quickly learned that he needed to plan out several turns in advance if he was to have any hope of survival.

This need for future-oriented thinking extends beyond the individual levels, too. Though the narrative is straightforward, there’s nothing linear at all about the game’s structure: it’s up to you to decide which facilities to invade, which in turn dictates what benefits will be afforded to your team. Will you head for the black market server where you can buy upgrades for Incognita, thus giving you more hacking options? Will you go after captured agents, who will add much-needed numbers to your scant group? Or will you beef out your team’s arsenal, raiding a storage locker with better weapons? Building this engine is simultaneously thrilling and nerve-wracking, a series of critical choices that will be put to the ultimate test in the final mission.

The visual style of Invisible, Inc. is stunning, to say the least. Taking full advantage of the neo-noir aesthetic, there’s a level of detail present in the procedurally generated locations that makes them feel cohesive and organic. The lighting effects, which change as doors are opened and closed, have to be seen to be believed. The character sprites dazzle too, featuring intricate pixel art and smooth animation. As a whole, the graphical presentation gives off the same sense of passion for the craft that one gets while experiencing the meticulous design of the game system.

Invisible, Inc. Review

The sound design is no slouch either, offering sound and music that perfectly fit the game’s seedy, sneaky atmosphere. The periodical sounds of guards’ footsteps from beyond visual range is an especially ominous touch that adds a lot of tension to the proceedings. Even though there isn’t much of a narrative emphasis, the voices provided for the main speaking characters — Central and Monst3r — are charmingly delivered. It’s hard not to smile at their exchanges of witty retorts, no matter how many times you’ve seen this sort of thing before.

Invisible, Inc. absolutely nails its most important element: tense, deeply strategic stealth action that rewards thinking ahead. Like most roguelike games, this is a nastily unforgiving ordeal: every decision counts, and even one mistake can obliterate your chances of success. If this is the sort of challenge you welcome, you’ll find a meticulously crafted experience that gets better with time. If not, you’ve been warned: there’s a lot of failure in your future. Perhaps that’s the game’s biggest trick: even when you’re getting annihilated, you can feel the love and passion of the developers in every fatal gunshot wound.