Like much of the best science fiction, The Invincible explores and challenges our understanding of the universe and our place within it. I had the chance to sit down and play a small, early portion of The Invincible that took about an hour to get through. What I saw was promising, but like many narrative-focused adventures, the whole is going to be greater than any small individual part.
Playing as Yasna the astrobiologist you are exploring what happened to a convoy on the alien planet Regis III. Talking with your Astrogator, Novik, you pick a route for how to get to the last known location of the convoy, either a side path to avoid visibility, or go straight ahead to catch up quicker. Each path has different things you discover as you wander around, interacting with points of interest that are different on each path. How these unfold in exploration and discussion give distinct feelings as you approach the next part of the map where how you arrive differs based on the path you took. The way you arrive changes the early feeling of it there, with the way the side path comes in feeling more panicked due to coming through a tunnel and being near a corpse when recovering from the increased radiation.
Exploration is a key element in The Invincible as you wander through the Mars-like planet of Regis 3. As you approach or look at things, points of interest are highlighted, either to talk with Novik about them or to note them on your map, or in some cases open doors or hatches. The map is very well done, with a tactile sense despite the lack of direct interaction with it. This is done by having the things you note placed on the map location-wise, just like if you were pulling it out and putting pen to paper. Additionally, the top left has the robots, vehicles, and people who were with the convoy, and when you identify them they get circled on it. Sadly, all the people you find are corpses in this section of the game, thus it is by reading their helmets you are able to identify them, and where they died.
The map is one of a handful of tools at Yasna's disposal for exploration in The Invincible. It is essentially your journal and tracker, helping situate you and reminding you what you are working on. Beyond it, you also have a scope/spyglass that you can use to look at things in the distance, a tool that can essentially x-ray areas to see inside things like walls to see metal, and a tool that appears to track tags on members of the expedition and robots. Each one of them has about one main instance of use in the demo, with the x-ray device being used to see the metal inside some rocks, the detector tool to find a body, and the scope being used to see distant parts of the region that you cannot reach.
The scope in particular felt somewhat lackluster in use because, while it had options like focus and zoom to modify what it was seeing, all it amounted to effectively was looking for the point of interest. While the other two essentially did the same thing, the x-ray seeing through rock showed something that you couldn't see any other way, and the detector directed you to the points of interest you might have missed making them feel less extraneous than something used to just zoom in on something.
One thing that all of them were good for though was highlighting the harsh beauty of Regis 3 that is depicted in The Invincible. The jagged rocks, metallic "plants", vehicles, robots, and more are all rendered with a high degree of fidelity, and call to mind some depictions of Mars with the barren, rocky landscape (aside from the metallic 'plants'). You'll have a lot of time to appreciate them too, because The Invincible is not a fast-moving game. You have a slower movement speed, and the pace of the narrative is slow as well. The time it takes to pick through points of interest, or move to new areas to trigger events keeps the pace down. It may be a bit too slow, given how the interaction with points of interest is fairly minimal, with the most being done with something being to click and then turn the mouse to unlock a closed area, which releases slides of pictures that you sort through. Essentially these points all boil down to "talk about thing" with Novik, "note thing" on your map, or "open thing" to see whats inside. Other than that, dialogue is sometimes triggered after something happens or when you reach a certain point, serving as one of the main activities in the game.
Thankfully, the writing is largely up to carrying the weight that is put on it . It manages to capture the feeling of exploration, puzzlement, philosophy, and as appropriate, panic and despair. Optional dialogue is something that you often want to engage with, as you talk about what is happening with Novik. One spot where it wasn't quite up to par was part way through the antimatter cannon's photoslides, where it shows the convoy starting to depart. The slide had two interact points, and they failed to provide any sort of feeling or insight. The lines on it were as plain as could be with minimal response from Novik and were served with flat voice acting. It really made me question why this slide had multiple points of interest, because the game itself seemed otherwise completely uninterested in the slide.
Outside of a few moments like that, the writing, and the voice acting are able to serve as strong pillars for the story. The voice actors play well off each other, although I found Yasna's voice acting to be a bit out of breath at times, even when it didn't necessarily feel like it fit. Both of the voice actors are able to deliver on key moments and elevate them, like when it looks like an antimatter gun may shoot Yasna, and Navik suffers something of a breakdown. Subtler moments are also there, such as when discussing if the metallic "plants" are life, in one path Novik's dialogue becomes softer, musing to himself about Yasna's argument for why they aren't alive. Alternatively, Yasna can argue that they are alive (based on your choice), and Navik is more confrontational about it. Here, the voice acting helps carry the difference in how Navik is discussing it with Yasna, and sets the tone for the discussion.
It’s tough to judge something that aims to focus as much on narrative as The Invincible from a small window into the game, but what I saw was quite promising. It shows an alien world, one that mankind is exploring, but perhaps should have left alone until it possessed greater understanding. How well The Invincible lands this exploration of concepts, and execution of the world is beyond this preview, but it looks like a trip worth taking.
TechRaptor previewed The Invincible on PC using a code provided by the publisher.