My third play-through attempt of Invisible, Inc. has just taken a turn for the worst. Nika Muratova, my best agent, is dead and I’m the one who killed her. Sure, the guard who just shot her to death possibly had something to do with it, but I’ve been playing long enough by now to realize he is little more than a symptom of causality. I made a mistake and she paid the price. It doesn’t matter whether it was a single, fatal error or a case of death-by-a-thousand-cuts; the outcome is the same. Her death has struck an incalculable blow against my entire operation and my chances of successfully completing this particular play through have slimmed to a razor's margin. With less than ten hours left to gather assets before I execute my End Game, it’s a very real consequence for crucial choices that have to be made every single turn.
Not since 2006’s seminal love letter to the stealth genre, Burger King’s Sneak King, have I become so engrossed in a game where silence is your greatest ally. 2015 IGF Excellence in Design Winner, Invisible, Inc., is a procedural, tactical, roguelite that takes place in a dystopian world set in the aftermath of “The Resource Wars," and like any sensible near-future setting, it’s completely governed by The Corporations. In the fall-out of a conflict, the defunct Pan-Euro Infosec Agency transformed into the rogue anti-corporation outfit, Invisible, also known as "The Agency." Led by “Central," an “M”-esque personality utilizing an immensely powerful prototypical AI known as “Incognita," Invisible wages a guerrilla war of destabilization against the megacorps. Rather than lace you into the regal tights of a creepy royal (Creeping? King? Creep-king? No?) on a selfless humanitarian mission to kill as many hungry people as possible by feeding them gristle-patties, you are thrust into the role of The Operator — the faceless liaison in charge of implementing Invisible’s tactical and strategic assets.
The story pans out like a high-octane spy thriller in the vein of The Bourne Identity and 24. The Agency has a mole, and The Corps just torched your HQ and most of your assets. You have 72 hours to plan a counterattack before Incognita’s power reserves dwindle to nothing, and you’re left with no ground to run to. All that remains of your international stable of spies are two agents, but do not despair, for they’re all you need to beat Invisible, Inc.
After the tutorial mission, the player is given a random selection of targets on a world map. Each destination takes time to travel to and chews away at the precious little time you have until you mount a desperate last-ditch raid on The Corps headquarters. These missions each present a tantalizing reward, ranging from a keycard to gain access to vaults, large sums of money, new recruits, cybernetic augmentations, weapons and gear, or cutting edge programs for Incognita. Each mission has a listed threat level indicative of what sort of defenses you can expect and begs the player to consider things like plotting an efficient itinerary and risk vs. reward. Should you sneak into a lightly guarded corporate office and steal access codes that will help you in another mission? Or should you mount a rescue operation at a high-security detention facility in the hopes of bolstering your flagging roster?
Whatever you choose, invariably you’ll be plopped into Invisible, Inc.'s procedurally-generated tactical map where you’ll be spending most of your time outsmarting, evading, and dying to the myriad forces arrayed against you. Missions are a turn-based affair, with each map offering a number of points of interest like augmentation crafting machines that sell cybernetics, nano-fabricators that manufacture weapons and gadgets, safes that hold corporate loot, passive security measures, databases, and consoles. You move your agents around by expending AP to execute actions such as movement, peeking, observing, and attacking. Enemy turns are spent moving sentries along pre-determined patrol routes or hunting revealed agents.
Each player turn that passes adds a pip to the alarm radial wheel, ramping up the security measures across the stage as it fills and advances the alarm level. As the alarm level elevates, additional security measures are brought online. These protocols range from additional guards arriving to cameras rebooting and grow more insidious with each turn over to a higher DEFCON. This is the driving mechanic behind Invisible, Inc. that creates tension and asks the player to make tough decisions on a time table.
Luckily, your agents are amply equipped to tackle the seemingly Olympian trials ahead of them. Each of the ten available agents share a foundation of seemingly innocuous abilities like peeking through doors, observing and predicting enemy patrol routes, dragging incapacitated foes, laying ambushes, and most importantly in a game that revolves around line-of-sight, opening and closing doors. In addition, each agent comes with character specific starting equipment and a unique perk that drastically alters the way you approach missions. For instance, Internationale has the ability to remotely hack objects, while Banks can use her cranial implants to open locked doors without a keycard.
In addition, the player has access to the indispensable AI construct, Incognita. Incognita is your key to the city, capable of hacking into security devices, Nano-fabricators, drones, augmentation crafters, and the many corporate safes you’ll encounter by spending PWR to run sophisticated programs. This suite of programs starts out small and is based on the loadout you choose at the start of Invisible, Inc. but further programs can be purchased from the [email protected] [email protected]@@r when you raid a server farm. PWR can be gathered by hacking consoles or running a drip program, as well as granted by choice augmentations and equipment.
You’ll need all the available tricks and tools of your trade at your disposal, as the forces that stand against you are formidable and implacable.They run the gamut from security guards, drones, turrets, motion detectors, surveillance cameras, tripwires, and crack infantry. Some of these enemies come with frustrating abilities like raising the alarm level when they’re rendered unconscious, repairing disabled equipment, or possessing shields that have to be hacked before you can even hope to neutralize them.
Corporate assets can sometimes be defended by strong anti-hacking countermeasures known as DAEMONs. These DAEMONs can be detected on the network, but their effects remain hidden until you manage to crack a local database unique to the level. There is no reliable way to bypass a DAEMON without triggering its effects, such as preventing you from hacking with Incognita, summoning reinforcements, siphoning your credits, or any number of negative effects. You have a chance of bypassing the DAEMON and turning it to your advantage upon access but it is understandably slim.
Stealth is well implemented and relies largely on exploiting line-of-sight. Before moving you’ll be alerted whether your agent will be hidden (white line), detected (yellow line), or outright spotted (red line) if they embark on their plotted course. If your agent is detected, the unit that noticed you will go into hunt mode, checking the last known location and sweeping the area. If your agent is spotted they will stop in their tracks as the conical vision swath of the enemy turns red, indicating that the foe has gone into overwatch mode. If you attempt to move into a space that doesn’t break line of sight, your agent will be shot and rendered unconscious. A medkit can be applied to stabilize and extract them, but it’s generally disastrous when this happens. It’s important to note that each time you’re detected or spotted, a pip or two is added to the alarm level radial.
Combat is an inevitability as your agents find themselves in increasingly dangerous situations where the only solution is a stun gun to the neck. Your starting agents are equipped with a standard-issue Neural Disruptor that won’t do much to anything past your entry-level private security guard. Further, unless you’re using a specific model that utilizes PWR, your stun gun goes on a fairly lengthy cooldown of approximately 2-3 turns after a single use. They can be recharged with the use of a power cell, but otherwise if you find yourself swamped it’ll be very difficult to fight your way out.
All of this is compounded by the fact that guards are merely knocked out, and will reawaken after a few turns unless “pinned” by keeping an agent on top of them to prevent their wake up counter from ticking down. Lethal means of dispatching foes are few and far between, as well as penalized by a cleanup cost at the end of a mission. Klei Entertainment has made it clear that they did not want Invisible, Inc. to degenerate into a run-and-gun body count simulator.
To help your team, Invisible Inc. features a bevy of augmentations and gadgets that must be stolen, fabricated, or purchased. Cybernetics usually grant passive bonuses, such as the ability to drag bodies further, penetrate armor more effectively, or supply a steady drip of PWR. Gadgets focus on activated abilities, from devices that can break firewalls like the Buster Chip to a full-on Cloaking Rig that can provide indispensable evasion. Invisible, Inc. also features a small assortment of weapons — mostly Neural Disruptors, as well as some choice firearms and utility items like Shock Traps and grenades.
The only way to trigger a failure state is to lose all your agents in the field, which will happen quite often. Thankfully, Invisible, Inc. isn’t so unmerciful as to not give you an out when things ultimately go pear-shaped. The final tool at your disposal is the rewind and, as its name suggests, it grants you the ability to return to the start of your last turn. The amount of rewinds you have is determined directly by difficulty: five for beginner, three of experienced, and a single rewind for expert. Rewinds are replenished between missions, and given their finite nature should be reserved for when you get an agent killed.
At the end of every mission the player is given an invoice summarizing how many guards were on the level, what networks and safes they accessed, what equipment was recovered, how many credits were stolen, and how much it cost to clean up any bodies. Rather than dealing with experience points, players must spend credits to level the four categories of their agents: stealth, hacking, strength, and anarchy. This creates an interesting situation where players will need to consider whether they should invest in these attributes or save the credits to fabricate new equipment or purchase something from Invisible’s de facto quartermaster, Monst3r. It’s a balancing act in a game already full of give-and-take choices that adds yet another layer of consequence.
[caption id="attachment_41293" align="aligncenter" width="660"] Utilizing Icnognita pulls up the games hacking overlay. Pictured is a laser grid, a corporate safe, deactivated cameras, and consoles.[/caption]
A single playthrough of the campaign can take approximately four hours, with mileage varying depending on difficulty setting. Klei Entertainment has decided to nibble away at your time in easily digestible sittings rather than in one gluttonous chunk. If you’ve somehow mastered the campaign and seek a further challenge, God help you, as Invisible, Inc. features multiple modes of play and an exhaustive list of customize-able settings. Tweaks such as max number of rooms to a map, amount of DAEMONS, starting PWR, and number of enemies are all examples of how you can jack up the difficulty. Additional modes include Expert Plus, a survival mode called Endless and Endless Plus, and Time Attack where you’re given a two-minute timer to complete each turn. Invisible, Inc. was undoubtedly built for replayability, especially given that each failed or completed campaign unlocks new agents and different starting load outs for a dizzying amount of customization.
When you take into account all these mechanics and see them in action, Invisible, Inc. plays like a dream. It masterfully builds tension through multiple means, from the 72 hour time restriction to the implacable mounting security levels and overall difficulty. Each difficulty level adds new tricks that the AI can throw at you, and the procedural nature of Invisible, Inc. makes it unpredictable and constantly challenges the player to think on their feet.
Perhaps the most insidious thing about Invisible, Inc. is that it provides you with everything you need to succeed. It gives you predictable AI, plenty of gadgets and tools, and the personnel you need to take it to the Corps. For each mistake you make, Invisible, Inc. incrementally ups the ante and presents you with new challenges that you have to overcome. When you fail, you know it’s because somewhere in your planning or execution you made a critical mental misstep, as illustrated in the case of Nika Muratova. Invisible, Inc. assaults you with a ceaseless barrage of seemingly pedestrian choices that can quickly snowball into an insurmountable problem. Perhaps the most dangerous enemy is greed, the all-too human urge to want more than what’s enough, a bridge too far. You must constantly weigh risk vs. reward, manage time, and make the most of limited resources. These are the choices that largely make up the narrative of your story.
Speaking of story, the out-of-the-box campaign is extremely light and serves only as a framework to paint your own story through action. The opening and closing cinematics provide the only canon, and regrettably the ending is predictable and a bit of an eye-roller. Thankfully, everything else about Invisible, Inc. is so good that the fact that the story takes a back seat to otherwise impeccably executed mechanics and design is easily excusable if you’re a fan of tactical games. The argument can also be made that the story is the narrative that you construct within Invisible, Inc.’s 72-hour time-frame through gameplay and decisions.
The setting relies a bit on preconceived notions of dystopian futures. It does little in terms of providing a real history or world building and seems to expect the player to at least be somewhat familiar with cyberpunk themes. The brain sort of fills in the rest in the same way it might see a line that’s not there to complete a picture. What little is written is well-written. The backgrounds of agents are brief and sort of like an impressionist painting — little snippets that coalesce into a big enough picture to give you an idea of what sort of person they are.
While certainly not pushing modern GPU's anywhere near their limits, the aesthetic is decidedly pleasing, crisp and stylized with sharp, angled, faces and thick comic lines. Invisible, Inc. is dominated by a limited palette of muted fuschias, aquas, and browns. Like an aposematic animal, the only bright colors in this game are an indication of danger. That’s not to say that it’s dreary; it very much weighs upon the player a sort of feeling of sneakiness and shadow without defaulting to gray scale. Animations are well-done and do a good job of conveying motion and a sense of weight, which is pretty much in step with every Klei game ever made. Invisible, Inc. continues a long-standing Klei tradition of striking visuals and fluid animations.
I played Invisible, Inc. on a 3.4 ghz i5 backed by 8 gigs of DDR3-RAM and a GeForce GTX 760 with no hang-ups, crashes, or graphical errors.
Voice acting is top notch but woefully spartan in terms of sources, with the bulk of spoken dialogue largely coming from Monst3r, Central, and Incognita. Few, if any, other agents have voice acting, and character personalities suffer as a result. It wouldn't have felt so noticeable had Invisible, Inc. featured strictly text-based conversation, but having only a few characters with voiced lines makes it a difficult shortcoming to ignore. However, what’s there is competently delivered and well-paced; nothing sounds particularly out of place or jarring.
Sound effects are fitting and satisfying. An agent running through the halls echoes pleasantly, and the crisp, bristly snap of a Neural Disruptor gives a flinching impression of jolty pain. The sound of foot steps as agents scurry from one corner to the next is oddly soothing and almost becomes a measure of ambiance; your agents are predatory creatures of stealth, and the rhythmic staccato of their movement is the breath of their trade. The music is appropriately subdued with bassy lines that are reminding of a heartbeat, raising in octave and efficacy as the mission plunges out of control and into chaos. It’s effective in setting the mood, and like many things in Invisible, Inc., is simply there to facilitate the seamless gameplay and impose a feeling of secrecy and urgency.
The way that Klei Entertainment handled Invisible, Inc.’s foray into Early Access is worthy of a mention. Throughout the entirety of the process they were communicative with the playerbase and receptive to suggestions. Similar to Don’t Starve, updates shipped like clockwork with a little countdown on the main menu announcing when to expect the next version. It’s refreshing to see a developer use Early Access responsibly and with such transparency, and clearly the product benefited from the attentiveness Klei demonstrated to its fans.
Invisible, Inc. pulls no punches and makes no apologies for what it wants to be: a consummate tactics based strategy game with a focus on gameplay, difficulty, and choice. It can be as challenging as you want it to be, but plays best when it’s turned up to eleven. What it lacks in traditional story it more than makes up for with a slick coat of paint and finely tuned mechanics that not only provide depth and flexibility, but are also relatively easy to understand. There’s never a moment where you stop and ask yourself “What just happened?” It makes graduating to steeper and steeper difficulties easy, so that you can play Invisible, Inc. as intended. When you lose, it’s likely because you weren’t careful enough or didn’t properly utilize all the tools at your disposal.
Invisible, Inc. wants your reach to extend your grasp because that’s how it beats you, but like any good roguelite it rewards you for your failures. It throws you unlocks here and there, but always keeps the most elusive of all rewards, the concept of mastery, dangling overhead in a way that says “C’mon, you can do better than this, right?” You will fail, but you’ll also experience profound moments of satisfaction when you manage to slip an agent out through a tiny gap between three or four prowling enemies. Invisible, Inc. expects a lot of you because they gave you everything you need to succeed at the very beginning of the game: two agents. I still have one left.
This game was purchased by the reviewer and reviewed on the PC platform.
How do you feel about my assessment? What are your experiences with Invisible, Inc.? Who's your favorite agent? Do you collect everything you can, or do you rush straight for the objective? Leave a comment below, and feel free to tell me why you liked or disliked the game.
Invisible, Inc. is highly polished and hits all the right notes with nearly flawless mechanics, difficulty settings for everyone, and loads of replay value. The predictable story and lack of a fully voiced cast are the only glaring flaws in an otherwise excellent game.