Game review: Invisible, Inc. for Steam

I got Invisible, Inc. pretty soon after it came out of Steam’s early access based on glowing praise from Angry Joe. I was a little wary of it because it’s from Klei, and Mark of the Ninja didn’t impress me. But I figured I’d give this a chance because it’s got a very different game play method and seems to be better at allowing players to make it through the whole game without killing anyone. This can be a compelling selling point for me all by itself, so that was my main reason for picking this up.

The thing is, I played maybe three missions before realizing I’d made a tactical error early on and couldn’t continue my current game. I deleted the save file, and for several months I procrastinated getting back in for another attempt. I knew I should just push through because it is a pretty short game, and yet, I always found something else to distract myself with. But at long last, I’ve sat down with the game and given it a full spin. Was it worth it? Uh…well, yes and no. Mostly yes, and I admit I enjoyed this quite a bit more than Mark of the Ninja. But that ending…

I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to digress.

A turn-based game, you start off with two agents after your private spy agency is infiltrated by initially unnamed corporations. The leader of your organization saves herself and the company’s highly sophisticated mainframe computer, uploading its AI onto a flying fortress. This gives the AI just 72 hours of power, and that being the case, you have to find a new network to put the AI in. To do that, you have to take a number of missions to equip your agents, free others from corporate holding cells, and pinpoint the location of a suitable server host. Once you do all of that, it’s time to get ready for the final showdown.

It’s mostly good, with solid game play, good graphics and animations, and a relatively forgiving learning curve. While the item shop between levels is kind of weak, there are machines in the levels with much better selections. The prices aren’t too steep, so it’s possible to pick up enough equipment for all your agents without skimping on anyone so long as you break into a few safes and remember to mug the guards you knock out using tasers.

Knocking out the guards means they will wake up in a certain number of turns unless you keep them pinned down. The number of turns is based on the difficulty level, and can also be influenced by augmentations on your agents. So for instance, one agent might only be able to put a guard down for 2 turns, while another might be able to keep them down for 4.

Agents move based on their Action Points, and this can be upgraded between levels for credits. So there’s this tricky balance of trying to buy equipment while at the same time keeping enough funds to upgrade their stats. You start off with two agents, but you can also free operatives from holding facilities. These are optional, by the way. You choose what resources you want to improve, and if you decide to just buff up your two primary agents, well you can do that. In my opinion, that would make the final showdown extremely difficult, but I’m sure some of the more hardcore gamers out there can do it easily. For someone of my more mundane skill set, it’s a task too difficult to accomplish.

Along with your agents, you’re also assisted by the AI, which can hack cameras and drones to help you bypass them, or to unlock sensors on safes so your operatives can crack them. The AI’s abilities are available through another form of AP, Power, and it’s possible to pick up more Power within the levels using terminals, or through abilities of your agents. The AI also has an ability that will let it gather one point per turn, but if you get all the way down to zero and have to wait to recover, things can turn ugly fast.

That’s the whole game in a nutshells. Sneak into offices and tiptoe around guards and electronic defenses until you can reach your goal. Once you find it, you have to locate a transport room, often going back through the same guards and some newly arrived backup units. The longer you take to play a level, the more resistance you find due to an ever rising alert level, so sticking around to hunt for credits or extra terminals can be risky. Which is really the point. Are you the kind of player to rush in and dash back out with just the barest minimum of items gathered? Or are you feeling brave enough to poke around and look for that last safe that might have some lovely new equipment for your people?

Now, for the most part, I liked every mission except for the last. Sure, the levels are tricky, and being procedurally generated means that no level is the same if you have to repeat it for whatever reason. And this is cool, and I can see how this would appeal to lots of folks.

But that final level…it goes up in a huge difficulty spike that put me at risk of cracking my dentures. It stops being fun and is just one long painful slog. It also doesn’t help that the basic equipment most agents have no longer works against the guards, and the defense of the most important “free agent” requires pushing back larger and larger waves of enemies.

Should you manage to win, the game has one final cut scene that’s pure indie. Which is to say you win, but you lose. Everybody dies, the world sucks, and thank you for playing. I really wish indies would stop doing this, especially after ramping up the difficulty and making me work so hard for what amounts to a pair of middle fingers stuck in my face. I wouldn’t say it completely ruins the game, but it certainly does leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Still, that’s like the last minute of an otherwise decent time, which for me lasted around 7 hours. Players of higher skill will probably whip through this whole campaign in 2, and I think the replayability is supposed to come from the procedural levels and the ability to set the difficulty in increasing increments. But for me, the appeal has already worn off. It’s not a bad game, and I don’t feel I wasted my money. But it’s not something that I’ll go back to play over and over like Spelunky.

I will give Invisible, Inc. 4 stars and recommend it to fans of turn-based combat games. It might not last you long, but it’s relatively cheap and should help fill up some space while you’re waiting for other games to come out.