The new turn-based spy adventure from the creators of Don’t Starve comes to PS4, and it’s one of the best downloads of the year.
The worst thing about making a popular game is that it immediately dooms you to a lifetime making sequels of diminishing return. But while many indie developers would probably welcome the financial security this brings they’re actually the least likely to just carry on with more of the same. Canadian studio Klei Entertainment’s biggest hit so far is Don’t Starve, but this is absolutely nothing like it. But it is every bit as good.
Actually, although we know it has many fans, survival game Don’t Starve is probably our least favourite thing Klei has done. Mark Of The Ninja though we loved, but then that’s not much like Invisible, Inc. either – except that both involve stealth and have a similar art style.
Invisible, Inc. is a turn-based strategy game vaguely similar to XCOM. But its theme is high tech superspies rather than alien invasions, as you control a pair of spies (plus any others they rescue on their way) as they infiltrate a series of randomly generated levels. Although the details vary every time the set-up is always very simple: retrieve a MacGuffin and make your way to the exit without being caught.
Obviously that ideally involves not being seen either, but no matter how stealthy you are the level’s alert status constantly rises every turn. It’s not a time limit as such, since it never runs out, but every moment you linger the more enemies will arrive and the more security systems will be switched on. It’s a great way to inspire a gradually increasing sense of tension and paranoia, which is obviously difficult in a turn-based game where you can sit and wait all day to make your move if you want.
The other thing you have to keep your eye on is your power meter, which is used to hack everything from door locks to cameras and remote drones. This at least you can gain more of as you explore the level, but your actual abilities depend on which agents you’re using and how you’ve chosen to outfit them in terms of equipment and cybernetic augmentations.
Once you rescue them all there are 10 agents in total, some of which specialise in generating their own power, while others have more augmentation slots than the rest. Some agents are better at stealth or non-lethal takedowns, while others are more skilled at stealth kills. We’re sure you can imagine what the equipment entails, and indeed there’s a full roster of laser cutters, cloaking devices, and electronic decoys.
Like all of Klei’s games Invisible, Inc. is far from easy, but unlike Don’t Starve it’s not one that takes pleasure in punishing the player. There’s an optional rewind feature that allows you to go back to the start of your previous turn, and this helps take the edge off of any grievous mistakes. Losing an agent does come with a harsh penalty though, as they’re then caught and locked up – and if you want them back you have to take on a rescue mission to retrieve them.
But rescuing your comrades isn’t the no-brainer it may seem, as each story campaign does have a time limit – not in terms of what goes on in the level but each individual mission takes a set number of hours, and wasting some of them on rescuing a fellow spy is not necessarily the best use of your time. Not when earning more money or upgrading other agents might prove more profitable, especially if you have to factor in the time to get there.
Regardless of its clever structure Invisible, Inc. is simply a well-designed and addictive strategy game. We’re not great fans of randomly-generated levels but here they work well to ensure you never get complacent and you can’t win simply by learning the levels – even if some are more interesting than others and you do eventually get used to the basic building blocks of each. The other downside is the weak artificial intelligence for guards, who are far too mechanical in their movements and reactions and, predictably, appear to be stone deaf and severely short-sighted.
It all works in context though, and the angular, film noir-influenced art style looks great – despite the necessarily grid-based levels. As a bonus for the PlayStation 4 edition you also get the Contingency Plan expansion DLC bundled in for free, which extends the campaign length and introduces four new Agents; as well as new weapons, items, and augments. The bad guys get new tricks too and there’s also new side quests and a mission difficulty level that goes up to 20 instead of just 10.
With XCOM 2 still looking like it won’t be released on consoles this is the obvious alternative, and further proof that turn-based games can be just as addictive, tense, and exciting as any action game.
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