Klei Entertainment’s Invisible, Inc. may be too true to its title for its own good. Here’s yet another extremely well-crafted rogue-like game set in a turn-based dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s finely honed, but nothing you haven’t seen in Shadowrun Returns or Transistor, and it plays much like a cross between X-COM and Gunpoint. Like Klei’s other games, it’s aesthetically crisp and ninja-smooth, but the game all but vanishes from one’s mind even while playing it.
A large part of this frustration has to do with Invisible, Inc.’s aborted story mode, which exists simply as a framing device for the bland, procedurally generated missions. After the world’s ruling corporations collaborate to take down the protagonist’s syndicate, the few remaining members must cobble together enough credits and information to survive; make it through three days and the player’s team—accompanied by extreme hacker Monst3r and the team’s mastermind Central—breaks into the OMNI Mainframe in an attempt to install their AI, Incognita. There’s a twist and then the campaign simply ends, hinting at the game that might’ve been.
Invisible, Inc., then, exists literally (considering the ticking in-game clock) to kill time. Each difficulty setting makes the campaign harder and harder (and players can customize their own challenges), and whether players succeed or fail, they’ll earn overall experience that unlocks additional characters and gear. But whereas Rogue Legacy and The Binding of Isaac are fairly forgiving of death (a single run takes between five minutes to an hour), getting through Invisible, Inc. takes closer to three hours, and its methodical pacing means that players far more rarely stumble upon new items to experiment with. (Also, given the limited number of turn-resetting Rewinds, it also penalizes players far more for their creativity.)
There’s definitely a place for games like this, and the stealth-puzzle combination is perfectly executed here. There’s never any surprise when a player dies, with the tactical, grid-lined map clearly marking the field of vision of each guard, camera, and drone (as well as their predicted patrol routes), and the effects of each square on the map are clearly presented, even if some—like the daemon viruses—are intentionally vague until decrypted. Items and cybernetic augmentations are succinctly described, and the consequences for procrastinating or killing enemies (as opposed to avoiding or knocking them out) are always shown by the game’s increasing alarm gauge. That said, choosing the wrong fork in the road can draw out a level to the point at which elite reinforcements arrive, and depending on the missions chosen, it’s all too possible that players will have to dissolve their agency, unable to pierce an enemy’s armor. This niggling bit of randomness in an otherwise precise game of tactics is enough to make potential players hesitate, and why a more straightforward, scripted set of challenges is so sorely missed.
Invisible, Inc. also seems a bit unbalanced. Not all of the 10 earnable characters seem equally useful, and it’s generally pretty easy to choose between upgrades. Pretty much anything that boosts the number of action points (AP) in a single turn is critical to success, as is one character’s personal ability to remotely interface with power terminals—the resource you’ll need in order to hack through firewalls and progress. Instead of encouraging players to change things up by presenting agonizing decisions between unique skills or mission with different rewards, there appear to be optimal decisions that, once learned, make portions of the game feel stagnant. Harder difficulties and forthcoming DLC variants will encourage players to be more creative and diverse in their builds: There’s no doubt that there’s a strong foundation to Invisible, Inc. The question is whether there’s enough here to hold a player’s attention as shinier and more active titles come along.