The Invincible is a classic, science-fiction novel from Polish author Stanislaw Lem that was published in 1964. As the foundation for its new game, developer Starward Industries and publisher 11-bit Studios adapted the core of the novel to create a new, first-person narrative adventure. With its mysterious plot and retro-future design, does The Invincible deliver?
A Sense of Mystery
As the player, you assume the role of a biologist named Yasna. Awaking upon the planet of Regis III, it becomes apparent immediately that things have not gone to plan. With little recollection of how you arrived and no immediate signs of your fellow crew, you set off to try and unravel what’s occurred.
Reconnecting radio contact with the leader of your mission, the Astrogator, Novik, helps to guide you throughout your journey. Equipped with little more than a journal, a few scientific tools, and Novik’s voice in your ear, you traverse Regis III while piecing together the backstory. In this vein, The Invincible is a very “light” game. There’s little exploration and no combat or weaponry. It is a narrative-heavy walking adventure through and through.
One of the most impressive aspects of The Invincible is without a doubt the setting. Starward Industries did a fantastic job in making you feel as though you were stranded on a planet in distant space. The vistas are a marvel to behold with picturesque backdrops that wouldn’t look out of place if you printed them out and hung them on a wall. Contrasting this beauty, though, is a feeling of isolation and, in turn, desperation.
Movement is slow and heavy, air is limited, and there is no immediate escape to what could be considered safety. It’s eerie and unsettling at times with no life or even sounds beyond the dust under your boots. As Yasna, you feel these aspects as you play, and it’s a credit to the development team on how they create a sense of desperation at times for the player.
Acting as the perfect accent to your adventure is a fantastic soundtrack. Scored by Brunon Lubas, it calls back to classic sci-fi movies and themes while highlighting key moments throughout. Its ability to add to the sense of mystery while sometimes unsettling you further is marvelous.
Bringing this full circle is what 11-Bit Studios refers to as “retro-futuristic” design aspects. Calling back to science-fiction design from the mid-20th century (which makes sense given the book’s publishing date), all of the tools at your disposal, the vehicles you encounter, and all of the equipment has a kind of classic look and feel. It’s almost as if you’re in the future and the past at the same time. It’s charming in a way, and I really enjoyed its implementation.
Scientific Discovery…When You Can
To discover what happened to the rest of the crew on Regis III, the mystery behind the events, and how you can possibly escape, you’ll travel across the surface extensively. This means you’ll be walking. A lot. And when the walking is slow and methodical given the circumstances, it can take its toll after a while. While I appreciate the sense of authenticity to the experience, when your already slow “sprint” option exhausts itself after a few seconds, it begins to feel more like tedium than realism.
Compounding these frustrations at times are rather finicky environmental controls. You’ll often need to navigate corridors, climb hills, and interact with the environment around you, and it’s sadly just not as polished as it could be. This leads to a lot of moments of talking to yourself to question what you should be doing differently to progress.
There’s a lot to like with The Invincible’s narrative. Using the foundation of the novel, the team at Starward Industries built out a thoughtful story that keeps you engaged throughout. I found myself continually wanting to see what would come next even when the controls frustrated me. This was partially due to the narrative being well-written, but it’s also thanks to quality voice-acting between Yasna and Novik. Their relationship and the continual bouncing off of one-another over the course of the journey is delightful.
From Now On I’m Walking
It’s a good thing the writing and narrative are strong since that is far and away the core of the game. Outside of a few small interactive moments, you will be walking and talking throughout. There’s also very little player agency overall, though it does open up briefly about halfway through your journey, thus allowing you a few extra paths of small discoveries. Some of those, though, suffer from the same issue of not knowing exactly what you can and cannot interact with.
At various times you will be able to respond to situations with varying answers that can drive different outcomes, similar to many narrative adventure games. Experimenting with some of these, it can be tough to know exactly how your response will translate as it’s not made immediately clear. At times it’s also unclear as to when you can or cannot perform an action. It feels like there were good intentions to give the player some decision making ability, but the implementation is simply lacking at times.
As you explore and update your journal throughout, you build out a comic book that can be accessed via the menu at any time. It documents many of the key moments and conversations from your journey. It’s a nice addition and can also act as a refresher should you step away and come back to the game later.
Well, then, is the payoff worth it? That will depend on the individual player, of course, but, for me, the sense of discovery and what unfolds is interesting but not mind-blowing. There are no moments in the game that stand out to me as hugely memorable, and I don’t believe I’ll look back on any segments of the experience in the future. It’s a shame as other aspects are delivered well, and it felt like it was setup for broad success in that vein.
I’m not sure if this is due to the foundation being hamstrung by the original novel or simply the delivery not having the intended impact, but, in the end, it landed mostly flat. I also need to call out what is hands-down the most abrupt ending to a game I can recall. Without spoiling anything, I was rather shocked when the credits rolled. It’s not that the loose ends weren’t generally tied-up, but rather that it came almost mid-conversation. It was rather odd and surprising.
Over the course of its 8-10 hours, The Invincible takes the player on a scientific journey of mystery and discovery. It’s a trip worth taking despite some frustrations, and I generally enjoyed my time exploring Regis III. I also hope that Starward Industries and 11-Bit Studios continue to explore this path of development in the future as I’d love to see more narrative adventures from them with further refinements. For now, I’ve left Regis III behind. May your journey be fruitful.
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