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March 2024

The Invincible

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Developer: Starward Industries
Release Date: Nov. 6, 2023


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PC Review - 'The Invincible'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 8, 2024 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

The Invincible is a first-person, single-player sci-fi thriller set in a retro-future timeline.

Any medium that dabbles in sci-fi tends to go for something fantastical. Anything bold and a little over the top with loads of action has come to define sci-fi for the masses. There is also a section of the genre that's dubbed as hard sci-fi, which tones down the spectacular elements and grounds things in realism while still exploring new concepts. "The Invincible" was published in 1964, and it was a hard sci-fi novel by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem; the title is often cited as both a forerunner to the genre as well as a philosophical work that pondered the results of rapid scientific advancements. While it was optioned to become a film at some point, it wasn't until a few years ago that it was released as a graphic novel. Now we have it in video game form, and while the adaptation isn't extremely faithful to the novel, it does serve as a nice complement.

You play the role of Yasna, a biologist that has woken up on the planet of Regis III. You have no recollection of how you got here, but your journal gives a slight hint. With your communication equipment in a slightly faulty state, you determine that the best course of action would be to reach the nearest campsite marked on the map. The initial mission spirals from being a simple rescue mission to figuring out the big discovery that the crew had made that led to them leaving the planet.

Those who have read the book will immediately notice that this isn't the same cast featured in the novel, as people like Rohan are never mentioned. The game is set up more as a prequel to that book; your crew belongs to a part of the Commonwealth, a group that stands in conflict with the Alliance, which the ship The Invincible is part of. Considering that this is meant to be that novel's precursor instead of a modern adaptation, it makes sense to continue with a futuristic interpretation of the Cold War, which was highly prevalent during that time period.

The story still hits on just about every major story beat from the book, including some of the more philosophical sections. Topics like the advancement of machinery and whether domination is always the answer are discussed but left open-ended rather than arriving at a solid conclusion. Fans of the book will note the similarities of the topics, and some of the twists are difficult to talk about without spoiling swaths of the tale. The new characters, slightly different scenarios, and the different endings make it enticing enough to have those people give this a look. For those unfamiliar with the book, the story is strong enough to get you interested in the source material, but it means that you'll come in with enough knowledge to immediately unravel the mysteries of the tale.

As noted in our preview a few months ago, The Invincible opts to go with the walking simulator genre. The game features no direct combat, typical action elements are kept to a minimum, and dialogue is at the forefront. Most of it is in service to the story, and there are plenty of opportunities for the player to lead the story into one of the several aforementioned endings. Aside from finding various hotspots to interact with, the game also gives you access to a number of tools to help you along the journey.

For the most part, the gameplay mechanics do their jobs well enough. Some players may be annoyed at Yansa's walking speed, as she isn't speedy, and sprinting isn't quite ideal since it means that her helmet fogs up quickly, but she also isn't so slow that the gameplay length (less than eight hours) feels artificially lengthened by it. You go faster once you find the space buggy, but driving it can feel disorienting since you're always seeing the inside of the car, and the windows don't give you much visibility to the road. The hotspot issue in the preview build seems to have been fixed, as locating and activating each spot aren't as sensitive as before, but there are still moments when you'll need to experiment with dials since they require more than a button press.

Initially, the use of tools seems cool. Considering that this is a future taken from the perspective of the 1960s in Eastern Europe, seeing things like spherical probes and clunky robots with simplified command systems is fairly cool. The same can be said for spectral graph readers, scanners that use LED lights to determine position and distance, and journals that use graph paper to map out the surroundings. However, you'll find that the tools only come in handy when the game decides to call on it. Try to use them at any other time, and they're useless, but the map has more utility, provided you're only moving forward. If you put it away to go in any other direction, bring it back up for navigation.

Dialogue selection is easy to use, and even though more than half of the choices run on a timer, it never feels like that timer goes too quickly. It also helps that the game tries to play with the test prompts by briefly changing them to Yansa's internal thoughts when necessary, such as seeing a wall that's too far to jump to and having the game display the words "Impossible" rather than a command to jump. That said, the system itself isn't so flawless. You have choices that run counter to something your character may say, but the next line goes back to their initial thought. Some dialogue sequences between yourself and your commander also run long, which may be fine, but the game doesn't stick with a method to handle this sort of thing. One moment it'll prevent you from interacting with anything else to prevent the dialogue from being interrupted. Other times, the game is fine with you messing with stuff, but you're almost trained not to do that for fear of missing out on important info, causing you to sit by for minutes while the characters eventually stop so you can finally trigger something. It needs some refinement with a few more patches.

Speaking of which, The Invincible also suffers from moments where progression feels stunted. The game tries to save often, but it feels like the checkpoint system isn't as refined; the game seems to save only a few moments after something significant happens, rather than the moment you complete the event. That might not seem so bad, except for the fact that the game sometimes handles transitions poorly. One sequence, for example, has the player using the probe to descend from a great height, but landing makes the screen black out. You can still move, but if you decide to restart from this point, the game makes you restart the sequence, which includes a hefty bit of dialogue. Move forward while you're blind and restart, and you'll discover that you weren't meant to be blinded in the first place, and the game saved after that sequence. The game doesn't do this kind of thing too often, but you are halted enough times — or blinded without explanation — that it is a testament to how arresting the story is since things like this would've dinged other games harshly.

The presentation is quite good overall. Despite being nothing but desert, the planet of Regis III looks gorgeous in a desolate way, and that contrasting beauty gets amplified the further you get into the game, when you discover inclement weather and a few other biomes. The same can't be said for character animations, which look off as mouths barely move and characters sway uncontrollably. The audio is in a similar state, as the music is sparse but gorgeous with sci-fi melodies that haunt and feel retro enough to belong in a serious sci-fi film adaptation of the time period. Most of the dialogue is good enough to keep you engaged, and the vocal performances fit the characters well, but the dialogue in some cut scenes is played at such a low volume that subtitles become a necessity if you want to get some of the more important details.

The game has already been marked as Verified for Steam Deck, and those owners will be happy to know that this isn't a mislabeled rating, especially since the game features no options to further tweak the graphics or performance. The game caps out at 30fps, and while some sequences make it drop frames, they aren't extended enough to significantly ruin the experience. The resolution hits the native 1280x800, but no anti-aliasing means that some of the things you see will be plagued with abundant jagged lines. It remains a sore spot in an otherwise good-looking graphical setup. As for battery life, you're looking at a little under two-and-a-half hours from a full charge. It's fine, but it really would've been nice to have some accessible in-game graphical options to tweak and extend it a bit.

Like any good walking simulator, The Invincible thrives on its story. Even though it feels similar to what the book already touches on, the differences are enough to make the game feel new and somewhat fresh, considering how many people may be approaching the game without prior knowledge of the novel. The decision to go with a walking simulator works as far as being able to effectively deliver the story, and it pays off with a gripping narrative, but some of the dialogue sections can run longer than expected. If you can live with some of the bugs that still need ironing out, you'll find this to be a fascinating experience that's well worth checking out if you're a genre fan.

Score: 7.5/10

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