Invisible, Inc. is the latest title from acclaimed indie developer Klei Entertainment (Don't Starve, Mark of the Ninja). A strategy game with a heavy emphasis on stealth and espionage; Invisible, Inc. is a challenging rogue-like that combines heightened tension with rapid turn-based gameplay, and it does so to great effect.
Taking place in a noir cyberpunk dystopian future where corporate rivalry is the face of modern warfare, Invisible, Inc. puts players in the role of 'The Operator'. The Operator must guide agents through corporate offices to the score and then on to safety. It starts off with the agency you work for being compromised by an enemy force, and you have just 72 hours to save the day; a hefty task for even the best Operator.
Along the way it's important to steal new technology, upgrade agent abilities and recruit new agents. To do this you lead existing characters as they infiltrate several highly guarded complexes, overcome deadly defence systems, navigate mazy corridors, and hack numerous systems.
It's a difficult task, made more so by the merciless alarm counter that increases with each turn. When the alarm hits Level 1 more cameras come online, at Level 2 security systems such as turrets come into play, at Level 3 new guards arrive; with each level tougher security measures enter the arena. The message is clear; whatever you have to do, you have to do it fast.
You start with two agents, though new recruits can be gained with every play-through. Each agent has unique skills so finding the characters that suit your play-style is mostly trial and error. Make good progress in the campaign and more agents can join your squad. The maximum number of playable agents peaks at four. Having more agents is usually a good thing but it can make your sleuthing a little harder. Then again, each agent is downed by a single shot so having spares can be the fine line between success and failure.
How you deploy agents is entirely up to you. Perhaps you'll split them up in an effort to breach multiple rooms and recover the most loot. Not a bad approach, but it risks agents being isolated and easy prey for the ever vigilant guards and defences. Maybe you'll adopt a more cautious approach, using one character as a point-man with another backing them up in anticipation of the inevitable difficulties ahead.
Successful infiltrations unearth valuable resources, technologies, weapons or money (which is used to upgrade agents' stats or purchase new equipment). Gaining these resources is essential to a successful campaign, however mission objectives aren't always easy to complete. When the alarm counter is about to reach Level 4 and there's an abundance of guards, drones and cameras between you and your prize, do you cut your losses and run, or risk losing everything for a chance to escape with a new toy?
Agents carry an arsenal that can include items like medical gels, shock traps, cloaking equipment and guns. Guns are really only to be used as a last resort though. A successful shot will halt a guard's patrol, but will also attract other guards to your location and significantly increase the alarm. Later, some tools can be unlocked that cancel out the alarm effects of firing a pistol or rifle, but this is a game about smarts and stealth, not combat.
Agents can peek around corners or through doors to get an idea of what dangers are ahead, can set traps, hack systems, plot on ambush, or break into a risky run. Choices are abundant but movement is limited by Action Points. Almost every interaction costs points. When spent you can do little more but end your turn and hope you haven't made any life threatening blunders.
Because the levels are procedurally generated luck often plays a key role. To escape a building you have to find the elevator hidden somewhere on the map. Sometimes these are easily located, other times they appear impossibly far away. Hacking safes seems smart, but it's impossible to know what the pay-off will be. Each hack costs power, an important resource for system hacking. It might be better to disable some cameras or hack a drone. Then again, who can resist cracking open a safe?
Invisible, Inc. has earned comparisons to Xcom, a game we're very fond of here at Gamereactor, and in a lot of ways the comparison is apt. Gameplay and presentation are similar, both are isometric, turn based strategy games. Both require careful planning and inventory management. Failure is a realistic possibility in both. But where Xcom was largely about combat, Invisible, Inc. is mostly about stealth, and where Xcom required a significant investment of time, Invisible, Inc. is snappy and can be run through in a few hours per campaign.
Players needn't worry about getting their money's worth though. Beating the campaign once doesn't mean there's no reason to come back. There's three standard difficulty settings and for those masochistic types, a further 'Expert Plus' difficulty. There are a number of gameplay tweaks that can be implemented. Tweak the settings to your preference, or just experiment. The variety of options can make a new campaign feel like playing a very different game. It's possible to set the variables as such that the game poses no real challenge at all. Although this is a fun way to explore the mechanics and equipment we don't recommend doing this as it completely saps the enjoyment out of masterminding the perfect infiltration.
Both animation and audio are impressive. The voice acting is good. The swishes of doors, electronic hums of machinery, explosions, and thuds of falling guards all contribute to well-rounded audio presentation. The soundtrack, though a bit repetitive, suits the atmosphere and bops away completely unobtrusively. Animation and aesthetic design are sharp, angular and cartoonish. It's fair to compare it with some of the better television animation of the last three decades. Unfortunately environments do look a bit too similar. At one point a character called Decker commented: "All these buildings look the same." We don't disagree.
Another minor complaint is that the story gets a bit repetitive. It never changes, and due to Invisible, Inc. focusing on speedy, trial and error gameplay the short campaign begins to feel like eating the same dish for every meal. Even if the dish is superb, we all appreciate a bit of variety every now and then.
Those minor concerns aside, it's hard to find much we didn't enjoy about Invisible, Inc.. It's a tough challenge (as long as you don't break it by tweaking the settings), and an incredibly rewarding experience. Every attempt to conquer the campaign is hugely enjoyable, even if the story doesn't stay as fresh as the action.