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Invisible Inc. Review

by William Schwartz

Turn-based tactical strategy games aren’t necessarily the most action-packed affairs.  They require plotting and planning, and more thinking than doing.  A couple of years back, Firaxis hit the nail on the head with XCOM: Enemy Unknown for fans of the genre, and at the same time inspired Klei Entertainment’s Invisible Inc.  While the inspiration is clear, Klei’s entry into turn-based tactics is a game that focuses on stealth and covert operations deep behind enemy lines.  With the lessons learned from earlier releases like Mark of the Ninja on what it takes to make a great stealth game, and the feedback from a year-long Early Access release, Invisible Inc. is a fantastic twist on the genre, a mash-up the likes of which we’ve yet to see.

It doesn’t sound like the greatest idea in the world.  Turn-based Stealth? Where’s the tension? Just learn the patrol routes and wait for your move.  If Invisible Inc were that simple, it would be a boring game.  The good news is, it’s not.

The year is 2074.  In the world of Invisible Inc., corporations control everything.  Your team of special agents are in the business of stealing their information.  When your headquarters is raided by a corporate team of mercenaries, few survive.  You have 72 hours to save yourselves.  To do this, you’ll infiltrate corporate facilities using stealth and tactics to find tools and upgrades for your characters, rescue imprisoned agents, and earn credits to bolster your team and propel them to a successful final showdown with the corporate resistance.

Invisible Inc Review Gameplay Experienced Mode

At its most basic, Invisible Inc has you controlling no less than two characters on a tile by tile basis, looking to complete a main objective and then safely reach an extraction zone in a randomly generated map.  Each character has different starting abilities, and can be augmented with new ones throughout the campaign.  Some can cloak, some can hack terminals remotely, others are experts with firearms.  There are a number of characters that can be unlocked in Invisible Inc and each changes the game in their own way.  Players go from room to room, looking to avoid being seen by patrolling guards, cameras, turrets, sentries and other enemies looking to impede your progress.  Get in, get out, get the loot, and stay out of the vision cones.  If it were only that simple.

The primary objectives vary by mission type, but each level is littered with both opportunity and danger.  There’s a risk and reward mechanic at play in Invisible Inc, and it’s what makes this game so much fun.  Corporate vaults containing precious credits to upgrade your character, terminals that sell upgrades and items outright, these things can all help you stay alive longer in the long-run.  The problem is, in the short-run, the longer you stay on a level the harder it gets.

Invisible Inc plays out in two ways, and has you managing not only your characters on the ground, but an A.I. system called Incognita as well.  Both are extremely important in helping you survive. Your agents on the ground move from room to room, peeking around corners and carefully opening doors as to not alert any nearby or unseen security patrols.  As you uncover each map, the Incognita A.I. will be used to unlock vaults, terminals, and bypass different security systems like cameras and doors.  Again, there’s risk and reward in this system.  You only have a limited number of points to use with Incognita, and each unlock or bypass has a different point value associated with it.  Get greedy and unlock an expensive vault, and you just might not have enough points left over to shut down that security camera that sits ahead of your escape route.

You don’t have to stay hidden in Invisible Inc., though.  You can take out guards if you choose, ambushing them with a taser when they turn a corner.  You can take control of enemy sentry bots or turrets and turn them on your foes.  You can pick up a pistol or tranquilizer gun and do the dirty work yourself if you choose.  Taking out your enemies isn’t hard in Invisible Inc, it’s what happens after that which can screw up your best laid plans.  Increasing security.  That guard you just incapacitated may be discovered, sending an alert out on the level, which will bring more guards to deal with, more guards than you CAN’T deal with.  Just like Incognita, Agent abilities are on a cooldown.  Invisible Inc. is constantly requiring precision, and false moves almost always have consequences.

invisible-inc-stealth

When to use stealth and when force is needed is an aspect of the gameplay that feels really dynamic in Invisible Inc. As a player you are constantly weighing the risks and rewards of your actions, and in a turn-based game, making every move count is important in keeping the tension high.  The type of tension that good stealth games have is hard to come by, and it really all culminates and bubbles to a frothy finish in an extremely difficult final encounter.  Add to that the fact that levels are randomly generated and no playthrough feels the same in Invisible Inc.  Sure you’ll see the same cutscenes and hear the same dialog, but your journey is never the same.  Like XCOM, you choose which missions you want to partake in.  There are varying rewards for said missions, and again, the higher the difficulty the better the payoff.  You can earn important upgrades for your character.  You can take on rescue missions that will add characters to your party, or you can raid corporate coffers for cash.  It’s up to you how you want your 72 hour stand-off to play out, but by the end of it, you better hope you have the upgrades and team assembled that will be able to face the stiffest opposition of the game in the final encounter.

invisible-inc-mainframe

I started Invisible Inc. on Beginner Mode, and I couldn’t wait to play the next difficulty level.  While the easier modes allow you to make mistakes, forgiving you and allowing you to rewind the action or restart missions, the upper difficulties are far more taxing.  You’ll encounter high-level patrols, drones, and sentries, and your decision making skills will be put to the test.  Invisible Inc. is no pushover on the Experienced and Expert Modes, a couple of false moves can end your game session and force you start all over again.  Permadeath is a thing, and it makes each decision in Invisible Inc. that much more important, especially if you choose to play a mode that forgoes rewinds and do-overs.

For those that dig in, there’s a ton of modes in Invisible Inc.  The higher difficulty story modes for Experienced and Expert skill levels are the obvious progression for most players, but Advanced Modes like an extremely difficult Expert Plus Mode, is lying in wait once those are completed.  An Endless and Endless Plus mode can also be tackled, which both just keep getting harder and never end.  There’s also a time attack mode, which as you would expect, has you trying to get through levels quickly.  You can also tailor things to your liking with a custom game mode, allowing you to customize the number of rewinds, alarm increase increments, the length of the campaign, and a lot of other variables.  Playing through the game quite a few times for this review, and testing the different difficulty levels, there was a lot of variation between the modes, and none of the campaigns felt the same.

The Verdict

While not all Early Access stories are positive, Invisible Inc is an example of Valve’s controversial program done right.  Klei Entertainment’s evolution of stealth and risk reward mechanics have been polished to near perfection throughout this campaign, and feedback from the community has been a major part of that evolution.  Invisible Inc. is smart and stylish, and delectable for fans of stealth or strategy.

"loved"
loved

Invisible Inc.

  • Available On: PC, Mac
  • Published By: Klei Entertainment
  • Developed By: Klei Entertainment
  • Genre: Turn-based Strategy
  • US Release Date: May 12, 2015
  • Reviewed On: PC
  • Quote: "Invisible Inc. is smart and stylish, and delectable for fans of stealth or strategy."
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