The Invisible Hours review for Xbox One, PS4, PC

Platform: Xbox One
Also On: PS4, PC
Publisher: GameTrust
Developer: Tequila Works
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

If you?re a glass half-full kind of person, you might look at The Invisible Hours as being an attempt at showing what video games can really do. Like Tacoma last year, the game is built around the recognition that, unlike any other medium, games take place in their own three-dimensional (or, if you count time as a dimension, four-dimensional) space, which opens up all kinds of narrative possibilities. Just because one action is happening in one part of a game world, it doesn?t mean that other important actions can?t be taking place simultaneously elsewhere. You can kind of see games like GTA or Just Cause hint at these possibilities, when you come across people doing weirdly random things, but games like The Invisible Hours and Tacoma really take it to its logical conclusion.

In the case of The Invisible Hours, this means you get to watch a murder mystery unfold from multiple angles. Sure, you can just watch the detective doing his thing, trying to solve the case as he walks around the spooky mansion on an isolated island — but doing so means that you miss out on all the conversations and plans being hatched everywhere else at the same time. Luckily, you can rewind and fast-forward to make sure you don?t miss anything — and, given all the little dramas unfolding at any given moment, those are controls that you?ll be making ample use of during your time with game. Basically, if you?ve ever read a mystery novel and wished you could know everything else that?s happening as the story follows one plot strand or another, this game is the answer to your wish.

At least, that?s the optimistic way of looking at things.

The more pessimistic — or, as I like think of it, the more realistic — way of looking at The Invisible Hours is that while the underlying idea is interesting, the game doesn?t really do much with it. The murder you?re trying to solve (that of Nikola Tesla, of all people) is kind of interesting at first, but the story suffers as it piles absurdity upon absurdity. I?m not going to spoil who did it, or, more importantly, how, but I will say that the solution is…kind of stupid, to be honest. Stupid in a way that probably should?ve been expected from a game that?s built on the idea of Tesla being murdered in a spooky mansion on a deserted island where one of the prime suspects is Thomas Edison.

Just to be clear, I have nothing against absurdity. Done right, it can be fun. But it requires a lot of other things to go right, and that?s not what happens here. The voice acting is kind of mediocre, and the character animations are kind of ugly. In a game that?s all about presentation, those things matter.

I should probably expand on that last sentence, because it captures what I suspect many people?s biggest problem may be with the game. When say that The Invisible Hours is all about presentation, I mean that the game is literally presented to you. You?re just here as an idle observer. You can read letters or look more closely at objects, but nothing you do has any bearing on anything that unfolds in front of you. The closest you get to being a part of the action is when you happen to pick the correct person to follow just before a major plot point involving them takes place. It?s not just that the game doesn?t give you any agency, it?s that your agency in The Invisible Hours doesn?t even exist, since you?re not a character, nor are you influencing the characters.

As I said to begin: the idea underlying The Invisible Hours is really cool, and it?s not hard to see how more could be done with it in the right hands. Unfortunately, that?s just not the case here.

GameTrust provided us with an Invisible Hours Xbox One code for review purposes.

Grade: C+