Also On: Xbox, PlayStation
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Developer: Starward Industries
A sprawling planet with a dark mystery to solve. A brilliantly written and acted protagonist on a journey of both self-discovery and rescue. An exceptional retro-futuristic Sci-Fi experience that is simultaneously fantastical and grounded. A mysterious sense of dread that creeps under your skin and insists you continue forward. All of these things are the core of what makes The Invincible such a great game, all present under some of the best art direction and environmental designs of the year. In a year with some absolute juggernauts contending for game of the Year, it would be a shame to miss out on The Invincible.
The Invincible starts in the middle. You wake up on Regis III as Yasna, a biologist with no memory of how exactly she ended up on the planet. The last she remembers, she was orbiting from their spaceship while the rest of the crew was on world gathering data. The rest of the game has Yasna searching to discover what exactly happened while experiencing flashbacks and rushes of memory that help fill in the gaps.
Gameplay is incredibly simple in The Invincible, and that is not a bad thing. The term “walking simulator” gets thrown around a lot, sometimes correctly and sometimes not, but I feel deeming The Invincible one would be doing it a disservice. Loosely based on the 1964 novel of the same name written by Polish author Stanislaw Lem, The Invincible is an exploration simulator. I have seen the term “Firewatch in Space” thrown around a bit, and I feel that is pretty close to spot on. No game since Firewatch has so deeply gripped me and drawn me into the world it asks me to explore. While I feel The Invincible stands on its own, with numerous merits that separate it from Firewatch, they are very much in the same genre. Both games seek to entice you and reward your curiosity as you play.
There is no combat in The Invincible. You spend your hours here seeking out the lost members of your team, piecing together your memories of what happened prior to your arrival on the surface, and uncovering the dark secrets that Regis III holds for you and your crew. Yasna spends the majority of the time speaking to either herself or the Astrogator in charge of the mission. This dialogue can be a bit heavy-handed at times, but I am actually in favor of it in this case, as it helps ensure that all players are grasping the concepts that the book lays out. It doesn’t beat you over the head with the message, but it does make it abundantly clear. In addition to the dialogue, there is plenty of silence in which to explore and simply take in the world around you. An extremely limited, nearly non-existent HUD makes that exploration key, and some players may find the “seek and find” method of progression a bit tedious, but I adored it. Everything is trial and error, and while the game is mostly linear, there are several opportunities to get turned around and lost while seeking the next objective. This further enhances the immersion of the the game and helped draw me in right away.
I mentioned the art direction and the environmental design in my opening paragraph, but it deserves a paragraph of its own here. Regis III is astoundingly beautiful, while also being mostly barren and clearly semi-hostile. Starward Industries has crafted a planet and a universe that manages to feel both oppressively lonely and completely lived in. Some of the story here is given to you in the form of comics, which can also be used to recap portions of the game you have completed, allowing you to go back and basically read the “story so far” of what choices you have made in the game. This is another small but important touch, that further enhances the draw of The Invincible to me.
The Invincible slowly introduces its retro-futuristic tools as you progress through the story, tools that manage to fit the game from both a setting and a gameplay standpoint. What I mean by that, is that while they feel specifically included to add a level of depth to a game which could have easily fallen into the trap of “over-simplicity” that some games within this genre do, the tools all feel completely at home in the narrative, and their use fits the story completely. This allows the player to engage with the world in a deeper and more meaningful way, while also not having the immersion broken by anything that stands out as too “gamey”, if that makes sense?
At the outset, the art style and Sci-Fi setting from the trailers had me sold on wanting to try this game out. Couple that with the idea of it being similar to Firewatch, a game that I adore, and my excitement to try The Invincible out was high. Once I started the game, I was so thoroughly pulled into the world and the story that I could not stop playing it. I spent almost 9 straight hours with The Invincible and was not ready for it to be over once I reached the end. Luckily, there are branching choices that impact the narrative in increasingly important ways, which gives me more than enough reason to start back up at the beginning and play through the game again.
The Invincible stands out as the best space exploration game of 2023, and yes, I understand the statement that I am making there. It is not a dig against any other games that may have come out this year and also focused on space exploration, but rather a celebration of what the team at Starward Industries has managed to accomplish with The Invincible. 2023 has been a juggernaut of a year as far as incredible game releases go, (while also being an awful year for the people making games, with over 6,000 layoffs in the industry and counting) and it would be easy for The Invincible to get lost in the shuffle. I am here to beg, to implore you, to INSIST that you take the time to check out The Invincible if it looks like something you would even be remotely interested in. I have not stopped thinking about this game since finishing it, and I think it deserves a place at the top of any “End of the Year” list for best games.
Note: 11 bit studios provided us with a The Invincible PC code for review purposes.