Space, the final frontier. A phrase etched into my brain when any other astronomical media is under my consumption. The result of such space-related video games; be it Dead Space, and more recently Fort Solis often begs the age-old question, just because we can, does it mean we should? The Invincible tackles this in a similar way. Adapted from the book of the same name by Stanisław Lem – a writer known for his works in science fiction that often tackled philosophy and futurology.
Starward Industries has kept those themes alive, though the plot veers into new territory as it focuses more on original characters. The game plays as a first-person narrative adventure with a distinct retro-futuristic art direction reminiscent of the classic Weird Science comics or a more adjacent comparison would be the Fallout series. But how does The Invincible execute the mission? Is it shooting for the stars, or did I have a fallout of my own? Let’s get into it.
You play as astrobiologist Yasna as she wakes up in the middle of nowhere on a planet we quickly discover is called Regis III. Stranded from your crew mates and without any short-term memory you have no idea how you got there, your main mission is to survive, find your crew and get the hell out of dodge.
With the help of your journal, you find your way back to camp and reinstate contact with your captain (Astrogator), who is up in orbit relaying the mission status. Everyone’s gone radio silent within your crew, some of your equipment isn’t functioning and you’re running low on oxygen. What starts off as a walking simulator with tense stakes from the jump turns into a task of discovery.
The game’s intrigue is solely on the very slow unfurl of what kind of planet Regis III is. Promotional material has made the game feel tonally suspenseful, and whilst there is some of that here, the game has incredibly lacklustre pacing. Outside of a couple of instances where your tools aid you in your objectives, you are mostly walking, talking and reading a myriad of texts.
The voice acting of both Yasna and the Astrogator are great and their back and forth between Yasna’s witty sarcasm and the Astrogator’s straight but caring demeanour are superb. Whilst there is an existing relationship here that we are peering into, we are on a mission. The scientists use a lot of jargon, so if you’re like me, it may go over your head. However, I never felt lost in the plot or the discoveries and what they mean and I think that’s a testament to the overall writing.
A Star War
There’s a lot thrown at you in terms of the lore, factions at each other’s throats and general politics, but thankfully the game’s run time is seemingly long for a title of this genre, giving enough time to let information ruminate. As I’ve mentioned, The Invincible’s bulk of gameplay is walking around, which you do in a semi-linear fashion. There are usually two ways to the same destination, each with respective things to discover. On top of that, your choices in dialogue and actions do dictate the direction of the story to a point.
As far as I’m aware the journey is ultimately the same but the end could go a few ways, leading to multiple playthroughs if you want to trophy hunt. My first impressions were extremely high; the skyboxes were breathtaking, as you see orbiting planets varying in hues that reflect off your surroundings. The barren landscapes are intricate in design – feeling otherworldly, and the atompunk art direction is astonishing, from the tech you and your crew use, the robots you encounter and the spaceships.
However, the further I got into the game, the rougher the edges became. The general movement when it comes to exploring the later areas or traversing the terrain is undeniably clunky. Sprinting is directional and frustrating to manoeuvre and animations had a jank very similar to Bethesda RPGs. There were no major problems outside of one black screen, but the pretty first impression dwindled to just fine. Audio glitches like my rover sounding like I’m running over a field of pedestrians, on top of NPC dialogue being so quiet, even when I adjust the settings were glaring.
No One Can Hear You Scream
The aforementioned litany of issues plague the third act. It’s not usually an aspect I find bothersome but when your movement is so slow and the build-up of functionalities are not working as intended, the pace really started to wane as I progressed. Couple this with a bloated plot that’s exacerbated by the meandering movement I was excited to get to the conclusion as soon as possible.
The credit is due to the source material for providing such a rich world, but Starward Industries definitely created a great cast with excellent dialogue which kept me engaged. You may fall in love with it too, don’t expect something dark and overtly thrilling, but the hard science fiction influence and philosophical and theoretical questions it proposes are interesting to ponder.
I get a similar feeling after watching documentaries where it’s usually the start of a long road of internet searching of essays and practitioners that expand on the themes. Not every game can be so enthusiastic on such subjects without alienating an audience if you’re not interested, but The Invincible has something special in that regard.
This is only reinforced by the deeply atmospheric soundtrack by Brunon Lubas. The looming synths bring a moody tone that juxtaposes the vibrant landscape of Regis III making it an exciting hard science fiction adventure. Like my comparison to Weird Science, there are also storyboards with very similar artistry that depict the story as you progress, letting you read through it from start to finish if you wish. It’s a really neat detail to the overall presentation that I think is criminally underutilised in execution as I barely came across it when playing unless I sought after it.
Overall, I had fun playing The Invincible. It’s a very competent adaptation of the source material as it gets what Stanisław Lem was going for and then injects some well-realised characters into the mix. The art direction and execution of the environments are graphically amazing, even if the animations and characters are a little stinted.
There is a photo mode in the most rudimentary of ways as you can only change the position of the camera and only during certain instances (whenever you’re not interacting with something), but it’s nice to see the wonderful planet from a different perspective. If The Invincible played better and had fewer technical flaws I would have forgiven the poor pacing and the sometimes pointless backtracking, but it’s still an entertaining game if you’re a fan of science fiction.
The Invincible crash lands out of excellence as it’s overall technically flawed. However, the contents of the story, the themes it explores and the general art direction make for a great sci-fi title. If you can get over the less-than-stellar controls and bloated plot, you may just witness a shooting star, but maybe don’t make a wish on it.
The Invincible is available 6th November for PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series X|S & One and PC via Steam.
Developer: Starward Industries
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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