Artful Dodging: Why Invisible, Inc.’s Rewind Button Is Great

Are you the kind of person who finds the stealthy route through every Deus Ex level, and who strives to ghost and no-kill every Dishonored level? Me too, but recently I’ve started to realise there’s a cost to playing this way. A perfect ghost run requires just that: perfection. Being spotted is a blemish on my record that I just can’t abide – so the second a guard sounds the alarm or raises their weapon, my finger is on the quick-load button, breaking the flow of my own experience and snapping the fiction of whatever game I’m playing.

But Invisible, Inc. [official site] does something miraculous. It solves that problem with a single button, because when my favourite agent finds themselves at the business end of a guard’s semi-automatic with no chance of escape, there’s always another option: rewind.

That might sound counter-intutive – the solution to habitual reloading is a reload button? When Klei introduced the Rewind feature in the game’s sixth update, a good few months into Early Access, the community reaction was similarly bemused. I remember, because I was one of them.

Up until that point, the game had stuck pretty closely to the roguelike formula: procedurally-generated levels, randomised loot, and permadeath. The addition of rewinds looked like it might water down an compellingly tough game and, worse, rob those irreversible decisions of their impact.

But the key to rewinds’ success is that they’re limited. Three times per level, on the default difficulty mode, you can scrub the last turn-and-a-bit from the record and try something different.

This helps plaster over your small mistakes, including those caused by shortcomings on the game’s part. The first time a fat-fingered button press sends an agent to their death, or a cluttered bit of UI has you confusing open space for cover, you’ll be grateful it’s there.

But better still, because the rewinds are a finite resource (at least, as long as you don’t go fiddling in the mission settings) pressing that button itself becomes just another kind of irreversible decision. This isn’t some neatly-placed quicksave that you can return as many times as you like. At Expert, the number of rewinds available drops to one and using it becomes an extension of the same system of risk/reward that underpins all your other tactical decisions.

Do you really want to use up your only rewind on a silly mistake you could still bounce back from? The game dangles the option of easy escape, but pushes you to hunt for any other available way out of the situation.

It’s in these moments that Invisible, Inc. shines. As in any roguelike, it’s perfectly satisfying to run around hoovering up loot and not dying, but it’s only when stuff starts to goes wrong that the game becomes capable of setting fire to your brain. For example:

Jolie ‘Banks’ Murphy is sneaking past two heavily-armed Obake drones with the help of her newly-acquired cloaking device when it suddenly cuts out. Turns out she didn’t read the label properly – it’s only good for one turn’s worth of invisibility. Both drones turn towards her, arm their weapons and click into overwatch mode. There are no hiding places left, and her supposed partner, the cyborg psychopath Adam Sharp, has already strolled into the level’s exit teleporter and flipped the switch.

What do you do? You might:

a) Flip into Incognita mode and spend almost your entire stock of PWR to hack one of the drones and use it to take down the other so Banks can flee.

Oh, bugger. Turns out the bot you didn’t hack is a 2.0 model, with armour plating that your puny robo-gun won’t even dent. Rewind!

b) Empty your actual entire stock of PWR to hack the 2.0 drone, and commander its weapons.

Success. The smaller bot is torn to pieces… but the shots attract the attention of guards in the adjacent rooms, who next turn will come skidding through both doorways and immediately spot the exposed Banks, stood in the middle of an open-plan office. Rewind!

c) Give it a few minutes of serious, chin-stroking thought before a light comes on somewhere in the back of your brain: that EMP pack you’ve been carrying the whole game and never used!

The drones collapse to the floor without a sound. Banks sprints to the exit, flips the switch, and teleports back to base to give Sharp a black eye. You take a sip from the cup of tea that has been going cold next to the keyboard, celebrating a job well done, and thank Control you’re playing at a difficult setting that has more than one rewind.

This is Invisible, Inc. at its absolute best, in which you’re playing right on the knife-edge of failure before pulling it back. Escaping a level knowing you were just one step away from total failure, the alarms pushed as deep into the red as they’ll go, one agent slumped unconscious in the teleporter and half a dozen guards advancing on your position as you flick the switch… That’s magnificent.

When you manage to pull it off, there’s an incredible sensation that you managed to pluck out the only possible solution from a haystack of failed attempts. Rewinding doesn’t undermine that sensation, it reinforces it. It’s not too dissimilar to the way Life is Strange’s own rewind feature – as broken down in Marsh’s recent Fail Forward video – actually improves on the Telltale format of big binary choices by letting you see both sides of the story.

Because Invisible Inc allows you to make a set of choices, see they’re a dead end, then back up and turn a different corner instead, you get to see more ways you could’ve failed. It just makes your eventual solution – to a randomly-generated problem, remember, that only you have ever encountered – feel even more unique.

And when it doesn’t come off, and you screw it all up a third time, only spotting the perfect solution as your final agent goes down for good? Well, that’s just a good excuse to fire the game up all over again.

Invisible, Inc. is our Game of the Month for June, which means we think it’s the one game you should play right now if you only have time to play one game. Read our Verdict for more on why.

12 Comments

  1. Funso Banjo says:

    While Invisible Inc is a great game that I love, and may be GOTY for me so far, I have to grumble that you pick a game from early May as your GOTM for June.

    It bugs the rigid perfectionist in me that you let the ball drop in this regard :(

    • Superpat says:

      It makes sense to pick a game thats been there a little longer, since it proves that they have bigger staying power.

    • dsch says:

      It’s not like they explain why every single time they post a GOTM.

  2. Donkeyfumbler says:

    How many times do they have to say it before it will sink in? The game of the month has to be one you can play for the whole month (so released at least the previous month, if not even earlier than that if there is no obvious candidate from the directly preceding month).

    This is their choice (and fine by me) because it is their site and no moaning from those people so rigid that they can’t quite get their head around the fact that the game of the month for June was not actually released in June. It’s not rigid perfectionism by the way – it’s pedantic over-obsession.

    • Hebrind says:

      It’s like how paper magazines in the UK work (or at least my experience of ones from Future Publishing).

      I remember reading PC Gamer, PCZone and N64/NGC in June and them being billed as “July” or even “August” in some cases, due to publishing rules or something.

      This is how these endorsements work – they’re published as “June” even though it’s a game released in May. That’s how I get my head around it anyways. Makes sense.

  3. SlimShanks says:

    I was under the impression that pedantic over-obsession was a hallmark of RPS, in regards to both the writers and commenters.
    Also I look forward to playing this game.

  4. Shadow says:

    Great article. I fully concur. Klei did well to transform something external like save reloading into an internal mechanic which feels like a legitimate, normally limited resource as opposed to a dodgy way to cheat out of consequences.

  5. horsemedic says:

    But once you stop making noob* mistakes like forgetting you have an EMP and misunderstanding how cloaks work, rewind makes the game too easy.

    Like all second-chance mechanics, it encourages you to think less as you get more experienced. Are you 100% sure that a guard isn’t going to walk into that newly discovered room if you enter it? No? Well, 75% is probably good enough if you have a rewind to spare. So go ahead and rush in.

    Once I got the gameplay basics down, I only failed a few times. Even my first endless plus run was a cinch with rewinds.

    After turning rewind off, I rarely make it past the first day. But I’m having the time of my life trying to. It’s like everything up to this point has been the tutorial.

    Without the rewind crutch, I have to move so cautiously that I’m forced to ration out every drop of power at every point in the mission. I’m making decisions like whether I can afford to hack a juicy safe (or afford to pass it by); not whether I should spam all my surplus PWR to get myself out of a jam. With no room for error, I might need to use one agent to cleverly distract a guard for several turns while the second slowly siphons a vault code. Or one agent might need to intentionally draw the attention of three pissed off enforcers, and possible die, so the other agent can get to the exit. These are far more interesting solutions that “oh, I have an EMP. Good thing I got three attempts to remember.”

    Rewind’s a great difficulty adjuster, but you’re really missing out on a brilliant game if you don’t turn it off at some point.

    *Not judging, but those are undeniably noob mistakes.

    • Shadow says:

      That wasn’t quite my experience. Once I became savvy enough, I merely forgot about the single rewind I had, and never really sank into a “oh, I have an unused rewind, let’s do something reckless” mindset.

      I always played on Expert and even survived 10+ days in Endless Mode. Rewinding saved me a couple of times during the latter, but I never felt it was making things too easy: I still played very carefully and didn’t rewind in most missions after a certain point. When I was aware that I still had my rewind, I always opted to save it for an emergency, as opposed to blowing it on something crazy simply because I could.

      Now, if you’re playing with more than a single rewind, then sure, I can see it becoming quite easy, as a veteran makes a single mistake every few missions at worst. For instance, having three rewinds means you can go crazy twice and save one for an actual emergency -per mission-, and that’s far too much leeway. Even two rewinds is too much.

      • horsemedic says:

        Fair enough. Everyone plays differently and maybe I’m naturally inclined to cheese :)

        But if you haven’t tried it yet, I’d turn ironman on just to feel it out. I was surprised by how many bad habits I’d picked up because I had it.

        I’d love to see an update or mod that lets you set rewinds per campaign, rather than mission. If I only had one or two for my entire run I might be more reverent about them.

  6. RProxyOnly says:

    Hmm…

    I never play stealthy because frankly it IS all about ‘perfection’ and I don’t have the patience to constantly wait for the optimal time to make my all of my moves and I never saw he point in savescumming it because all I’d be doing was cheating myself to get a result that I couldn’t fail on if done that way so I wasn’t actually accomplishing anything, and I was always curious about the mindset of those who would and could pull off such a feat….

    .. but if it really does just come down to savescumming the game for most players, then what’s the point in such gameplay at all, it doesn’t make one a better player, of give one bragging rights to do this.

  7. Banks says:

    I too was worried at the beginning but It ended up being a fantastic addition. You can only undo silly mistakes, which is helpful for beginners, and It also offers a super challenging second chance when you’re obvioulsy going to lose and you have all the odds against you.

    Lovely game, I’ve played for more han 50 hours and I still find every second inmensely engrossing.

    The final mission is bollocks tough.