The RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 11th: Invisible, Inc.

What is the best strategy game of 2015? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games from throughout the year, and behind today’s door is…

Invisible, Inc.!

Graham: Invisible, Inc. is TIGHT. It is TIGHT like Spelunky is tight. A carefully wound machine producing tension and drama and excitement, where every decision feels meaningful, where nothing is ever unclear, where risk and reward go hand in hand to create a superb, turn-based tactical stealth game. If you are the sort of person who cares solely about games as mechanics, as sets of carefully balanced systems, I suspect Invisible, Inc. would be your overall game of the year. I suspect it might be mine.

It wasn’t always so. The first version of Invisible, Inc. I played was too difficult, but worse it felt empty at its core. I wasn’t excited about the possibilities of its procedural levels, its squads of agents seemed fussy and unremarkable, and the hacking system felt like it added up to little more than simple locked doors.

Kudos to the early access process, then. I feel now that developers Klei always knew where they were going, but the success of the journey was defined by player feedback and endless testing. The level generation algorithm improved; the shapes of rooms, positions of exits, and distribution of intel and items teasing you into going too far and failing. What initially seemed like an oversimplistic hacking system eventually revealed itself to be one part of a design ethos that favours clarity; you always know the outcome of your actions before you commit to a move, meaning credit for success and failure resides solely within your own ability to model and think through the situation. Meanwhile, the agent roster expanded – and their unlocks, too – such that different configurations of characters can support different styles of play, and each new attempt at completing the game is an exciting opportunity to experiment with ideas you’ve had but haven’t tried. It doesn’t hurt that the characters are diverse and look cool, too.

Invisible, Inc. takes XCOM and turns it inside out, and is as crafty and thrilling a stealth or strategy game as I’ve played. TIGHT.

Alec: It’s been an excellent few years for XCOM-likes, but Invisible Inc is really the only one that I felt managed the tension as well as the mechanics. In fact, the mechanics are wildly different – this is a game of evasion, not confrontation. This is one of the reasons I like Invisible Inc so much: we’ve accepted for years that all turn-based games can be is armies versus armies, then this comes along and acts as though turn-based stealth had been happening all along.

That’s the thing about Invisible Inc: it seems so effortless, even though it’s quietly rewriting rules. All the choking tension of a real-time stealth game, with that panicked moment of what do I what do I do when you’ve been spotted somehow rendered all the more potent by the fact you have time to think. Because it’s not simply time to figure out a solution: it’s time to mentally map out all the things you could do and taking an extremely educated guess at how disastrously wrong they’re going to go. If I move there then… no. If I tase him then… no. It’s chess with spies more than it is XCOM, but so many more possibilities spin out of any given situation than in chess.

You have this handful of agents, each of which has their own box of tricks (and that box will likely change while you’re out in the field), and every one of those elements has its own butterfly effect. You don’t simply conjecture what’s going to happen this turn, but on the next one, the one after that, perhaps even all the way until the turn in which you make your escape. It’s just so finely-tuned, so brilliantly balanced to support all these possibilities, and to make every step feel so charged, so important.

Adam: Procedurally generated turn-based isometric stealth. That’s a thing that exists now, thanks to Klei.

Every once in a while there’s a game that shocks me into silence. I feel like I’ve written thousands of words about Invisible, Inc. but it turns out it’s one of those games that gets the silent treatment. That’s because I’m in awe of it. I love picking things apart – I’ve never built a game but I’ve broken a fair few down into their component parts – but I don’t want to understand this one. It’s a wonderful mystery.

The individual parts make sense and the structure is comprehensible, but the way that the whole thing hangs together so perfectly, even with the addition of the recent DLC, is unfathomable.

It’s the best turn-based game since Chess.

Go here for more of our picks for the best PC games of 2015.

25 Comments

  1. DrollRemark says:

    Really must play more of this. Only done one (and a bit) games and really enjoyed it.

    What I like about when the alarm does go off (and can’t rewind your way out of trouble) is the immediate “OH I AM SO SCREWED” feeling it elicits. Yet whilst you can obviously kiss any chance of completing your objective goodbye, you do still have a decent chance of escaping with your agents alive. You just have to run like hell. Such brilliant tension.

  2. anHorse says:

    I really like Invisible inc but after managing to finally complete it a couple of times I’ve felt absolutely no desire to go back to it.

    For whatever reason the procedural generation has led to a game that I find much less replayable than mark of the ninja, another excellent klei game but one with designed levels.
    There’s nothing to perfect, no template to learn on, instead I kind of stumble through every random level. Also doesn’t help that it’s prone to generating stuff like a locked door right next to an unlocked door that lead to the same area.

    Big thumbs up for creating a TBS that isn’t based around killing the enemy though.

    • haldolium says:

      I feel kind of the same there. It’s ambitious and by far not bad, but the stress and intense atmosphere it creates doesn’t justify itself and leads to becoming pointless after a few runs.

      I don’t know if its particular because of the level generation. It just didn’t satisfy me.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Same here. In a game such as Binding of Isaac (which I bounced off twice but have gone crazy over on my latest attempt prompted by Afterbirth) there is just so much stuff that you’re always going to be seeing new things, even if those are just fascinating new interactions between things you thought you were familiar with. It makes up for not being that well balanced by being so ridiculously huge, and this gives it replay value up the wazoo.

      Invisible Inc. doesn’t really have a great deal of variety in its builds, and even very different ones don’t really play that differently — maybe you have a little more time to sneak around, maybe you have a little more foresight, maybe have more answers to panicked situations, maybe you keep many guards unconscious rather than sneaking around them, maybe you can to disable electronics manually.

      Ultimately they are just small variations, like milk chocolate and dark chocolate, where other games feel like they have bubblegum and mint as possibilities (focusing on magic or crafting feels WAY different than raw combat in Dungeons of Dredmor, for instance). If you really like chocolate that’s great, there are no weird flavors mixed in to distract. But if you aren’t a superfan, one or two victories will probably do it for you.

  3. Shake Appeal says:

    The only videogame in existence for which “the best turn-based game since Chess” doesn’t seem like hyperbole.

  4. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    It’s excellent, but the difficulty/upgrade curve of the campaign still feels off. Generally (when things don’t go tits up) I get to a state where I can deal with everything a day or even two before the end, for example there aren’t any armour values above what my team can handle turning up, but then the final mission has a big jump in enemy armour seemingly so you’re forced to use a character they give you just for that mission. It kind of sticks out like a sore thumb when everything else is so well crafted.

    • jonfitt says:

      Yeah, the armour on the final level is a surprise. But once you know about it you can make try to get someone with some good AP skills as you go through the game.

      It’s not quite as punishing as FTL where a build that walks through the game will fail abysmally at the final boss.

  5. raiders says:

    Hmmm….maybe I’ll play this this weekend. I haven’t cracked it open yet. Damn GOG sale!

  6. Laurentius says:

    I must say I don’t like this game very much. It’s not bad at all but it is uncompatible with me. It’s too hard and stressful for being replacemnt for FTL and there is not enough “meat” to justify being involved with your agents, on par with let’s The Banner Saga. It is goingthis middle road that may appealing for many but left me disappointlgy cold.

    • jonfitt says:

      I love FTL too, but I found FTL a disappointing game to replay when you realise that you have to plan the entire build around that final boss. It ruined any sense of space adventure and made it stressful when you realised you were on level x and doing absolutely fine except you knew that you hadn’t got a key weapon yet.

      I found myself just cursing the RNG for not giving me what I needed. I don’t find that in Invisible Inc.

      • Laurentius says:

        I’ll leave FTL end Flagship tactics aside (though I disagree, if you can get to the boss it means you have a reasonable chance to beat it ) but for me FTL is this relaxing, non-commitment game that play itself whether I succes after an hour or fail after 15 minutes. Invisible Inc. feels to stressful to me to be this kind of game but also it doesn’t have enough meat to justify nerves and commitment.

    • Foosnark says:

      Same here, it just does not click with me. I thought I’d love it given how much I wanted “more Shadowrun”, but I just haven’t found any enjoyment in it.

  7. Banks says:

    Wonderful game, my personal favourite of 2015. Everything It does is bold, fresh and full of character and every move you make feels like a life or death decision.

    Invisible Inc is so delightfully inventive and so well crafted that It deserves to be a classic.

    Kley could’ve worked a bit more on making It more replayable, tough, and the armor piercing requirements for the final mission are nonsense.

  8. jonfitt says:

    I love Invisible Inc, but I’m not very good at it! I’ve played through a couple of times to completion on Beginner, but Experienced kicks my arse.

    The major difference for me is not the number of rewinds, but the increased difficulty of the Alarm states, and the more complex guard patrols.
    Those two things make it harder to go as fast, and punish you more for going slowly.

    I also love Incognita, but she’s a crutch I can’t do without. Her starting hacking PWR bonus and the augment that lets her see and hack machines further away and through walls is just invaluable. Why would you not take her!? You can hack bonus terminals in a room without spending 2 turns walking there, and you can spot a camera through a wall and use it to avoid having to go and peek at a door. So good.

    • Premium User Badge

      X_kot says:

      A good point about how the alarm and guard changes shift a player’s priorities. I was able to easily sweep entire buildings on Beginner, but the harder difficulties forced me to forsake many safes.

      I think you mean Internationale (the wireless hacker) rather than Incognita (the AI). She is really good, no question, although there is an item that replicates her ability, so she’s not completely indispensable. I’ve found Dr. Xu to be really strong – his localized EMP can safely open daemon-protected safes and destroy camera drones. Plus, unlike an EMP bomb, there’s no noise.

      • jonfitt says:

        Crap yes, Internationale of course. The item equivalent of her scanning power (Wireless Scanner II) is $900, requires hacking level 3, and doesn’t AFAIK allow you to also hack at a distance it just scans.
        Decker is a good agent, but I usually replace him and keep Internationale. His Cloak is about equivalent of a Cloak lvl 1.5, and his demon scanning is ok. Speed 2 is also good to start with.

        I’ll try Dr Xu, I think I rescued him once, but didn’t really use his power much. It sounds good.

        • jonfitt says:

          I didn’t realise that his EMP made safes openable. I just thought it was a way to skip past cameras and some drones etc. which I didn’t use. Just think of all the PWR I’d save opening safes, and not triggering daemons!

          • Arathain says:

            In my first and only campaign I rescued Xu pretty early on, but couldn’t kit him out with a taser or any other weapon for ages. It took me a couple of missions to work out what his EMP does, but once I did he never felt like a dead weight. So useful.

          • jonfitt says:

            Yeah, an EMP is a great way to build credits without spending PWR which can be hard to come by. Next play-through I’m taking him.

            I just finished a couple of play-throughs back to back one with the DLC, so I’m going to take a break for a while and maybe try shifting up from Beginner!

  9. Arathain says:

    I admire this game more than I enjoy it. Its deterministic nature is a problem for me- in a tense situation I spend too long trying to run through all possibilities, and analysis paralysis sets in. I also dislike how this interacts with the game’s fail states- if you can’t work out how to break line of sight you’re forced to either move or end turn and get shot. It feels pretty bad, especially if you suspect or know it’ll be a failure cascade from there on.

    I’m one of those folks who like dice rolls, because in last ditch circumstances I’d rather take a long shot on a desperate, unlikely plan than be guaranteed to fail.

  10. Caiman says:

    This was very good, but I feel like I’m over it now. What has kept my attention though is Chaos Reborn, I can’t seem to stop playing this after hundreds of hours. Very bizarre that RPS never Wot I Thunked it, and presumably it won’t appear in these awards either because of that. Missed one of the best games of the year.

  11. welverin says:

    This is one of the games I suspected might be chosen as THE game.

  12. Severian says:

    My game of the year. Brilliantly designed with a wonderful aesthetic.

    (Although I hate the difficulty of the last level in the campaign; I also don’t like suddenly having to juggle 2 more agents)

  13. Raoul Duke says:

    I find this game too… narrow. It is almost entirely unlike X-Com, the good (original) one I mean. For example, in X-Com, your soldiers are quite expendible and easily reconfigurable. Sadly, Invisible Inc has the same 2010s obsession with classes as many recent games and the bad (new) XCom’s deplorable “move-action” system.

    Furthermore, I find the ratcheting pressure induced by the alert level constantly rising ends up feeling like I’m not allowed to play the game my way. I would much prefer it if I could slowly, but surely, sneak my way through a base without worrying about 18 new guards spawning because I’m too slow.