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…
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.