Klei’s Invisible Inc. is what happens when you play some Barry Manilow, light a few candles, pour a glass of silky wine and put XCOM and Shadowrun in a room together. The love baby that follows nine months later is an exquisite blend of both games, making for an effective and fun turn based stealth experience.
I don’t believe Invisible Inc. is the first turn based stealth by any mean, but it is a relatively untouched genre (I bet you can’t name two of the games I’m thinking of. Metal Gear Ac!d and Ac!d 2). When developers do tackle it, it’s possible to get the formula pretty wrong, as per my gripes with another recently reviewed game. However Klei took their experiences building a stealth game in Mark of the Ninja and massaged it well into this new formula.
Let’s talk about how it works. You start off with two very expendable agents, Decker and Internationale, and your goal will often be getting them to a single objective and getting them out the map unscathed. The turn based combat is exactly like what you find in Harebrained’s Shadowrun and the latest XCOM, tile based movement, an action point system, and cover mechanics are all at play. The first noticeable change is that cover won’t mitigate damage as it does in the aforementioned games, rather it prevents your character from being spotted. In fact getting a lay of the land before you act is of utmost importance in Invisible Inc, this includes peeking through doors before opening them and hijacking security cameras to keep an eye rooms in your path.
Which brings us to Invisible Inc’s most unique mechanic and the one you’ll be abusing the most. An advanced AI program by the name Incognita. Quite literally the entire game is built around her, from the plot to building your player strategies around her abilities and limitations. Incognita takes you into a matrix type world where she can hack cameras, consoles, safes, you name it. You use Incognita to break down enemy “firewalls” and make their gear yours. Of course this doesn’t come without penalty, Incognita’s abilities require you use power or PWR. PWR can only be replenished by draining consoles or a few unique passive abilities such as Power Drip and Emergency Drip.
While you can initially use Incognita pretty liberally, the game throws more and more curve balls at you. For example a firewall might have a much maligned “Daemon” asigned to it that will punish Incognita and by extension, your party. You’ll also run into more and more traps that require you use Incognita’s abilities, from ground sensors to drones to turrets, so you must be very careful not to spend her powers willy nilly.
Of course the game goes deeper than just relying on Incognita. There are several different agents you can unlock over the course of gameplay, each coming with a different preset “augment” (for the cybernetically challenged, a technology boost grafted to their body) that gives them an initial unique use in battle. The Russian blonde bombshell Nika is built for combat, while former pop idol Prism is good for netting PWR return.
You shouldn’t get too comfortable with any one agent setup or loadout however. Don’t forget I said this game resembles Shadowrun and XCOM. Agents are built to die, and each session of Invisible Inc only lasts for an in-game “72 hours” or rather, six to seven missions. The idea is that in each session of Invisible Inc you’re preparing for an inevitable “war” with the corporations. The endgame is breaking into a heavily armed facility in order to upload Incognita to a stable interface. A full campaign can last anywhere between an hour to three depending on how fast you move, and each stage, set of missions and rewards is randomly generated. You’ll also likely be urged to spend your cash differently reach run, figuring out which stats and gear you favor on which characters while also sussing out what you want to load Incognita up with. This means the game will be different each time you play.
Well. Mostly different. There are certainly ‘most effective’ strategies to employ and synergies each agent works best with, but the good news is it will take you a few runs to figure out what works best. You’ll find yourself in no-win fail states often, especially on the game’s higher difficulties. Sometimes you’ll find it’s better to just cut and run on a mission, sacrificing your agents and gathering experience points rather than forcing yourself to continue on. Yes you are in for a few ragequit moments, but if you could hang in for XCOM you can hang in here. The real carrot on Invisible Inc’s stick is unlocking new agents and programs for use in future games.
There are some downsides to what’s otherwise a tightly designed game however. Said downsides also feel pretty major. One is the pure repetitiveness of missions, there are only so many mission ‘types’ to choose from, rescuing agents, buying gear, buying programs, finding credits. They all tend to revert to the same exact goal “find the MacGuffin and escape” which grants the game major diminishing returns in replay-ability. The real challenge then comes from pushing yourself to take it on against increasing odds. The game’s ending doesn’t really help either, once you beat it the first time you’re ‘treated’ to what’s a real bummer of an ending. The fact everything you do is going to work towards that one negative outcome kind of drains you on wanting to complete subsequent runs.
For that matter the story isn’t really ‘earned’ either. There’s a cutscene at the top, some randomly generated dialogue for the agents, a bit of the usual ‘maybe AI is a better Human than Human’ then the ending. Klei usually mimics the style of other movie genres to deliver their story. Shank was healthy doses of 70s Revenge exploitation movies and 80s action for example. However for something as dynamic as cyberpunk it feels as though the morals Klei was aiming for in Invisible Inc falls a little flat.
What you’ll find here is super tight gameplay in terms of its stealth and hacking mechanisms, with turn based gameplay so well oiled it actually makes Shadowrun look bad. I would suggest any cyberpunk fan, any stealth fan, any turn based RPG fan check this one out. However I also warn your mileage may vary, and while I was fine with the 20 dollar price tag I can understand waiting for a drop. I do wish a few levels gave us some alternate goals or more unique challenges since you can wise up to Invisible Inc’s tricks relatively quick. Still this is a well done game in a hard to master genre, and for that there’s major kudos to be granted.