The Invincible Review – Houston, We Have A Big Problem

The crew of the Dragonfly, a small research unit and part of the Interplanetary Commonwealth, is getting ready to return to Earth after a long research expedition. The crew of six have successfully visited and explored numerous planets, but before they set off there is one last mission. Astrogator Novik takes it upon himself to extract a rare and extremely valuable mineral, but breaks his leg during the retrieval. Despite the accident, the crew still celebrate their accomplishments and then enter their hibernation chambers for the journey home. The crew’s astrobiologist, Yasna, suddenly wakes up on a strange, desert planet with no memory of how she got there and no communication with her crew mates. The last thing she remembers is the celebration and getting ready to journey home to Earth. So how did she end up here and where is the rest of the crew? With nothing to go by but some confusing mission notes, Yasna sets out to find the rest of the crew and also piece together her memories.

Starward Industries’ The Invincible is, at heart, a walking simulator and anyone who isn’t a fan of this genre should avoid playing it unless you’re ready to be purely in it for the storyline – which is fully worth sticking around for. The gameplay is very minimal and what is present needs some work. You’ll find yourself fascinated by the planet Yasna has woken up on and the mysteries it holds and have an urge to explore further and uncover more. However, the increasingly frustrating walking mechanics where you’re constantly bumping into invisible walls, running out of stamina after five seconds of jogging (why is there even a stamina mechanic in a walking simulator?!) and Yasna’s breath fogging up the screen and seriously obstructing your vision will certainly test your patience.

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Yasna wakes up on Regis III with no recollection of how she got there and what she was doing.

What’s more, the amount of button prompts for very minor interactions gets irritating very quickly too, especially when there’s no clear direction of what you need to do for certain actions. Okay, so I’ve put my hand on this lever to open the door but which way am I pulling it?! I also found that the interaction option would lag for a while before appearing, confusing me as to why I’m clearly being prompted to climb something or open a door, yet I’m not being given the option to do so.

Later on, you’ll come across a buggy and feel a bounce of joy that the walking has finally come to an end, only to find the driving mechanics are just as frustrating. There’s no reverse function, so if you’re not going to make a sharp bend you have no choice but to proceed to drive into a wall and hope the buggy bounces off and points you in the right direction.

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Yasna will need to piece together the story of Regis III and her lost memory by reading over any research notes collected on her journey.

Thankfully, this is where my criticisms of The Invincible come to an end. It’s just unfortunate that they all apply to the gameplay. As mentioned above, do not play The Invincible if you’re hoping for anything other than a walking simulator. Thankfully, I’m a big fan of walking simulators as I often just want to immerse myself into a story for a few hours.

And the story is where The Invincible really shines. Acting as a prequel to Stanisław Lem’s 1964 sci-fi novel of the same name, The Invincible is set in a futuristic world where a competitive space race is taking place between two rival factions, the Interplanetary Commonwealth and the Cosmosolidary Alliance, each equipped with different levels of technology. The main drive of The Invincible’s story is finding out what happened to the Dragonfly’s crew, why Yasna has lost her memories and the biggest question of them all: why is this planet, Regis III, unable to sustain life?

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Regis III is equipped with all the components needed for a planet teeming with life… so why is it so desolate? 

Straight away, Yasna is a very likeable character. She’s witty, intelligent and also has a realistic thought process for her situation and how she’s going to get out of it. Not once was I frustrated that she wasn’t considering something obvious or trying all her options. Yasna and her situation are well-written and she didn’t fall victim to the classic survival story stupidity that often has people shouting at the screen when the character does something idiotic. It also helps that we’re given a choice in a lot of moments where this frustration would occur – should we drink the water from Regis III if we’re assured that it’s filtered? It’s up to you.

The adventure aspects of The Invincible were the only gameplay mechanic that worked well. There’s actually quite a few endings to unlock and a few of them took me by surprise as they were as a result of a choice which I didn’t even realize would affect the ending so much. You’re also given dialogue options which can also make a big difference to how conversations pan out.

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Why did Yasna and her crew land on Regis III when their research mission was seemingly over?

As you play The Invincible, a comic strip is gradually drawn out illustrating your story so far, including your choices. I thought this was a really nice touch, tapping into The Invincible’s retro sci-fi design and 1960s novel origin while also offering a neat reference to go back on when you want to remind yourself of what’s happened so far.

Most of the dialogue in The Invincible occurs between Yasna and Astrogator Novik once she gains communication with him, who remained on the Dragonfly due to his broken leg. Novik’s main purpose in The Invisible is to guide Yasna on her journey as her supervisor, and he too is an incredibly likeable character and worked really well as a comforting voice during tense storyline moments. Both voice actors do a brilliant job at portraying these characters and the dialogue between them invoked some really thought-provoking topics that further captivated me into the story behind Regis III.

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As the story pans out, a comic strips is drawn up to show you your choices so far.

That being said, there were a lot of moments where I was exploring while Yasna and Novik were having a conversation and then I needed to progress, but had to wait for these two to stop chin-wagging before I could proceed to the next area which would often take some time. In fact, there’s so much chitchat between Yasna and Novik that I’d often find myself having to queue up dialogue prompts; they’ll be talking about one thing and I’ll pick up another dialogue prompt in the area, such as a strange looking structure, and they would need to finish their initial conversation before moving onto the next one. I feel like the pacing between the dialogue and exploration is a bit mismatched as there would also be moments where the conversation would awkwardly fall quiet because the game is waiting for you to spot a certain dialogue prompt to progress.

There’s also a distinct lack of replayability despite The Invincible being an adventure game due to the lack of a skip button. In order to see the varying effects of your choices, you’ll have to replay the entire game again with no option to skip the lengthy conversations.

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The retro-style sci-fi technology in The Invincible reminded me a lot of old school sci-fi movies. 

That being said, The Invincible still sounds stunning. Brunon Lubas has created a superb atmospheric soundtrack that fits brilliantly into the retro futuristic design that Starward Industries has opted for. It reminds me a lot of old school sci-fi films such as Alien and Blade Runner, matching perfectly with some of the most intense and eerie moments of the story.

Despite this, I did have some problems with the audio mixing. The default sound settings drown out the dialogue, and even after adjusting this to tweak the volume of the music and sound effects, Yasna’s heavy breathing as she explores while talking counts as dialogue audio so would drown out the conversation she’s having with Novik… not to mention it’s impossible for her to be heavily breathing and talking normally at the same time.

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The Invincible looks absolutely stunning. 

Speaking of retro futuristic, Starward Industries has gone for an ‘atompunk’ design choice for The Invincible which is a brilliant choice for a game adapted from a 1960s novel. The Invincible really stands out with its art direction. Not to mention it looks gorgeous and I couldn’t stop taking screenshots of some of the most scenic views.

I did find that The Invincible had a fair share of bugs which will hopefully be patched soon. These ranged from certain journals that I picked up showing blank pages and the rover making an annoying, distorted noise for the second half of the game to the end scene bugging out and not progressing, making me resort to looking up the full ending on YouTube.

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So much mystery under this sand.

The Invincible took me around seven hours to complete and its storyline had me hooked for the full duration of it, so much so that I rushed to order Stanisław Lem’s novel so that I could find out more about Regis III and delve further into the backstory of this world. The story was so intriguing but utterly eerie at the same time, certain revelations completely unnerved me and The Invincible does a brilliant job of balancing between the wonders of space and also its most horrifying possibilities. Its characters and dialogue are well-written and brilliantly voice acted. Aside from the technical hiccups, it hits every mark in its audio and visual design. I encourage anyone who enjoys walking simulators to give The Invincible a go and delve into the scientific phenomena of Regis III.

Jess played The Invincible on PlayStation 5 with a review code.

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