The Spy Who Shot Me.
There are very few developers out there today with as diverse a catalog as Klei Entertainment's. With releases ranging from the lightning-fast platformer N+, to the side-scrolling stealth/action title Mark of the Ninja, and the engrossing, unsettling survival game Don’t Starve, they’ve tried their hand at many different genres and have succeeded at every turn. Invisible, Inc. is yet another venture into uncharted territory for the developer, and its Early Access build is already making some notable waves. But will the turn-based strategy genre be the first to see Klei losing a grip on its mighty run?
Invisible, Inc. is a roguelike game (what isn’t these days?) that takes elements from XCOM: Enemy Unknown, adds a dollop of stealth into the mix, and coats the results with the cartoon-esque visual style Klei has become known for. At first glance it’s deceptively simple, but eventually this simplicity gives way to a high level of challenge—there’s a reason why Invisible, Inc.’s default difficulty setting is Easy.
The game tasks you with pulling off a variety of espionage missions that all share the same basic premise—you’re tasked with entering a building, grabbing as many items/cash as you can, then heading to the elevator in order to escape before the armed guards get their hands on you. You’re placed in control of a team of two spies, who each have skills that can be upgraded using the cash you obtain throughout the game. Each spy also has their own special skill, such as being able to detect surveillance cameras from a greater distance or being more adept at melee combat. More spies can be unlocked throughout the game too, allowing you to combine a variety of units to best suit your play style.
Interestingly, the game adopts a very free-form approach to missions. Though the way in which you can earn reputation and cash in order to level up your spies relies on you to grab as much loot from each level as possible, in theory you don’t have to do that at all. If the level becomes too heavily populated by guards, you can instead decide to make a beeline for the elevator, which is your ticket out of the mission and back to your homebase. While it’s not recommended that you do this too frequently and instead push on ahead in order to get your hands on those precious items, I found this approach to missions much more enjoyable than being given “obtain object A and then make your way to objective B” instructions.
The roguelike aspect of Invisible, Inc. is brutal. While one of your units being killed in XCOM was disheartening, you had a steady flow of soldiers who could replace your fallen comrade. This is not the case here, as having one of your units succumb to the enemy will either place you in the unenviable position of having to navigate levels with a single unit or partnering up with an underpowered spy you have failed to level up adequately. As I learned the perils of finding myself in such a situation after one of my spies succumbed to my enemy’s bullets, I made sure to increase the stats of the spies I wasn’t using just in case anything went terribly wrong during one of the missions.
Oh, and things do go terribly wrong. Playing through the missions that are classified as ‘Heavily Guarded’ is a tense experience, as enemy units litter the corridors, surveillance cameras and turrets are ready to rumble you at every opportunity and you become not so much concerned with obtaining all that precious loot as you do simply making it out of the level in one piece. During one particularly nail-biting mission one of my spies, the trench-coat wearing Deckard, walked into a lengthy corridor that at first seemed to be uninhabited, only for guards to arrive, spot him, and immediately bring him down to the ground.
Unfortunately, I had foolishly left the door open upon entering the corridor, which led to a room where my other spy, Internationale, was crouching behind a sofa. The guards entered the room and began inspecting it, while Internationale was left alone and terrified. Eventually the guards turned their backs, so I plotted her escape to the elevator that was positioned next to the room behind her. She slammed through the door, desperate to not sure the same fate as her fallen partner-in-crime Deckard… but alas, her movement alerted a turret to her presence, and she was quickly mowed down. Game over.
Fortunately, you’ve got a few tools at your disposal that allow you to delay the inevitability of the game over screen. By pressing the space bar you can activate the Incognito mode, which allows you to remotely deactivate various alarm systems, turrets, cameras and lasers in order to help your units progress. To deactivate this equipment you require power, which can be hacked from various consoles that are littered throughout each map. You start with 20 power, though this rapidly depletes when you find yourself in more well-guarded areas of each level, and once it has ran out you’re best off bolting towards the exit rather than desperately rooting for a console in your surrounding area.
You can also buy equipment from shops that are (for some reason) tucked away in the levels, which can grant you revival kits and guns to arm your units with. Getting your hands on one of these revival kits is essential, though I would have personally preferred a shop to have been included in the menu screen rather than in the middle of a mission. I understand that this adds an extra dimension of difficulty to the game, though it’s somewhat nonsensical that the buildings you’d infiltrate would have vendors that dispensed weaponry and other such equipment.
On a whole, I found the tools at my disposal to be lacking. Invisible, Inc. is much more of a turn-based strategy than it is a stealth game, though the items I could equip my unit with were a little on the dull side of the spectrum. Kitting out my spies with a variety of gadgets could have added an extra dimension to the gameplay, and it feels as though Klei missed a beat in excluding such additions in favor of simplicity. The only mechanic that is familiarly stealthy is the melee takedowns your units can perform by standing to the side of doorway, knocking out enemies before they’ve even had a chance to catch a glimpse of you.
Even in its Early Access stages, Invisible, Inc. is a rewarding game that demands the player to always think one step ahead of the game. The free-form mission structure is refreshing, and the roguelike aspects add a high level of challenge that will ensure players keep returning for more in attempts to beat their high scores and level up their spies to James Bond levels of espionage. It seems likely that Klei Entertainment is on to another winner here. Look for Invisible, Inc. to come out of Early Access on Steam in early 2015.