On paper, The Invincible has all the makings of a fun adaptation of a classic sci-fi novel into a combat-free adventure game, including space exploration, a mysterious threat, and an amnesiac protagonist who is doing their best to figure out what exactly is going on the planet of Regis III. But while there are points of intrigue in Starward Industries’ take on Stanislaw Lem’s 1964 story of the same name, there are a lot of things that don’t translate well off of the page.
To start, The Invincible doesn’t do a good job of providing much context for its story at the outset, which is pretty important for a story-focused game. We do learn from the introduction comic that there are two rival factions competing against each other in a space race, but why they are competing – or even when – is never explained. All we know is that the crew of the science vessel Dragonfly arrive at and quickly find themselves marooned on Regis III, with our peppy biologist protagonist Dr. Yasna alone and with no idea of how she even arrived on the planet’s surface.
While amnesia can be a bit of an overused method of storytelling, it actually works well within the context of the story in The Invincible. Not only is jogging her memory through interacting with objects as she searches for her crewmates an interesting way to learn about what happened to Yasna in a non-linear format, but it also plays into a major element of the story in the later acts that I won’t spoil. There are multiple different memories that can be recovered, though they only exist to help provide a little more backstory – like how encountering water reminds Yasna of the time her boss told her to keep hydrated – and aren’t required to progress.
While amnesia can be an overused method of storytelling, it actually works well here.
At first, exploring Regis III is quite an adventure. Not only are you seeking answers around the mystery of Yasna’s blackouts and missing crewmates, but there’s also something to be said about how awe-inspiring everything looks and feels. The first hour of exploring a desert is set to epic sci-fi music and colorful backdrops of nearby planets and shooting stars, which really pulled me into the beauty of space. On the other hand, as The Invincible progresses, it’s clear that not only is this grand scenery the highpoint of its sights, but that they are directing attention away from some pretty big weaknesses. The first one is that when you get up-close and personal, textures and details of the environments are muddy and out of focus. The closer you are to an object, the worse it looks. Pop-in also occurs often when you’re running around a large area, meaning that it can also look pretty poor at medium range.
These environmental issues make the actual travel frustrating as well. Even though the path you’re meant to follow is linear, finding the correct way to go can still be confusing. While you’ll encounter one rock formation that is climbable, the exact same-looking rocks can’t be climbed in the next section of the map. Things like this make the overall geography of where you’re supposed to go inconsistent.
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When you’re able to find the right path, you’ll then be greeted with unnecessarily slow climbing animations, which are an aggravating replacement for a simple jumping ability. Thankfully, by the time you’re climbing structures, you’ll likely already be used to how painfully slow the movement in The Invincible is. Yes, I understand that space is taxing and that we’d all be struggling to move fast in Yasna’s shoes, but not being able to sprint for more than five seconds without getting tired is painful, especially when around 80 percent of the gameplay is based on walking. There is honestly so much pointless walking that I’d guess at least two or three hours could have been trimmed off the overall 11-hour runtime by either increasing the speed or letting you fast-travel a new area – and the pace of the story would have benefited from it.
None of the attempts at gameplay outside of putting one foot in front of the other are any better.
So walking isn’t much fun, but none of the attempts at gameplay that are made outside of putting one foot in front of the other are any better. Whether it’s the “puzzles” that consist of turning a knob to a different channel or scanning over the area with a tracker to pinpoint important items using a hot-and-cold system, there just isn’t anything interesting or challenging about the gameplay aspects of The Invincible. The one section where you use a gun also feels completely pointless, as you are pretty much just firing it randomly into the sky without any indication as to whether it is even doing anything. These mechanics all feel like they were added in solely to justify the fact that it is an interactive game instead of a visual novel, with none of them adding anything of value or enjoyment to the way I experienced the story.
Alongside these gameplay issues, The Invincible falls into the same trap as many story-focused games where the protagonist is alone for most of the journey. While Yasna does have her astrogator, Novak, in her ear to help guide her throughout the mission, the vast majority of her time is spent alone and without much human contact. While it makes sense that she wouldn’t come upon others on a remote planet, it just made everything feel empty – especially given how literally open and empty most of the actual locations are.
Despite how empty and slow The Invincible can feel at times, its story is actually gripping. Yasna is charming, and it’s hard not to root for her. It’s clear she knows her stuff, as she can often be heard going off on fascinating scientific tangents about something as simple as fish, or ruminating on how she wants to help people (even based on the minimal interaction she has with people throughout the story). This all comes together in the final section, which has a number of different possible results that are all based on dialogue decisions you choose in the final interaction with a certain character. While the idea of multiple endings is a good way to end the story, the majority of them don’t feel satisfying. Of the six different endings I was able to discover, they all either ended abruptly or felt like some information was left out. Every time I expected an epilogue scene to follow after the credits, it simply took me right back to the main menu. For all the intrigue that led up to it, the end to The Invincible doesn’t feel satisfying, instead leaving a bitter aftertaste to an otherwise interesting story by not providing any closure or context – which is ironically similar to how the entire story starts.