As Dr Yasna, you awaken in an alien desert, your vision blurring from the headache piercing through your mind. With limited knowledge of how you arrived at your location, you recall that you’re on Regis III on a mission to investigate the planet, and that the Alliance has an interest in the resources there. With a damaged radio and only limited field notes, you set out to guide yourself back to base camp in the hopes that you can uncover what exactly happened, and where the rest of your crew are.
The opening moments of The Invincible, while very simplistic, give way to what is a cleverly-built science-fiction adventure game. With a story adapted from Polish writer Stanislaw Lem’s novel of the same name, developer Starward Industries has really lent into the hard sci-fi genre, creating an immersive adventure game that blends elements of atompunk and retro-futurism to bring Lem’s vision to life in a way that is reminiscent of 1950s imagining of the future.
Seeing the planet of Regis III through the eyes of Yasna, the xenobiologist of the Commonwealth’s exploration ship Dragonfly, you are drip-fed information about the mission as you explore further; slowly remembering what happened between the time your crew ventured to the planet and now. Yasna slowly pieces things together both figuratively and literally, eventually coming back into contact with Astrogator Novik (think space navigator, not some kind of alien crocodile) who guides her journey as she uncovers the crew’s whereabouts, and attempts to uncover what benefits the planet holds for the Commonwealth and why the rivalling faction in the Alliance are headed there too.
With an extremely reduced heads-up display and minimal visual clues throughout, the game relies heavily on exposition through exploration, limiting even the most basic equipment to help you find your way. Thankfully the game’s visuals function as a character in their own right – the vistas of Regis III are awe-inspiring and truly martian, with celestial bodies hanging on the horizon and brilliantly red deserts and blue land formations spreading out before you on your journey. I often found myself heavily distracted at looking around rather than focusing on the task at hand.
Of course the visuals don’t stop there, and I personally fell in love with the retro-futurism that the game leans heavily into. This is a completely interactive vision of the future as imagined in the 1950s – with small CRT TVs, knobs and dials, shades of orange, blue and green – something akin to the original Lost In Space if it met Fallout without the post-apocalyptic vibes. Yasna’s equipment such as her tracker and metal detector have retro cosmonaut vibes, and even the crew’s robot helpers feel as if they could have been pulled directly from a 1960s sci-fi show such as Doctor Who.
While it may come across as campy and almost over-the-top, the art direction could almost be seen as another character in itself, as without it the game may not be nearly as enjoyable. A quirk of the game that I thoroughly enjoyed is its comic mode – as you progress through the narrative you unlock comic panels that record what you have been through in the story; the game uses these art panels as its in-game slide records that the mechanical probes and robots record, which Yasna uncovers as she progresses through her mission.
In the same vein of games such as Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch, The Invincible is not a game for those who are seeking action-packed or fast-paced gameplay – it leans heavily into its walking simulator roots to explore not only the ideas of being stranded on an alien planet, but the philosophical implications of Lem’s work. It takes liberties with its source material by introducing characters and shifts the plot, but these work in the game’s favour by adding depth to the story. The gravity and isolation of Yasna’s situation allows moments of reflection in discussions with Novik as she works her way through Regis III’s landscape, uncovering more about the Dragonfly’s mission and the intelligence that the Commonwealth has over the Alliance.
While the voice acting is played out wonderfully and adds depth to the characters, the pacing in itself is all over the place. Constant build-ups for minimal payoffs tend to be consistent and don’t reach the same heights as the early mystery that the game presents. Though it initially builds tension, there’s a distinct lack of any threat or consequence to keep driving Yasna forward, and while the consistent build up is definitely a driving force to keep playing, it doesn’t quite feel rewarding in the end.
Starward Industries has made a fair effort to add variation and weight to the decisions you make in the game, through either conversation or the tasks you choose to perform, but in the long run these feel more like decisions that intend to unlock trophies or achievements. While my first play through gave me an ending that I had kind of hoped for, I chose to replay the game and make different decisions that would potentially give me outcomes that may change significantly. With around eight to ten hours of main gameplay, the overall narrative definitely wasn’t easy to put down or stop. Knowing what was coming next was a constant driving factor in playing on. At the end though, I felt more could have been done for closure, especially based around some of the decisions that were made on the journey.
The Invincible brings Stanislaw Lem’s work to life in a faithful adaptation that plays out as if it were ripped directly from retro-futurism art of the 1950s. Starward Industries have gone to great lengths to craft an experience that is visually appealing and makes great strides to maintain Lem’s philosophical concepts while being grounded in hard science fiction. But where the game excels in some areas, it loses its way in others, falling victim to pacing issues and hollow choices, resulting in hurried endings that may leave you feeling lost in space.
Brilliant retro-futuristic designs that evoke nostalgia
Comic mode that matches the game’s narrative
Hard sci-fi classic story brought to life in a faithful adaptation
Pacing struggles to maintain itself across the narrative