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The Invincible Hands-On Preview: For The Love of Sci-Fi

by Ozva Admin

The biggest compliment I can give the developers of The Invincible is that it feels like stepping into the worlds imagined by mid-century sci-fi authors. Based on the novel The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem, I spent an hour with a development version of Starward Industries’ upcoming sci-fi adventure and fell into a vibrant wonderland full of adventure, danger, and discovery.

I took control of Yasna, a crew member of the ship Invincible trying to find out what happened to some previous explorers on a remote and desolate planet. I wandered through the branches of a mountain pass, finding crewmen dead and lost in narrow ravines and twisting passages. The slow, heavy steps in her space suit and her labored breathing as she climbed over rocks and dealt with a worsening headache added a sense of depth and feeling to the world around her.

She frequently talks to her navigator, Novik, a member of the Invincible’s crew in orbit who lets her know what’s going on and helps her make decisions about her course. The constant conversation between the two provides a backdrop to the canyon’s desolate environments, and branching dialogue options offer some customization in how Yasna reacts to events around her. There’s also a clear conflict between her personalities, which adds some dramatic fuel to the talk.

Branching dialogue options offer some customization in how Yasna reacts to events around her.

Otherwise, the gameplay is the kind of fare you’d expect from a first-person adventure game. I chose paths, interacted with objects, and generally saw nice animations happen. Some segments ask you to use tools, such as a homing tracker that finds spacesuit spokes, a scanner that takes X-rays from walls, or a handheld telescope. All of them were available at all times and worked very intuitively.

I was especially pleased when I discovered that the telescope could be used to identify and mark things on the to-do list from a distance. Part of my job was cataloging the fate of individual vehicles and crew, so just spotting and verifying a vehicle’s serial number from a distance felt great. Something a true expeditioner would do.

However, The Invincible was more meditatively paced than more action-focused games or first-person horror titles. Much of that is due to Yasna, a biologist by trade, whose natural curiosity gets the better of her quite often: she’s willing to put up with a lot, or pause when others keep moving, to find out how a strange new alien thing works.

To be fair to her, who wouldn’t get a little excited about giant metal flowers that produce giant metal fruit?

I grew up reading a lot of old sci-fi, and The Invincible scratched my itch in magnificent ways. It has vehicles with switches and buttons that click, knobs to turn, and weird twist-lock mechanisms on the doors. The team’s retro-futuristic interfaces are well balanced with a rugged, habitable appearance of what is clearly rugged cutting-edge technology.

The Invincible scratched that old sci-fi itch in magnificent ways.

The design was great. Tweaking knobs and turning keys to crack open data drives, then download recorded radio logs or remove hard-copy images from a robot’s camera recorder is awesome. Little details kicked in, too: Listening to a rover log, the rover’s built-in radar system replayed the events surrounding it at the time. The ominous moving pings added to the sense of tension and wonder, which spoke promisingly of the kind of detail a good adventure game needs to have to keep you engaged.

The demo I played used more dramatic effects sparingly, but very effectively. At a fixed moment an antimatter cannon was fired, complete with rippling effects and stupendous lighting decisions not only at the moment of the action, but also on the red-hot rock that glows afterwards. A large and powerful force field left slopes of molten rock behind where it split the cliffs.

All of that tech stuff in The Invincible will benefit a lot from beefy PCs and top-tier consoles, because the preview was as much about spectacle and delight as it was about exploration and cataloging. I loved taking my time with my surroundings, taking in the scenery and looking out at the sheer red cliffs and distant horizons.

People who recently enjoyed first-person space adventures like Deliver Us The Moon or Moons of Madness should have The Invincible firmly pinned on their calendar. It’s the kind of catnip you’re looking for.

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