STAFF REVIEW of Invincible, The (Xbox Series X)

Friday, January 5, 2024.
by Adam Dileva

Invincible, The Box art While I’ve not read a lot of classic sci-fi novels, it appears I missed quite an interesting one; The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem, from 1964. While I had not heard of the iconic novel before, I read up on it and Lem’s other works. Known for his futuristic science fiction works, the classic novel has now been turned into a game with the same name, developed by Starward Industries and published by 11 Bit Studios. While it may be a walking simulator at its core, it also manages to tell a compelling tale that had me hooked until the credits rolled.

If you happen to know the iconic novel, this game is actually a prequel that sets up the nearly six decade old story. You play as Yasna, an astrobiologist who wakes up on the planet Regis III, but unsure how she actually got there. While she tries to piece together what has happened, her journey eventually turns into a rescue mission when she realizes she doesn’t know where her fellow lost crewmates are. Regis III isn’t like Earth though, as it seems desolate and untouched by mankind, and there seems to be more than what’s visible on the surface.

Your team are a group of scientists that work for a group called The Commonwealth. As you explore the world, danger becomes more and more apparent, but not in the way you might expect. Being a walking simulator, don’t expect to shoot any weapons, use a jetpack, or explore the stars. This is a very isolated story, a journey that will have you finding some deadly secrets of this planet and what happened to your crew.

A planet untouched by humans creates some amazing landscapes, barren yet breathtaking. How can a barren planet be dangerous? What possible perils could there be if it’s not humankind that’s a threat? Explore and find out, as evolution can be brilliant but dangerous.

A narrative that lasts somewhere 8-10 hours, it’s paced perfectly, constantly drip feeding you just enough information to stay interesting and keep you wanting to know what happens next. Even with the excruciating slow walking speed, the narrative continues at a constant pace. At certain times you’ll have dialogue choices to make, should you wish, which will dictate certain scenes and outcomes. While the first half is a very slow paced crawl, the second half is where it really picks up once some revelations are made. With a 60’s sci-fi aesthetic, The Invincible was certainly memorable long after the credits rolled.

The Invincible is a walking simulator, let’s get that out of the way first thing. I know that might dissuade people right away, but this is a tale worth telling, and it just happens to take place at a walking speed a majority of the time. As you try and piece together how you ended up on Regis III you’ll be in constant communication with your Astrogator, kind of like your commander, back up in your ship in orbit. Your constant banter back and forth make a lot of the experience more bearable as you explore this mysterious planet in isolation.

The atompunk setting fits perfectly with the whole experience. Your tools look as if they were plucked out of a 60’s sci-fi show, even your helmet and microphone have that cool retro look and feel to it. Your telemeter is especially retro, indicating with small analog LED lights which direction a living lifeform is when nearby. You also have an x-ray handheld that can detect and visualize metal in the world, which will be quite handy during your journey. You’ll also get to drive a land rover in the latter half, making quicker work of the lengthier distances on Regis III.

Given that the whole gameplay of The Invincible is basically walking and movement, I was hoping it would feel better than it did. Unfortunately, it was quite clunky and at times, excruciatingly slow. While you don’t ever have to worry about jumping or crouching, Yasna will automatically leap over or down spots if it’s the specific designated area, down to the pixel and nowhere else. Even though you should be able to step over that rock or object on the ground, you can’t, you can only move and traverse at very specific points and nowhere else at all. You are able to run with Yasna’s limited stamina, but it’s barely even any faster and runs out as quickly as you started to jaunt.

With how mysterious Regis III is, I was fully expecting that there was going to be some light puzzles to be had, but they never came or happened. There’s also no secrets to uncover aside from the narrative, or anything other than really heading to your latest waypoint. Oddly enough there’s also no manual saving of any kind. You have to rely on the autosave system and hope that if you want to quit and play later that it saved recently. While I never had this to be an issue, that’s also because I completed the game in two sittings, unable to put it down until its conclusion.

While simply walking a barren planet will no doubt bore some, there are a few other things you get to do in between story segments. You do have a few gadgets to use, as described above, though these are really only used at specific points. Sometimes you’ll need to scan the landscape with your space age binoculars to spot an object, camp or climbing spot. There a few spots where you’ll control a drone, though it’s very minimal and for narrative reasons. The rover sections change up the pace a bit, but you don’t get all that much freedom even in the larger more ‘open’ sections.

For how barren Regis III is, it’s oddly beautiful with its landscapes. The retro–futuristic atompunk aesthetic has a great feel and in the later portions once some revelations are revealed, there is some very spectacular scenery to take in for some wonderful screenshots. Given how slowly you walk, it makes it easier to take notice of the planet.

The musical score composed by Brunon Lubas is hauntingly beautiful at times. The music alone can make you feel weary or curious depending on the melodies. Sometimes there’s a lull in the music and that alone makes you feel more isolated on this planet, as dead air can be deafening. The voice actors from the main two characters, Yasna and Novik, is also done spectacularly and made me believe every word they said.

The Invincible is a slow paced first person walking simulator but with a heavy emphasis on its storytelling. It may not have the excitement you’d expect, though I can’t delve into much more of the story for fear of spoilers. Having never read the novel I wasn’t sure what to expect, and the fact that the game is a prequel to the novel is exciting, and now I have plans to read the source material. If you enjoy a slow burn sci-fi story, The Invincible tells quite an interesting and compelling tale, one footstep at a time.

**The Invincible was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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