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Michael Bitton: Sneaking Into Invisible, Inc. Early Access

Previews By Michael Bitton on August 20, 2014

I bought my way into Invisible, Inc. a couple of months ago, but it honestly felt too rough to explore back then. That all changed yesterday when Klei Entertainment launched Early Access on Steam with a brand new update that polished things up. With no release date in sight, Invisible, Inc. (formerly Incognita) likely still has a ton of work to go, but with Early Access now live I wanted to give it another whack and share my initial thoughts.

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First off, some of you may be asking: What is Invisible, Inc.? As Klei put it during its Reddit AMA yesterday, think XCOM meets Mark of the Ninja. It’s a tactical turn-based game featuring procedurally generated levels and an emphasis on stealth. Once you’ve completed the tutorial levels, you’re greeted by a world map with a number of different missions to choose from and 72 hours to prepare for your final mission (each gig eats up a certain amount of travel time). You’ll enter your mission with two of four currently available agents, each with their own specialties, such as the ability to remotely hack stations, equip stealth rigs, and so on. 

Unlike games like XCOM, combat is probably best avoided unless absolutely necessary. In fact, your agents don’t even have hit points. Taking a bullet is likely to be lethal. Any agents you lose in the field are gone forever. With procedurally generated missions, you can’t just go back and plan around your previous mistakes in a new playthrough. I know it’s in vogue to throw around the term ‘roguelike’ these days, but between the permadeath and procedurally generated levels, there are definitely some roguelike elements to Invisible, Inc.

You can also go into your missions with a set of two programs for the game's 'Incognita' hacking interface. As you proceed through levels, you’ll find locked safes, cameras, laser grids, and more. Hitting spacebar will put you into Incognita mode, which lets you hack the aforementioned objects using a resource called PWR. PWR can be hijacked from terminals throughout the map, but it’s a finite resource and you can only store so much of it at once. Incognita programs like Power Drip passively restore 1 PWR each turn and you can spend cash you loot throughout levels on acquiring new Incognita programs if you find the appropriate terminal.

Each mission is timed in the sense that there is a constantly rising alarm level each turn. Obviously, alerting the enemies to your presence by playing sloppily will raise alarm levels even faster, but the game doesn’t allow you to take your time moving through a map, either. It’s all about getting as much done as you can as efficiently as you can and getting out unscathed. As alarm levels go up, more cameras appear, more guards appear, and if things get hairy enough, you’ll even be greeted by elite guards, who patrol areas much more swiftly.

The missions I’ve tackled so far have been pretty basic. There are a couple of different mission types, but it’s fairly barebones at the moment. The real fun is in figuring out the puzzle of each procedurally generated level. There’s many ways to get to what you want, too. You could take the long way, potentially avoiding guards’ movements, to a room you’re trying to get to, but you could also lure the guard to you, knock him out, and take his passkey. If you’re using a particularly sneaky agent, you can even get right up behind a guard and lift his passkey (and cash) with him being none the wiser.

I haven’t used any lethal weaponry just yet, but knocking out guards doesn’t last forever. Guards will wake up in two turns (though you can have an agent pinned down on them to keep them KO’d), so it’s important to keep track of not only where you’re headed, but also what awaits you once you begin backtracking towards the exit. Even though things have gotten particularly hairy, you’ve managed to elude the guards and steal a ton of cash and artifacts, but now you have to get out and there are elite guards, new cameras, and more awaiting for you on your way back. It’s fairly easy to get greedy only to realize you're in trouble when it's likely too late. Figuring out that balance is key to successfully mastering Invisible, Inc.

What you’ve got in Early Access feels like a polished foundation for something potentially great. Again, it’s a bit barebones, but I’m eagerly awaiting the next major build to see how Klei expands upon what’s in place right now.

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