I love the Mission: Impossible film series, all except the godawful second one where John Woo sacrifices his career to Dougray-bloody-Scott and inadvertently made Limp Bizkit famous. No, that movie got everything wrong about what makes the M:I series work. What does work is the espionage, the gadgets, the sneaking around, and the thrill of disaster always being mere seconds away. That sort of thing makes that series tick and it is, as it happens, a huge part of the appeal behind Klei’s turn-based espionage game Invisible, Inc. which has finally come to consoles.
The premise of Invisible, Inc is pretty straightforward. You’re an agency on the lamb, and you have to nick as much cash, info and gear from various sources around the world within a 72-hour time limit. Plot isn’t highly important here, but the backstory is fleshed out well enough that it does enrich your experience with Invisible, Inc, giving a bit of weight behind the ticking clock you must face. The angular, sleek future-tech artstyle only adds to the secret agent sim atmosphere, but it’s the way it plays, more than anything, that makes Invisible Inc such a splendid game.
The best, well the quickest, way to describe Invisible, Inc is as a turn-based stealth game with roguelike elements. The simplest way would be ‘like XCOM, but with stealth instead of rockets and telekinesis’. That would, however, do a great disservice to Invisible, Inc’s unique qualities. You initially get to pick two agents (from the starting two of Decker and Internationale if you’re just starting out and not playing a custom game) and then pick a location to infiltrate. You’ll first be presented with fairly simple jobs, with security at a ‘civilian’ level, challenging enough, but allowing you to learn the ropes as you go. As the time remaining begins to dwindle while you swan your way around the globe being all IMF, beefier security and veritable Fort Knoxes become the norm. You will almost certainly fail at Invisible, Inc on the first few playthroughs. Learning how the game works and what rules apply are definitely part and parcel of the experience. Trial and error become your bedfellows as you consistently cock up in these early times, experimenting with upgrades, risking a little too much for too little, and generally making bad decisions.
It’s not a slur on you, the player, if this is the case however, as the game is always pushing you. Pushing you to grab as much loot as possible whilst simultaneously pushing you to ‘hurry the hell up about it could you please?’ Even the relative calm of your first few turns in any level is ruined by the sense of the tension created by an ever-escalating alarm system. You see, with each passing turn, a meter rise in the top right-hand corner. After a few turns the meter is completed and the security level rises by one. Suddenly, passive security guards are upping their ante and actively looking for intruders. As the meter continues to rise, so too does the threat level. The end result of which is a stage filled with more obstacles than you could ever hope to avoid. So everything at a base level becomes about getting in, causing minimal fuss to reach the objective, and finding the exit as soon as is humanly possible.
The problem is there’s a lot of juicy loot just waiting within arms reach. Would it hurt to use a move up to try and empty that safe? The answer is invariably yes. Every step off the right path is adding to that meter, adding to the risk of being seen, adding to to your already high hopes of not making it out alive. Sounds tough right? Well yes, but it’s also nothing short of exhilarating. Pulling off a job gone south is up there with some of the most satisfying gaming pleasures out there. Not much gets as good as the feeling of your heart pumping faster than a pneumatic drill as one agent drags their downed colleague to the exit just before several security bots make it through the door and line up an inevitable death for both agents. Invisible Inc is filled with these ‘punch the air’ moments; little victories against that ever-ticking clock. Make no mistake though, this is a gambling game. You will have as many bitter defeats as you will victories, possibly more. On both sides of fortune, the results are almost always based on the smallest of decisions. There are so many variables at play in any given area found in Invisible, Inc, and it’s a fascinating thing to watch in motion. That Klei create a feeling of time constantly being against you in a turn-based strategy is something to be applauded.
As an example of the tactical flexibility, which pretty much always gives you options that feature more risks than rewards, we go back to the guard problem. If you do spot a guard before they catch sight of you, then you can sneak up on them, knock them out and hold them in a ‘pinned’ state until you move again. They will recover in a few turns after that though, and will begin to actively seek you, raising the meter quicker, but it does give you some breathing room for a few turns. You can give yourself more by closing doors behind you, reducing the chance a roving guard might spot you as the pass by in a corridor. An alternative is to just sneak past by observing patterns before making your move. The problem with that is, you waste more turns waiting; the joy of Invisible, Inc comes from finding what works best for you and the agents you have. To say much more would spoil the fun of discovering these strategies for yourself.
All of this just covers the base game, with the Console Edition you also get the Contingency Plan expansion pack included. Contingency Plan beefs up the campaign with extra missions, agents, scenarios, enemy types and objectives, as well as implementing deeper game customization options to tweak Invisible, Inc into being an easier ride or a sturdier challenge. Klei proved with their last title, Don’t Starve, that they are pretty adept at building upon their base game in fun new ways, and Invisible Inc is no different.
Complaints? Well, I have some, even if they do come with asides. For instance, the camera isn’t always entirely helpful, but paying attention to what you’re looking at prevents nearly any chance of being caught out by it. Even on the simplest settings, Invisible, Inc just lures you into a false sense of power by giving you the options to circumvent the game’s greater challenges, before it inevitably ends with the player frustrated by what is perceived as ‘cheap’ death caused by lapse in concentration. There is an awful lot of throwing your hands up in bafflement because you can’t figure out what you did wrong, but nine times out of ten, it’s not a fault of the game. Lastly, the nature of the game is learning from failure. A side effect of that is that you will reach the 72 hour time limit in the regular game for the first time and feel like you’ve not really achieved all that much. If you like your games to be beaten, and stay beaten, Invisible, Inc probably isn’t for you.
There’s nothing truly like Invisible, Inc on PS4. Certainly not until XCOM 2 drags its buggy self over from the PC anyway. If you crave a turn-based strategy with a twist, then this is essential. I’m not normally an advocate for playing a game on higher difficulties, because generally-speaking there’s no point if it harms your enjoyment. However, if you really want to get the best out of Invisible, Inc, practice a couple of times on regular difficulty, then crank it up to see the true magic behind what is now easily the best strategy title on PS4, and one of the best stealth games too.