If there’s one thing I’ve come to learn from romping through Frictional Games’ Amnesia four times over, it’s that survival-horror games—especially ones that tend to lean on the tropes pertaining to memory loss—really love telling stories through the lens of ancient artifacts and psychological episodes. As it turns out, Starward Industries’ The Invincible shares the exact same obsession, as it more or less relies on scavenging and fact finding to paint its otherwise, weirdly enough, contextless story. And that’s party the reason why I felt drawn to it: I wanted to establish context, and I wanted to see how the video game adaptation of the 1964 sci-fi novel would add flair to a premise that, in all honesty, isn’t all that new in the realm of horror.
Having spent a good few hours roaming around the desolate biomes of Planet Regis III (we’ll get to that in a moment), I can just about part ways with The Invincible — safe in the knowledge that, having brushed up on more than enough trinkets and lore, context was well and truly established in the end. Question is, was it all worth the wait, or was it hardly worth building the rocket boosters for? To answer that, we’ll have to take a step back — to the preliminary stages of the blackout. Care to join us for a trip down the rabbit hole of lost memories? Then let’s dive right in.
Welcome to Planet Regis III
If you’ve yet to comb over the ins and outs of The Invincible and its sci-fi homages to the 1964 novel, then just know this: it’s a story-driven first-person adventure game—a five-hour stint in which you, a struggling amnesiac, wind up marooned on a seemingly vacant planet known as Regis III. With your crew out of sight and little to no memory of the journey there, you must embark on a quest to unearth the clues and essentially knuckle in on your squad’s general whereabouts. Sounds relatively straightforward on paper, for sure — but due to the lack of context right from the get-go, a lot of this information never quite made it to the opening page. But who cares, right? There’s a planet, a missing crew, and a whole lot of mileage between your legs and the final destination — wherever that is.
Like a lot of games of its kind, the bulk of the storyline in The Invincible isn’t provided in lengthy dialogue passages or Michael Bay-esque cinematic sequences; that’s all squelched into a tapestry of hidden items and environmental leftovers scattered around the world. Is discovering these dusty trinkets a mandatory requirement for progressing the narrative? Not exactly, though for me I did find that, if I missed even the smallest detail, I’d be beyond confused and left to forage for the missing pieces — if only to bridge the remaining gaps.
Of course, even with little to zero understanding of what it was I was doing, or the reason for my aimless endeavors, I still always knew, in the weirdest of ways, which way I was heading. I was biologist Dr. Yasna, and I was on a planet-wide comeback tour following the foggy events of a recent blackout. That much I knew — which was, well, enough.
Just Keep Walking
The Invincible isn’t the toughest game you’ll ever play; there’s no combat, and only a handful of short puzzles to work through. But other than that, it’s merely the case of walking from one objective to the next, and more or less taking whatever form of documentation you can find laying about into your own internal database. And so, with all that in mind, I will say this: if it’s a challenging game you want, then you may want to seek passage aboard an alternative flight, because when all’s said and done, this isn’t your everyday expedition.
The good news is, the scenery is all rather beautiful, and not to mention a real credit to the sci-fi source, in general. From its dusty dunes to its rain-smothered canyons, I personally found that Regis III, in spite of it being in possession of almost no major environmental molehills to clamber over, was actually quite breathtaking. Having said that, at no real point did it ever really overshadow the lack of depth in the gameplay department. There was walking, and there was more walking, which eventually culminated in—you guessed it—more walking. Not a terrible thing by any means; I rather enjoyed Death Stranding and its thousand-mile courier service. But even still, every player has their breaking point — and mine happened to roll along after three or four hours, unfortunately.
I will give credit where credit is due: atmospherically, The Invincible is on point, as it captures all the core nodes of the sci-fi universe remarkably well. Its sound design is both intriguing and fitting, and it’s voice acting is convincing enough to make you want to hear the next line, and not, you know, dart for the nearest exit with second-hand embarrassment. So again, it wasn’t all that bad.
Never Miss a Beat
It almost pains me to admit it, but the truth is, I probably could’ve mopped up all The Invincible had to offer in roughly half the time, had Dr. Yasma not spent the entire journey moving like Earthworm Jim with chronic back problems. That brings me to another issue: the animations, they were awfully sluggish, even at the best of times. From climbing to boarding a vehicle, sprinting to tiptoeing — every movement in The Invincible is dauntingly slow, which means you’re left to either fall asleep between animated intervals, or develop the ability to withstand massive amounts of sloth-like turbulence.
In spite of her slow pace and slug-like nature, Dr. Yasna does actually make for a pretty great protagonist, and I couldn’t help but feel pretty content with being slumped in her shoes — even if said shoes were Crocs, and not to mention filled with anchors and car batteries. A biologist at heart and by trade, it was clear she knew her stuff, which often led to some insightful observations or discussions with the one or two fellow researchers. And while there weren’t all that many conversations to indulge in, I did find that, whenever someone did pop up to speak, it was always something worth listening to.
Of course, The Invincible doesn’t really rely on social interaction all that often, as it mostly consists of drawn-out periods of silence and the occasional burst of noise from the environment itself. For this reason alone, and due to the lack of gameplay features, I couldn’t help but ponder the question: could this have all been summarized in a visual novel? Or better yet, was adding in numerous vacant highways and contextless chapters really necessary?
Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room here: The Invincible — it isn’t your bog-standard sci-fi fantasy adventure, but more a gradual stroll through a souped-up visual novel. With its gameplay mechanics being next to non-existent, as well as its environments being a little too empty for comfort, it was difficult to label it as anything more than that. Sure, the journey itself was all rather beautiful, and not to mention laden with compelling story beats and insightful discussions, but the game’s overall choice of structure was what knocked me for six.
Don’t get me wrong, The Invincible is a very pretty game, and one that has all the appropriate bells and whistles to be considered a genuine contender in the realm of sci-fi. Visually, audibly, and atmospherically, the game serves the genre justice, and then some. But then, can quality graphics and a digestible sound palette really add meat to an otherwise slow and somewhat dull gameplay experience? Meh, it all depends on your patience, I suppose.
At the end of the day, if you’ve the time to spare, and don’t mind dealing with the mundanely slow pace of the narrative and the protagonist’s animations, then you don’t really have anything to lose. To cut it short, The Invincible is a short, atmospherically on point sci-fi adventure—a journey that, while still compelling enough to finish, is let down by its lack of imagination and gameplay mechanics. Swings and roundabouts, really; you win some, you lose some — and I’m not entirely sure whether I’ve won, or lost, for that matter. Would I do it all again? Maybe — if, by some miracle, it condensed itself into a visual novel.
The Invincible Review (Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5 & PC)
The Emptiest Planet
Concept-wise, The Invincible has all the hallmark qualities to make up a genuinely fantastic sci-fi visual novel. Due to its lack of interactivity and depth as an adventure game, however, it’s difficult to recommend it to anyone who’s not particularly patient or hell-bent on reliving the key moments from the source material.