Sci-fi thriller The Invincible is one of those games that feels like it’s been knocking around for absolutely yonks, and every time there’s a new trailer for it, you go, “Oh yeah! That one! The one with the robots and the Soviet Alien dot detector thing!” The most recent trailer for The Invincible arrived during this year’s E3 madness, and featured astrobiologist Yasna having a suspenseful encounter with a big spider bot and its anti-matter death ray. It was only a five-minute long clip at the time, but I’ve now played an expanded version of that particular scene, and yep, I still don’t much like the look of that there laser bot.
To refresh your memory of the scene in question, have a watch of the gameplay trailer below. It’s a slightly abridged version of what you’ll actually play when The Invincible launches next year, but the essence is much the same: there’s a lot of walking, a lot of talking, and a lot of poking and prodding of buttons and levers as Yasna tries to figure out what happened to the rest of her space team’s convoy crew on the planet of Regis III. Something bad has clearly gone down earlier in the game, leaving Yasna and fellow astro bud Novik the only surviving members of their expedition.
Or so it would appear. We already know from one of last year’s trailers that Yasna will eventually be buddying up with another mysterious space bod in the game, and of course there’s also the book it’s based on as well – the Stanislaw Lem sci-fi novel of the same name – so hardened Invincible fans will probably know how a lot of it’s going to shake down already.
Extra space bod wasn’t in my preview build, though. Instead, it was focused solely on Yasna and Novik, with the two of them in pretty much constant radio communication as Yasna explored an abandoned convoy of probes and space rovers in a dusty gorge. Their conversations reminded me a lot of Firewatch and its walky-talky dialogue, as while a lot of Yasna’s replies were scripted and played out automatically in the background while I was doing other tasks, I was occasionally given timed prompts to pick a more bespoke response to Novik’s statements and questions. Admittedly, it didn’t really matter much what I ended up picking – a repeat playthrough after my demo build crashed unexpectedly saw events play out exactly the same way, regardless of which bit of dialogue I picked – but the important thing is that they all felt believable in the moment, bringing a welcome sense of emotional range to Yasna’s responses.
This really came to the fore when Yasna was tasked with retrieving a series of images from the belly of the Antimat death bot. In a neat retro-futurist twist, this series of photographic, but hand-drawn plates (see above) were effectively a pictorial log of what the robot had been doing with its accompanying astronauts up until the moment it shut down and went dormant. Clearly, things did not go to plan, as evidenced by the piles of dead bodies strewn about in the sand nearby, but Yasna will persist in going through each image regardless – if only to trigger the next bit of game plot. The less patient and curious among you will be pleased to hear you can just click ‘next next next’ to go through them all if you’re not that fussed about it, but several plates did offer extra points of interaction if you wanted to glean a bit more info from the data on show.
Firstly, I liked how these extra prompts weren’t shoved down your throat during this scene. They’re quite small and unassuming for starters, and many only emerge when they’re directly in Yasna’s eyeline. In fact, most of The Invincible’s interaction points work this way, even for things like climbing up ledges and opening doors. It’s a little Stray-like, in that sense, and makes you work a bit harder to find everything you can click on in any given scene. While I can see this potentially becoming a bit annoying over time, the game does need it, to be honest, as otherwise you’re just standing still a lot of the time and listening to dialogue. Which is fine if you’re invested in the story at hand, but interminably slow and boring if you’re not. If it helps to liven up its largely static conversation chats, I don’t mind a bit of extra pixel-hunting.
But it was the way these extra talking points fed back into Yasna’s dialogue choices that impressed me most. Admittedly, it doesn’t go as far as giving you actual new dialogue options based on what you’ve discovered, but I did feel that, having absorbed that extra info, I was making more informed decisions about which lines of dialogue I eventually ended up selecting – like I had a better understanding of why Yasna would be mad, optimistic or sympathetic in those particular moments. It’s a small thing, really, but it did help make the world and Yasna’s situation feel more grounded as a result, which I imagine is no small feat for The Invincible’s writing team.
Ultimately, though, my overarching worry from this 50-odd minute preview slice is that The Invincible isn’t doing enough moment to moment to keep players engaged and immersed in its story. While the chunk I played did successfully pique my interest to find out more about what the deal was with Yasna, Novik and the strange, swarm-like ‘fly’ robots that seemed to be the thing responsible for devastating the rest of the convoy (not the death laser Antimat bots), I was also quite bored at times and really wanted everything to just move along a little bit faster. There were also moments when I was wandering around for a long time searching for the next thing to click on, all because it hadn’t previously crossed my eyeline. As I alluded to earlier, this will definitely grate over the long term if Yasna isn’t able to move around her environment a bit faster, and could be a big turn-off for a lot of people if they’re only so-so about the wider storyline.
I’m almost tempted to just go away and read the book first to see if I really want to come back to the game once it launches sometime in 2023. Then again, I do also think that part of my boredom stems from the fact that , well, we have kind of already seen the big plot twists of this particular moment in the game back at E3, and it was really only toward the end of my preview build that it started to get into some new and properly exciting story territory. There was still a lot of walking, a lot of talking, and a lot of poking and prodding of buttons and levers, admittedly, but the introduction of the all-consuming fly robots was pretty darn chilling. So I’m hopeful that the rest of The Invincible will be able to dial up the suspense a bit more. If it doesn’t, though, then this could be pretty dull slog through the dusty canyons of Regis III.