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Preview: The Invincible

7 Oct 2022

Taking a creative work of one medium and adapting it into another is something we’ve all seen time and time again. The process of turning novels into films, for example, is an undertaking that’s consistently taken place for as long as both media formats have existed.

Given this prevalence, I’ve always found it strange just how rare it is to see novels reworked into video games by comparison. There are certainly some noticeable exceptions (The Witcher series, the Metro series, and a plethora of older RPGs based on properties such as Discworld, to name a few) but it isn’t something you see on a regular basis.

Imagine my surprise then, when I learned about The Invincible, an upcoming first-person adventure game based heavily on the 1964 novel of the same name by Stanisław Lem. Developed by Starward Industries and published by 11 Bit Studios, the game will put players in control of Yasna, an astrobiologist on the hunt for her missing crewmates on the surface of planet Regis III when it launches in 2023.

I had the opportunity to spend about an hour in an early build of The Invincible recently, and while there were plenty of promising aspects, it did leave me with a few misgivings regarding its execution.

The demo began in medias res, with Yasna already on the surface of the planet. After losing contact with a convoy of her fellow scientists, she decides to navigate through a nearby canyon in an effort to reunite with them, or at the very least find something that can point her in their direction. It becomes readily apparent that something very wrong has happened when she discovers the wreckage of their vehicles and several corpses.

As she traverses the environment, Yasna discovers clues and voices scientific observations about her surroundings and what might have happened to the rest of her crew. Returning her comments and contributing his own theories is Novik the astrogator, another member of the crew operating from Regis III’s orbit.

The interplay between the two characters is an interesting one given the air of unspoken tension between them, and the way they piece together information to reach a shared conclusion was one of my favorite aspects of the demo’s narrative. In essence, The Invincible is a first-person adventure game and science fiction mystery wrapped up into one, and from broken robots to metallic flora, the concepts at play seem like they’ll make for an interesting one to unravel.

It didn’t take very long after getting my hands on the demo to learn that The Invincible’s core gameplay loop is pretty straightforward. The player directs Yasna through a largely linear pathway, taking in the environment and combing the desolate landscape for objects that will prompt a dialogue to take place between her and Novik.

I say “largely linear” because the demo started off by giving me the option of choosing one of two paths for Yasna. The first choice cut straight through the canyon’s center, while the second option saw her climbing a series of steep rocks in the interest of gaining a height advantage on the location of the convoy.

The path I chose (the steep rocks) offered unique dialogue, which was an appreciable benefit, although the decision I made didn’t actually bar my access to go down the straightforward path either. This was the only occasion I was able to choose my path in the demo, so it remains to be seen if this will be a prevalent feature in the full game. It didn’t alter my experience too much, but I did enjoy having a bit of input in Yasna’s investigation.

One of the most memorable sequences of the demo saw Yasna procure a series of slides from the wreckage of a spider-like robot. The slides showed still images that served as a record of an event that the machine recorded, and as she shuffled through each one, she’d react to the images in real time and analyze the diagnostics the robot ran to glean more information about what really happened there.

While this was happening, I was still able to walk around the general area and piece together where each still took place before advancing to the next one at my own pace. It made for a higher level engagement than simply watching a cutscene play out as Yasna looked through the slides herself, and the graphic novel-esque style of the stills gave them a unique flair.

Something immediately striking about The Invincible’s preview was the way it wastes no time in establishing a sense of vertical scale. From the moment you gain control, columns of orange stone and sheer cliffs tower above Yasna while a distant planet stands imposingly in the sky, dwarfing the player’s perspective.

And on that note, if ever there was a star of the show here, it would be the world of Regis III itself. It feels heavily rooted in the science fiction aesthetics of the 1960s—highly fitting given the original release date of the novel—with much of the machinery sporting soft, rounded angles and smooth surfaces in stark contrast with the jagged rocks surrounding them. The same is true for the abandoned scientific gadgetry and vehicles Yasna comes across, adorned with large colorful buttons of indeterminable purpose.

The experience was sadly a bit rough around the edges, particularly from a technical perspective. I encountered consistent hiccups, from inexplicable performance dips to animations playing out incorrectly, like Yasna’s helmet clipping through objects in the environment when she would climb certain spots. There were also a few instances of misplaced geometry and stretched textures as a result, which especially stood out given the high quality of the rest of the environment.

Of course, issues with performance and visual mishaps have the benefit of being easily forgiven in a preview like this. The Invincible isn’t set to release until 2023, after all, and that’s more than enough time to iron out any technical kinks like the ones I experienced here.

Unfortunately, I’m a bit less certain when it comes to improving the issues present in the dialogue and interactions between the characters. The voice actors all do a serviceable enough job (although Yasna and Novik are the standouts), but certain syntax decisions in their dialogue leave a bit to be desired.

The way some of the exchanges are phrased can feel unnatural at best and difficult to parse at worst, occasionally leaving the player to fend for themselves when it comes to figuring out what the most recent story beat means for the overall development of the mystery. Similarly, the player can often pick one of two or three dialogue options for Yasna, and the passionate emotion behind the delivery of these lines can sometimes feel out of line with the text of the dialogue itself.

It’s clear the team at Starward Industries is intimately familiar with not only the feel of Stanisław Lem’s original novel, but also the retro-futuristic aesthetic of science fiction from the time period at large. Even from this brief preview, I was highly impressed with the visual execution on display despite the presentational shortcomings. That said, it remains to be seen if the atmosphere of The Invincible will be enough to keep players engaged in the face of a simplistic gameplay loop and some strange quirks in the dialogue and interactions of the characters.

Preview beta access provided by 11 bit studios for PC. Screenshots provided by 11 bit studios. Featured image courtesy of 11 bit studios.