Forget Everything You Know About Turn-Based Games

Forget Everything You Know About Turn-Based Games

Turn-based games are supposed to be about time. Patience. Giving the player the luxury – and comfort – of taking as long as they want to make sure they get their moves just right. Invisible Inc is a turn-based game, but it takes that decades-old assumption and just throws it out the window.

Made by Klei, they of Mark of the Ninja fame, Invisible Inc takes place in a near-future world where corporations run the show. The game quietly launched on Steam’s Early Access last week, and while far from complete – there’s only one game mode available – there’s more than enough interesting content already there to talk about it.

You play the role of a field commander, leading small teams of operatives into office buildings around the world, where they have to hide from guards, disable security cameras, hack security turrets and steal a whole bunch of stuff.

Normally that’s action that needs the soft touch of an action game, but in Invisible Inc everything is isometric, takes place on a grid and is turn-based. Think XCOM, then, only with a number of key differences.

First, the stealth. You’re a covert operative here, not a soldier, so the key is to avoid combat, not seek it out. Both security cameras and enemy guards have cones of vision that help you get around their gaze, only here’s the thing: that gaze isn’t constant. And this is where the turn-based of the game starts to mess with you. Sure, you might be able to slip past a guard as he’s standing now, but if he turns around next turn and catches you standing in the middle of the hall, you’re toast.

So you need to not only plan for the turn you’re on, but the turn ahead. It’s taxing, and at times makes getting past guards as much of a puzzle game as an exercise in tactics.

The next difference is something fans of the excellent Gunpoint will be familiar with. The game has a mode where, at the flick of the spacebar, the screen goes all Matrix-y and gives you a look at the security network apparatus around you. From this screen, you can disable cameras, shut down servers, hack security turrets and crack safes. You only have a limited pool of resources with which to spend on these hacks, though, so using them is a case of deciding whether it’s worth it given the constraints you’re facing.

The biggest of which is time, and this is where the turn-based nature of the game (well, at least the parts already available on Early Access) is really flipped on its head. Each mission has an alarm countdown. Every time you end a turn, this ticks down. After 5-6 ticks, the alarm escalates. Each time it does this, your job gets harder; there’ll be more cameras, more security guards and eventually the appearance of elite guards, who are death on legs and are to be avoided at all costs.

What this does is stop you from really thinking. There’s no time, or point, to carefully planning your way through a level. You have to think on your feet, combine strategy and luck as well as you can, hit “end turn”, watch everything play out and hope for the best. Throw in the fact that without searching at least a few safes and terminals along the way for money and power you’ll be unable to improve your agents (you can buy upgrades), and it all gets incredible tense, unnaturally so for a turn-based video game.

I…don’t know whether I like this or not! At times, I appreciate the fact that it’s keeping me on my toes, stopping me from being the world’s most boring thief, who would spend three hours moving across four rooms. At other times, though, it just stresses me out. It’s my mission and I’m the commander; if I want to take my time and do the mission carefully, I should be allowed to.

So hopefully that gets balanced a little before the full game is “done”. Whenever that is for an Early Access game these days. Making it optional, perhaps, or even restricting its use for certain missions. Give me a chance to catch my breath, guys. I’m faint-hearted when it comes to stealth.

Because if I can slow down long enough to enjoy some of the other stuff on show in this game, then hoo boy. This could be just as good as it sounds when someone inevitably says “well, it’s like XCOM-meets-Gunpoint-meets Syndicate” and you go “wait REALLY because that sounds amazing”.

Invisible Inc is $16 on Early Access.


  • The video looked interesting, tried reading the article but the gifs are driving me insane. How is this considered professional?

    • The newspaper looked interesting, tried reading the article but the colour pictures are driving me insane. How is this considered professional?

      • The printed periodical looked interesting, tried reading the bulletin but the wood etchings are driving me insane. How is this considered professional?

        • The manuscript looked interesting, tried reading the story but the illuminated illustrations are driving me insane. How is this considered professional?

      • A picture can be used to illustrate something being described in an article, a video obviously does the same thing – particularly when the subject of the article isn’t static (like a game).

        On the other hand multiple gifs extracted from a video that is already posted in the same article serve no purpose other then to make the article look unprofessional, lag the page and irritate many reader’s eyes.

        Last time I checked pictures, illustrations and clothes don’t blink, flash and repeat at terrible fps in the corners of your eye while you’re trying to read between them (maybe the clothes could but then just close your eyes and listen, that one was kind of a bad analogy).

        • You obviously have a point. However, what I wanted to illustrate is that it’s simply an artefact of the cultural zeitgeist moving on. People are starting to migrate their digital news-reading to tablets and phones, which have a vertical format, as opposed to the landscape format of the computer screen and people are getting used to have paragraphs of text in their screen-wide, one-column articles, being broken by images (the “blog effect”). Moreover, when talking about interactive media, you want to show images in movement and not everyone has the time to watch a video (or may have other reasons not to want to start a video). Gifs are the perfect way of delivering snippets of motion information that you barely have to spend time evaluating.

          You may find ridiculous my examples as a modern reader, but in truth, there were people who, standing on the edge of the evolution of the formats in which news are presented, complained about the colour pictures, the etchings, the illustrations and the criers. You are now one of them.

          • Gifs are a relic of the 90’s that have no place outside of funny reaction photos. I highly doubt that we will ever see them in “professional media.”

            (Kotaku AU is great)

          • More like the current attitude towards gifs are a relic of the 90s when they were used for tacky Geosites bling. I cannot conceive how, in all objectivity, a small snippet of video could be more annoying than it is informing.

        • There are extensions that stop gifs from loading, as for me, I like gifs in articles. I cannot view videos on the work internet so gifs are a luxury.

      • I agree the GIFs are a little annoying.

        Here’s a suggestion for the devs, how about overlaying a still image over the top of GIFs, and only expose the GIF on hover or on focus (for mobile)?

  • Meh. Time crunches piss me off. Hopefully they make the alarm timer a kind of difficulty setting, so I can play it on ultra-pansy-wimp mode for the satisfaction of a slow, methodical game.

    • Yah, there’s nothing like sitting back, stroking your chin and weighing everything with near obsessive certainty. But Mark of the Ninja was one of the best stealth games I’ve ever played, their remix of the stealth/platform genre was so competent, it makes me very interested to see how they interpret the turn-based genre.

        • As a parent of 2, time is often the thing I have little of. Hopefully it comes to iPad cause that’s the easier platform for me to burn a few minutes on.

  • Sounds a lot like Frozen Synapse’s gameplay, which I really liked, so I’m ultra keen for this.

  • Looks interesting, but I’m not sure I’ll need to ‘Forget Everything I Know About Turn-Based Games’ C’mon Kotaku, a little less upworthyness please 🙂

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