Let's get straight to it: for some of you, Invisible, Inc. will be close to the perfect video game.
There's an easy way to determine if you're one of those people. Ask yourself this question: "Would I enjoy a game that takes (most of) the best parts of XCOM, Splinter Cell and roguelikes and combines them?"
Say "no" and you might still find this to be a very good video game. Say "yes", though, and holy shit, you're in for a good time.
Invisible, Inc. puts you in control of a team of secret agents, who are on the run after having their HQ raided and who have 72 hours to cobble together enough resources and intel to mount a counter-attack against some corporate bad dudes. You're given a variety of missions to pick from, each offering various perks upon completion (like cash, or new gear), but each one eats up a certain amount of time on the clock. Once 72 hours is up, you assault the enemy base, and you better hope you've scrounged up enough gear to get the job done.
Missions are turn-based as you move your agents around an enemy office, dodging cameras and sneaking past guards. Or hacking cameras and beating guards unconscious, it's up to you. While you're encouraged to avoid enemy contact, you do have a variety of weapons at your disposal, as well as gear that can disable and disrupt both human guards and robotic defences.
Everything's laid out on a grid, nice and clean, so anyone who enjoys XCOM, or even stuff like Fire Emblem, will be right at home.
I'm not normally that into stealth games. I find them a bit too stressful, and I play games to avoid stress, not endure more of it. I find my fun in stealth games — and this is something games like Dishonored absolutely nail — when they don't make the player feel nervous and vulnerable and isolated, and instead make the player feel powerful. You shouldn't feel like a deer that's one step away from the headlights; you should feel like Batman, a master of death and pain who lurks in the shadows, using darkness and secrecy as a weapon. It should be the AI that's afraid of you.
When I played the game in early access last year, I got a taste of what's so special about Invisible, Inc, but was also worried about the way stress still seemed to creep into the game through things like escalating alarms. I understood why they were there (the game would be too easy otherwise), but their implementation left a lot to be desired, as while they played to the stealth side of things, they also undermined the sense of strategy a turn-based game should provide.
Changing just one or two of these can give you a completely different game.
Thankfully, the full game ships with one of the best difficulty sliders I've seen outside a sports title. You can adjust almost everything about a campaign before you start, from the ability to rewind turns and replay levels to how alarms are sounded, how quickly they escalate and even stuff like how long guards remain unconscious for after you smack 'em in the head.
By ticking just a couple of boxes outside the defaults, I was able to transform the entire experience. It's less a matter of custom settings, more of becoming an armchair game designer. Many challenges remained, but by lessening one (alarm escalation) and removing another (guards basically stayed down after being knocked out) I was able to take my time, plan things out and feel like a complete badass while doing it. Instead of freaking out over alarms, I could enjoy everything else about the game, like sliding around behind cover, stalking guards and outwitting security drones.
Which was awesome! I found a way I wanted to play the game, played it and loved it. But what's so great about the depth and variety of options available to you is that the next time I played, I made different changes had an entirely different experience, one geared towards speed and the avoidance of combat. The next time through was different again. Each re-roll wasn't a new game plus, it was almost like an entirely new game.
It's not just these modifiers that make Invisible Inc. such a strong stealth game, though. The real beauty comes in the design itself, how it often feels more like a board/card game than a video game (there's a strong Netrunner influence here). Invisible Inc. retains the underlying systems of the stealth game, while stripping away so many of the things that plague fancier, real-time examples of the genre. You're never fighting the controls, or the camera, or wondering if a guard's cone of vision is bullshit; everything is laid out precisely for you on a grid, leaving no room for argument. It's just you and your brain, no twitch or trigger-finger required.
The game's intro and the first mission of a campaign.
Invisible, Inc. has a "story", so much as you're given a reason to go from the main menu to a hectic final mission, but this isn't a narrative game. The idea isn't to play it, finish it then leave it behind. Invisible Inc. is basically a roguelike, encouraging you to play the same game over and over and over until you've either perfected it or bled it dry.
As I've said, messing with the campaign options is part of this, but so are unlocks — you get new characters, gear and perks each time you play — and the fact that every map is randomly-generated, meaning you never, ever face the same challenge twice. This is pretty important for a game like this; if it repeated maps you'd be able to learn shortcuts and memorise guard patrols, but with a new map every time you start a mission, you'll forever be on your toes.
This randomness and emphasis on replayability has a downside, though, in that it makes the game feel a little thin. With so many cool and interesting agents at your disposal (rarely has just design and animation been able to express so much character), it would have been awesome to be able to manage them better and spend more time with them, really build up a strong crew (ala XCOM), but campaigns are short, your stat increases don't carry between campaigns and at the end of the last mission everything — even your save itself — is wiped clean. The only things you get to keep are the stuff you unlock, which is accessible from a campaign setup screen for the next time you play.
This isn't a big deal initially, but after a while it all starts to feel a bit like a restaurant that only serves appetisers. They might be delicious, but after a few tastes of the good stuff what you really want to do is sink your teeth into something a bit more substantial.
OK, so maybe it's not quite perfect, but I still love this game. It's strategic, it's flexible, it's empowering. It even has a really cool sense of style, with great characters and some gorgeous flourishes in the animation. This is a game anyone who cares for tactics, espionage or just good times on a PC really needs to check out.