When is it acceptable to leave a friend to die?
Invisible, Inc., the fantastically named turn-based stealth game from Klei, is my standout strategy title of 2015 (and one of VICE's top 20 games of the year), and it has one main mission. It wants you to be decisive.
Over the course of the game's campaign you'll make a multitude of choices. Sometimes the questions it asks will be simple, but more often than not you'll be trying to choose which result screws you over the least.
Most strategy games with choices start to feel tired after a few hours: Either the options are too restrictive or too asinine. In many, it rarely feels like a choice truly matters, which can make people feel cheated or the entire process feel stale.
The reason Invisible, Inc. is the highest-placing strategy release on VICE Gaming's end-of-year round up, and my own personal game of the year, is that every single decision matters. Whether it's closing a door, upgrading an agent, or leaving half my team behind in an enemy stronghold, either/or moments that seem trivial or incredibly important can both lead to significant consequences.
You see, you've got just 72 hours to try and pull back the broken remnants of your spy agency, so you're struggling with a lack of resources, with time foremost amongst them. At the end of this allotted period, you have to send everything, and everyone, you've managed to pull together on what looks like a one-way suicide mission.
Complete the mission and the campaign ends as a success; fail and your agency is wiped out, torn apart by the cyber-corporations looking to take it down. Your mission is grueling, and you'll need every single asset you can get your hands on to make it through.
Invisible, Inc.'s brilliance really becomes apparent, though, when you run out of options. It isn't a game about happy endings but making do, and you'll be asking yourself awful questions over the course of the game's short but infinitely replay-encouraging campaign.
Around the midway point, the situation will fall apart and Invisible, Inc. will ask you to consider the unthinkable. One of your agents will find themselves trapped by guards, while the rest of your team are assembled at the exit. Can you leave them behind? Should you leave them behind?
Because you have total control of this broken team of spies you also have full responsibility. So when you're staggering injured through an enemy facility one thing is abundantly clear: you caused this.
'Invisible, Inc.' launch trailer
Perhaps you could have prevented it with just a few more charge packs or an EMP grenade. If you'd brought those with you, maybe you could have made it. Maybe you could have done better.
You'll fail time and time again. Then you'll dust yourself off and start over.
The act of survival in Invisible, Inc. is quite simple—until you start taking risks. By rationing everything so heavily, the framework encourages you to play the long odds, to reject the safer option. You never have enough cash, time, energy, or items; but if you bet it all you'll be that much better prepared for the final struggle. If the gamble pays off.
Invisible, Inc.'s opening cinematic lays the dire situation out for you. Your agency has already lost, your top-secret headquarters has been seized, and you're all out of options. You're hanging on by a thread and you've nothing more than a pair of agents and an AI to try and turn the tables.
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You do this by running missions against the corporations that rule the game's world. These companies have their fingers firmly embedded in their own respective pies—biotech, robotics, weaponry. You're going to make enemies of all of them in the next few days as you attack their facilities while on the scrounge.
Every agent you rescue, augment you install or skill you upgrade will give you a better chance come the endgame, but similarly this means anything left behind on one of the missions will severely hurt you. Everything you own, including your agents, has a dollar value that lets you know exactly the value of what you're not able to take.
And you will be leaving things behind often, too. The alarm level during missions rises on every turn, going faster if you're spotted; and as it climbs, so the mission becomes more dangerous. You're always aware that time is running out: should you try to make it across to the office to raid the safe, or abort the mission before the extra security guards arrive?
Getting out of trouble isn't as easy as getting into it. When a guard spots you they'll aim their guns, and any following movement that doesn't break their line of sight or take them down will end with your agent bleeding on the floor.
Depending on your difficulty, the game gives you a couple of do-overs in the form of a literal rewind that'll take you back to the start of your last turn. This gives you the chance, just a couple of times per mission, to know the consequences of your actions and try again—but it doesn't take you far enough into the past that you can change the bigger situation. It's a great mechanic, and one the teenage me would have killed for while playing Jagged Alliance 2 and old X-Com games.
Crucially, Invisible, Inc. never feels unfair. Its rogue-like level design means that you'll occasionally find yourself shit out of luck, but as there's no optimal way to play you're never punished for taking a risk or trying a different angle.
So why do I always feel so bad? Why am I haunted with the memories of the time I left Internationale trapped in a room with two guards? Why do I have a pathological inability to leave a facility until I've looted everything my agents can stuff into their baggy pockets?
Invisible, Inc. has taught me that I'm a monster, but also that sometimes, just sometimes, the end justifies the means.
I could spout another several thousand worlds about the beautiful world, the cyberpunk aesthetic, or why Nika is the greatest spy of all time, but for now let's keep it simple. Invisible, Inc. is the most exciting strategy game I've played in years, and my favorite stealth game of 2015, too (and it had some competition). Get it.
Invisible, Inc. is out now for PC and Mac, and placed 19 on VICE Gaming's top 20 games of 2015—read the full list here.
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