Hide-and-seek is an undeniably fun game, one which we sadly grow out of all too quickly in adulthood. The thrill of the chase and the near-miss of being caught releases something primal within us and provides an exhilarating rush which serves to fuel our adrenaline and keeps us coming back for more. So when the opportunity arises to revisit this childhood game within a futuristic corporate office block whilst throwing in hacking, theft and drones, the allure is almost too hard to resist. Step forward, Invisible, Inc.
Klei Entertainment’s latest offering seamlessly merges turn-based strategy with roguelike and RPG elements. The premise is simple: the titular corporation has been infiltrated and decimated, leaving the remaining straggling agents under your control desperately trying to regroup and fight back. Overseen by Gladstone - a leader bearing more than a passing resemblance to Mallory Archer - you have a set number of days available to carry out a series of tactical missions in order to weaken the opposing organisation.
Missions take numerous forms but all take place in the same procedurally generated offices. You may be tasked with infiltrating one to recover cash to fund your cause, another to use augmentation machines in a laboratory in order to enhance the agents under your control, or yet another to pinpoint and steal the locations of more targets which will open up the map for further espionage. Managing your travel is important, since the clock is ticking down to a predetermined endgame. If you choose a 72-hour mission, for example, spending twelve hours flying from Asia to America to recover a new weapon might not be the wisest move. However, if you have managed to uncover a potential new target in Europe mid-way, then the trip might not be such a risk after all. Trying to cram in as much crime as you can in the allotted time-frame makes for an interesting game in itself and it can be shortened or lengthened through the settings menu at the start, even allowing you to set an endless run if you wish.
Once safely teleported in, objectives are fairly standard: locate the item, room or person you’re there for, use or capture them, then locate a teleporter in a different room and escape. Each of your initial two agents has a set number of action points (AP) to spend on movement, hacking, takedowns, and other activities. The floorplan of the building develops as you enter each room, whether that’s a reckless charge or by peeking through the door. The random nature of the layout means that your target could be anywhere on the floor, which rewards exploration of the building and also opens up other opportunities for theft from safes dotted around.
Guards and cameras are your main concern in missions. Line of sight for each is highlighted by red and yellow boxes, with the latter indicating squares you can occupy undetected. As guards move past your location, you can opt to render them unconscious for a few turns with an electrical weapon. As long as you share the same square they will remain knocked out, but as soon as you move away a countdown to their revival will begin. Whilst you can drag bodies away, their impending recovery will always have you on the back foot, second-guessing the movements of the remaining guards (although an option to observe them is available for an AP cost), and wondering if you actually have enough obstructed squares to make an escape without alerting them.
You’re ably assisted in this regard by your AI companion, Incognita. Hitting the spacebar will activate her, and by using PWR units she lets you hack cameras to switch them off, open safes, disable laser fields, take control of drones, and more. PWR can be obtained from consoles you’ll come across, as well as via passive skills you can acquire. The opposition have their own tech though, in the form of a security system which increases in strength every five turns. As the level of their defences rise, more cameras will come online, tougher guards will materialise, and firewalls will require more PWR to hack them.
The RPG elements are ostensibly reduced to managing four key stats of each of your agents; Strength allows you to carry more items, Speed increases your movement, Hacking improves the amount of PWR you recover from consoles, and Anarchy assists in stealing. There are also additional items of varying usefulness which utilise these core stats, and each of your agents has a unique ability which may assist in infiltrations too. For instance, Decker can uncover Daemons (viruses) within consoles and mainframes, whilst Internationale can hack consoles remotely - a useful way of leeching PWR from adjacent rooms without risking agents.
Whilst you’ll be using non-lethal measures to incapacitate foes temporarily to begin with, more permanent solutions may be required in later missions. If an agent is discovered, they have one move to get out of line of sight and consider their options whilst there. Due to the cooldown time of many items, you could find yourself against a wall with nothing to use against an oncoming guard, and no backup in a nearby room to rush in and assist. Should the worst happen, you have a chance to recover your fallen comrade with med gel, but otherwise they’re either killed permanently or captured. Incarceration may seem like a better option, but you then need to decide whether to spend valuable time infiltrating their prison to rescue them. Such is the precarious nature of the looming countdown timer; every hour is precious.
Despair not though, a number of “rewinds” are provided on each mission to roll you back to the start of your last turn and undo the mess you landed yourself in by opening the wrong door or expending AP unwisely. The numeracy of these, like most mission options in the game, are customisable. Hardcore TBS players will head to the Ironman mode with no rewinds, and tinker with the various other options such as alarm increments, number of Daemons and amount of goodies available to offer more of a challenge. This is welcome, as whilst Beginner mode is advisable to those new to the genre, you’ll quickly pick up the basics and hanker after a tougher trial before long. Sadly, AI doesn’t really improve as the difficulty rises. Guards will frequently lose interest in you after you’re discovered and make other odd decisions when they are distracted.
It is the core gameplay which both helps and hinders Invisible, Inc. On the one hand it provides an accessible experience, with just enough variety between missions to keep things interesting. Permadeath adds weight to the proceedings, and the nature of each turn’s risk/reward strategy provides a great deal of depth to how you approach a level. Conversely, the repetitive nature of the gameplay and visually samey environments work against it. The story is reduced to voice actors reading well-written but ultimately fluffy text on the screen, which feels even more humdrum after watching the brilliant animated opening sequence. And whilst the comic-book style visuals and menacing electro-synth offer a glimpse of the atmosphere that Klei wanted to imbue the game with, it’s lost amongst an experience which is initially arresting but ultimately sterile. Like eating mediocre Chinese food, you will initially enjoy gorging yourself on what’s on offer but end up feeling unsatisfied and a little hollow, as if the meal could have, and should have, been far more.