Preview: Invisible Inc.

There’s something exciting and thrilling about being able to sneak around in a randomized corporate environment, with hazards like guards, turrets, security cameras. Each room you proceed to can be dangerous just as it can be lucrative. That is the sort of experience that Klei Entertainment, the developer of Invisible Inc., aims to deliver. Klei has a good repertoire of games and even have previous experience in the stealth genre as the developer of Mark of the Ninja. Although Invisible Inc is a stealth game at its core, the procedural turn-based strategy approach to the game offers a very unique play experience.

The basic premise of the game is simple: you have 72 hours to prepare for a final showdown with the shadowy corporation known as Invisible Inc. With limited resources, you have to undergo missions that not only bolster your agent’s experience but also your roster of available agents and the equipment that they bring with them into the field. Everything within a mission is randomized, offering a variety of different challenges and multiple ways to combat or circumvent them. If an agent is incapacitated and you choose to leave them, then that agent is lost forever. And you won’t be able to create any saves on your own; every choice you make in Invisible Inc. will stick with you for the rest of your playthrough.

In Invisible Inc, you are the Operator, responsible for directing your agents in the field. You can command them from a top down perspective, and you can move them freely while they have the remaining action points to do so. Once your turn is over and you have moved the agents to your satisfaction, the Corporation turns begin. Their guards will either patrol a set area, or actively search for you, depending on how events have played out. Within these levels there are also a variety of objects you can interact with. With the use of Incognita, a hacking program you can utilize, you’ll be able to turn the Corporation’s equipment against them. Any electronic device, from security cameras to turrets to safes, can be manipulated to your advantage. Incognita is an invaluable tool, and proper usage will greatly increase your chances of success in the field. Credits you earn from missions can then be used to purchase equipment, items, and upgrades for your agents. You’ll need to spend wisely, as once the difficulty ramps up, any piece of high-level equipment will be a blessing, and any training you can afford to sink into your agents could help or hinder in the long run.

Navigating and sneaking around in Invisible Inc. strikes a surprisingly good balance between being a standard stealth game and a completely novel experience. Enemies have a clearly labelled vision cone and acted according to any typical stealth AI. How much they can see is clearly labeled in your display, and if you mouse over areas behind cover it will tell you if the area is sufficient enough to conceal your presence. It even offers specific details like whether or not a guard will only notice your move, or if they will actually see you. Enemies that have their attention focused on something (like a door opening, or the sound of footsteps) will have a marker labeled at the point of interest, making it much easier to plan around a target’s movement patterns. Playing Invisible Inc. was just like playing a stealth game, but in a turn-based format… which was definitely a first for me.

Unfortunately, you don’t have all the time in the world to sneak around at your leisure. Within each stage, there is an alarm level that increases every turn that passes. Once the alarm level has reached a certain threshold, the Corporation will enact a set counter-measure, such as activating additional cameras or calling in reinforcements. This mechanic forces you into a classic dilemma: do you take it slow and check your corners, potentially building up a high alarm level? Or do you rush and infiltrate with haste, throwing caution to the wind?

There is something else to add: Invisible Inc is extremely difficult. Over my 10 or so playthroughs, only once have I gotten to the second day, and within that game I immediately got eliminated from the first mission I did. The game is unforgiving; frequently you’ll find yourself restarting because you lost an agent and did not have a medi-gel on hand to resurrect them. Fortunately, Klei released a patch recently that added in an Easy difficulty that may help beginners ease into the game.

Invisible Inc so far has great likelihood of becoming a unique and exciting experience. I’ve played tons of turn-based strategy games before, and I’ve played tons of stealth games before; but adding the two together is something very different. Trying to sneak an agent into an area without being detected is a combination of both sound strategy and a solid grasp of stealth mechanics; skills I have rarely used in conjunction with each other.

The game is currently in early access on Steam, and is slated for a release later this year. It will be interesting to see what else Klei can think up with to make the game an even better experience.