I have to confess that I have never read The Invincible by Stanisław Lem, but I think that worked out for the best as I came in to the videogame simply intrigued by the concept. In the end I found the tale of conflict, humanity and evolution on the desolate planet of Regis III engrossing if uneven at times.
While the gameplay of The Invincible is essentially a walking simulator with some exploration and puzzle solving, the story is what kept me interested throughout. That and the principal character of Dr. Yasna as well as the actual planet Regis III.
Without spoiling anything, the story revolves around Dr. Yasna who is a member of an exploratory team of scientists landing on a planet that seems to be perfectly designed for life but instead appears desolate and barren. The team is eager to discover anything they can as quickly as possible, as an enemy faction is sending a much better-equipped force in the cruiser The Invincible shortly.
All narratives need some sort of hook to get the tension and story flowing and in this case it is Yasna discovering that much of her team is unreachable. Left with only her Astrogator up in orbit Yasna is tasked to try and find her team and discover why Regis III seems to be barren when it should be thriving.
What I really enjoyed most during my time with The Invincible was the back-and-forth with Yasna and the Astrogator as well as her internal monologues framed as reports. The exploration and discovery of what brought the planet to the state it’s in was also delivered in a slow yet satisfyingly meticulous way.
As Yasna is exploring, discovering and seeking out other survivors the game mostly leaves you to your own devices. A journal with a slowly evolving map, discoverable captures from probes and tools like a material detector and tracker are all the tools at her disposal. Finding the right path requires leveraging these tools to continue the journey. It was nice not to be constantly handheld but I could see how some could get a tad lost.
The setting of The Invincible reflects the retro-futuristic outlook common in the 1960s when the book was written. Devices are clunky but technologically advanced. Ships are cluttered with many switches and large buttons yet capable of interstellar flight and mass destruction.
The look and feel was frankly perfect, with colors, designs and tech gadgets that brought me back to classic sci-fi movies or even early series like the original Star Trek run. The distinct look and feel of Yasna’s Commonwealth uniform and vehicles as contrasted with the Alliance’s far superior force was striking and fun to experience.
The dialogue mostly works great but does come across heavy-handed at times especially when dealing with conflicting morals or evolutionary discussions. This is a story based on a Cold War-era novel after all, but enough modernization of language and tone was used to make the game a timeless story.
A neat tidbit is that as choices are made and paths discovered a comic book slowly gets generated in the menu. This acts as a summary but also an interesting way to revisit your story in a stylized format.
The Invincible as a game is a tough thing to review or recommend. There are no fight sequences, quick action or flashy gameplay mechanics. Instead it is a thoughtful story with moments of tension, panic and discovery that were thrilling overall, if at times they moved at a pace that was a tad too slow.
I really enjoyed my time with this game, but also know that The Invincible was tailored for a sci-fi nerd like me who loves to discover a great story and concept. If that is your preference as well then I strongly suggest checking out The Invincible as it was a different and enjoyable experience in this sea of AAA releases.
We were provided a PlayStation 5 copy of the The Invincible by the games publisher for the purpose of this review. The Invincible is available right now for PC via Steam and GOG, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S.