Klei Entertainment has garnered a bit of a reputation over recent years for delivering quality games across very different genres. Whether you're stealthily murdering all comers in Mark of the Ninja or trying not to starve in, well, Don't Starve, its titles have carefully woven gameplay systems that make for enjoyably deep experiences. Invisible, Inc. is no different to these previous efforts, and with it making its way to the PlayStation 4, this well respected developer once again gets to display its characteristically deft touch, infiltrating the turn-based strategy genre in an assured fashion.
Invisible, Inc. takes place at the back end of the 21st century and – surprise, surprise – corporations pretty much rule the globe. These continent spanning super-companies represent prime pickings for corporate espionage and theft, and it's in this arena that the collection of spies, assassins, and operators known as Invisible, Inc. ply their trade.
The trouble is, they seem to have upset someone powerful, and when their headquarters come under attack, only the head of the agency makes it out unharmed, taking AI Incognita with her. With only two active agents left out in the field, they have 72 hours to find out who has it in for them before Incognita's back-up power runs out of juice, and the corporations move in to finish them off.
In order to complete this mission you need to conduct raids on corporate facilities across the world, accumulating, money, equipment, computer programs, and agents so that when the time comes to turn the tables on your enemies you're fully prepared. While the story provides a decent setup, it's predominantly told via a series of talking head scenes between missions, really only going beyond this in short bookend scenes at the start and end of the game. As a result, it pretty quickly melts into the shadows, making this title's main draw the tactical espionage action.
At any time you'll have a random selection of missions open to you presenting a variety of rewards, so you'll need to determine where you want to focus your efforts. With the ever-present knowledge that you only have a limited amount of time, you'll always be assessing which part of your team most needs the work. Once you're dropped into a mission, you need to explore each procedurally generated layout in search of its treasures, as well as the exit you'll need to escape back to your base of operations.
Sounds pretty straight forward, doesn't it? Well, it isn't – not by a long shot. As you guide your agents around using up their limited pool of action points to complete your moves, you'll come across a variety of counter measures you need to circumvent. These include not only guard patrols, but also surveillance cameras and firewalls that block your access to the computer systems in a mission area.
Hacking is by far the biggest tool at your disposal, and by pressing triangle you'll bring up an overlay view that shows the hackable items that you've identified in a level – as well how many firewalls you need to breach to take control of it. Using a suite of programs controlled by Incognita, you can spend 'power' – gained mainly by hacking certain terminals in a level – in order to crack their protection, giving you control over that particular electronic item. Whether it's a security camera, power generator, lootable safe, or a database revealing the location of certain assets within a level, having access will help you move around undetected so you can get out before the ever escalating security measures make your life very difficult.
We could spend a helluva lot of time listing every intertwined mechanical nuance that makes up the infiltration stages in Invisible, Inc., but suffice to say that as every turn passes, and the security alert level slowly ticks up, new challenges will present themselves as additional guards arrive on the scene, previously hacked systems get rebooted, and hostile computer programs appear to protect vulnerable systems. It's enjoyably tense as you try and use as few turns as you can to achieve your objective, but there's always an underlying temptation to stay longer to try and get more equipment or money to help outfit your agents.
There's a real thrill to getting the better of the defences arrayed against you, while employing every last tool at your disposal to evade, or eliminate, the obstacles in your way. One of the most exciting aspects is the constant need to reassess and adjust your plan as you push through the fog of war, uncovering just what you're contending with. Do you stun the guard, knowing that they'll get back up in three turns alerted to your presence? Or do you put them down permanently causing the security alert level to advance even closer to the next escalation? Each decision carries weight, and should your carefully laid plans start to unravel you'll be scrambling to get your agents out alive as guards begin to actively hunt you.
Not only does Invisible, Inc. share quite a bit of DNA with games like XCOM, it surprisingly has a fair bit in common with roguelikes as well. Without the included Contingency Plan DLC – which extends the campaign, adding new agents, equipment, and programs – you can run through the story in only a few hours, but if you're playing on a difficulty level above Beginner, and your agents get killed in mission, you'll be sent back to the start of the 72 hour gauntlet to try again.
Depending on which of the many difficulty levels you're playing on, you may also have a number of "rewinds". These let you roll back to the beginning of your previous turn in the hope that you can avoid what might have turned out to be a catastrophic error of judgement. While these are certainly welcome, there will be times when you're too far gone to rescue the situation, and you'll potentially see hours of work slip through your fingers. While this makes for a challenging and tense experience, not everyone will be able to hack it, and fortunately you can customise any aspect of the difficulty level – such as the number of rewinds, or the ability to restart missions – letting you find that sweet spot that'll work for you.
In the event that you should fail, all is not lost as you still get experience for the missions that you did manage to complete, and as you gain levels you'll be granted access to new agents and starting programs, which help you change up your strategies so that you can try and build the ultimate spy team. Whether it's getting to grips with the extremely handy remote hacking of Internationale or the lethal armour piercing weaponry of Shalem 11, you'll have plenty of reasons to revisit the campaign many times over, not only because of the randomly generated layouts, but also so that you can try out new combinations of agents, equipment, upgrades, and programs during each run.
In a genre that's traditionally concerned more with open combat, Invisible, Inc.'s stealth focus is a revelation. Chock full of smart game design, you're gifted plenty of options in how you approach your mission, and despite having so many tools at your disposal, it remains satisfyingly challenging, without ever crossing over into being unfair. While the roguelike progression could potentially be a downside for some, the high level of customisation around the difficulty settings will swiftly rob you of this complaint. Simply put, if you have even a passing interest in turn-based strategy games, you shouldn't let this exceptional title sneak under your radar.