The Invincible is one of those games where the less you know the better — to a degree. A story in the stars that adapts the Stanisław Lem novel of the same name, it plays quite a lot like a sci-fi Firewatch. While your actions don't extend much beyond walking and operating gadgets and machinery, an intriguing plot and many narrative-defining decisions make the Starward Industries game stand proud. The end result is a consistently good game, though The Invincible struggles to do much more.
You play as Yasna, an astrobiologist who winds up separated from her crew on an unexplored planet named Regis III. Having withstood a short burst of amnesia, she must find her crewmates while uncovering the sandy rock's secrets and working out why life has failed to flourish on the paradise planet. Along the way, your decisions and dialogue choices help shape the story arc, resulting in a few different conclusions at the end of a roughly seven-hour playthrough.
It's a lot more hard science fiction than the typical Star Wars escapade, dealing with topics and theories you might need to Google before sparking a discussion. No bad thing, of course, but it's a narrative that demands you invest on a level deeper than stereotypical aliens and flying saucers. The game is better for that, and it can be felt in almost every aspect; the controls in particular.
Instead of freeing exploration as a result of low gravity, The Invincible reflects the harsh realities of an astronaut, where one wrong turn could kill you. Every step across the surface of Regis III is felt inside your controller, either through weighty inputs or haptic feedback on PS5. And when it comes to the decisions you need to make, the route to an objective becomes an important talking point: should you risk sliding down the stone-laden drop for a shortcut or take the safer but longer path around? While remaining as enjoyable to play as possible, Starward Industries has worked to bury its experience in realism rather than the otherworldly wonders of a George Lucas flick.
Those same praises don't quite manage to apply to the gameplay, however. Whereas the plot shoots for the stars, the tasks that get you from one story beat to the next remain reserved. Just like the aforementioned Campo Santo experience, you'll be doing a lot of walking, talking, and handling the occasional tool. It never really feels much more than serviceable, with objectives holding your hand a lot of the time through a mostly linear environment. You'll sometimes need to use devices to locate members of your crew, scan rock formations, and spot landmarks in the distance, but that's about it besides a few driving sections.
There are a handful of scenes and sequences that attempt to up the ante, but they're not frequent enough to where The Invincible really takes the next step in terms of overall quality. As such, it becomes a title where gameplay is a vehicle to story rather than a completely well-rounded experience.
That's not such a bad thing, though, when the narrative is this intriguing. Your decisions weigh heavily as protagonist Yasna battles between life and knowledge on Regis III, prompting repeat playthroughs to see what you missed — both literally and conceptually. As we haven't read the book, we can't comment on how well the game adapts Stanisław Lem's writing, but what's here is mostly gripping. Although it loses a bit of spark once the overall mystery is revealed, the game has more than enough going for it to see you through to one of a few endings.
One really neat feature on the main menu even immortalizes your journey from beginning to end. As your decisions begin to affect the story, the game crafts a comic book around them, complete with drawings and details covering your personal choices. A great way to catch up if you take a few days’ break from the title, or just a neat way to recount the tale, it's a lovely little extra.
However, what you won't find it drawing are the frequent graphical bugs. Missing textures and pop-in were common during our playthrough, and lighting glitches either made scenes far too bright or caused bulbs to constantly flicker — particularly inside vehicles. Annoying distractions, but it's promised these issues will be fixed in post-launch updates.
They're blemishes on a game that, otherwise, has some spectacular vistas to speak of. The Invincible dots its background with gas giants and moons, pairing them with bright, beautiful skies to capture some visually dazzling scenes. There are no bugs to speak of when gazing up at the azure; an impressive feat for a smaller studio.
It's borderline vexing, then, how the game is almost on the cusp of greatness. All of the ingredients for a quality experience are there, from its gripping plot to the stunning visual design — when it's not breaking. Had the gameplay managed to spawn some excitement, The Invincible would be up there with What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home. In its current form, the game can only flirt with stardom before being rejected on the final date.
The Invincible has a wondrous story to tell and dazzling graphics to match, but it's held back from greatness by gameplay that struggles to ever break away from the genre structure of old. Mostly walking and talking, it never feels anything more than serviceable. Still, there's an interesting narrative to experience, and with your own decisions changing events, The Invincible should still be played by sci-fi fanatics.