The Invincible Is A Hard Sci-Fi Gem

The Invincible Is A Hard Sci-Fi Gem

God, science fiction is great, isn’t it? It’s a testament to the incredible brilliance of human beings that we have imaginations that stretch out into the cosmos, and feel this innate drive to explore the complexities of our own humanity through the allegory of unrealized technology. Which is to say, I’ve come out of the story-driven adventure The Invincible (see on Amazon), in that heady space of intelligent fantasy.

I’m not going to pretend to have read any of Polish science fiction master Stanisław Lem, but I have at least seen both the 1972 and 2002 film versions of his most famous novel, Solaris. However, having played this game based on his 1964 novel, The Invincible, I’m sure as hell going to start reading them. (Oh who am I kidding—I’ll download them on Audible.)

The term “walking simulator” still seems grimly bogged down by a pejorative misinterpretation, so I use it carefully to describe Polish developer Starward Industry’s extraordinary recreation of this tale of planetary exploration, nanotechnology, and the human drive for survival. In fact, the game it most reminded me of mechanically is the best of the form—2016’s Firewatch. The Invincible features the same all-consuming sense of occupying another person’s body, the weight of their movement, the struggle of their climbing, and the tiredness in their plight. In this case, that body belongs to astrobiologist Dr. Yasna, a member of the crew of the Dragonfly, a Commonwealth exploratory ship that has made an unscheduled stop at the planet Regis III.

The Commonwealth has got word that mortal enemies The Alliance are sending one of their flagships, The Invincible, to Regis III, and happening to have a ship nearby, rerouted its crew to find out why this planet is of interest to their enemies. Yasna, however, had no need to reach the surface, given the planet shows no sign of biological life, so remained on board.

A scanner is held up in front of a floating drone, hovering between cliffs and above shallow water.

Screenshot: Starward Industries / Kotaku

All this makes the game’s opening, with Yasna lost and alone on the planet, struggling to find her way to a base camp she can’t remember ever visiting, certainly intriguing. And yes, while this is an amnesia opening, I’m relieved to be able to tell you that not only is it narratively justified in an important way, but also sets the stage for some great storytelling. Triggered memories appear in playable flashbacks, which unveil the tale in a far more compelling way than the alternative option of an expositional opening dump.

Those who have read the book will already be sat upright, confused about what’s going on. Yes, this game does present the story from a strikingly different perspective of that in the novel. It’s a decision that allows the game’s story to spring some surprising reveals on those unfamiliar with the original text, while still eventually marrying up.

I’m reluctant to get into what that story actually is, given I went in with no knowledge at all, and don’t really want to rob you of the same. What’s apparent from the opening moments, however, is that Regis III is a peculiar place, riddled with unexplained metallic root systems and overground protrusions, as well as plant-like metal growths. And they don’t seem to be too good for you—get too close and your vision turns blurry, your brain fogs, and memories start to slip.

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