The Invincible Is Basically Sci-Fi Firewatch

I’ve been looking forward to The Invincible for a long time, and it didn’t disappoint. While I enjoyed Starfield’s story and characters well enough, it didn’t scratch that Hard Sci-Fi itch that I’ve been trying to scratch this year with TV shows like The Expanse and books like Children of Time.


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The Invincible is the Star Trek to Starfield’s Star Wars – less operatic and more grounded in reality. When you awake on Regis III with few memories of why you’re there, it takes effort to move on the alien planet. Walking in a spacesuit is tiring. Scanning alien flora isn’t an instantaneous checkbox exercise, it’s a matter of assessing what the metallic plants are, following their root systems, and working out exactly how alien life is thriving in such an inexplicable manner.

Where Starfield feels like admin, The Invincible feels like proper astrobotany. I’m Neil Armstrong. I’m Mark Watney. It would be easy for The Invincible to feel like admin too, with its range of scientific instrumentation that each has its own keybind and convoluted system of working, but it doesn’t. It feels immersive, it feels interesting. It feels a lot like Firewatch.

Just last week I lamented how long we would have to wait for Campo Santo’s second game, In The Valley of Gods, seeing as it’s on indefinite hiatus after the developer was acquired by Valve. However, walking simulators that invoke similar mysteries and mechanics have taken root in the space that it left behind. Where an Egyptian archeological game was meant to blossom, instead grows a completely different plant, two, three. The Invincible is the science-fiction branch of this Firewatch-pollinated tree.

the invincible demo antimatter cannon

Much as Firewatch involves exploring the mountainous Wyoming terrain, The Invincible places you on a new world entirely. There are central mysteries to unravel in both, and characters’ backstories are revealed slowly as you traipse through the wilderness in search of answers.

I doubt The Invincible will have the same impact on me as Firewatch did – I’ve read the book, so I know what’s coming and any sense of mystery is replaced by a different tension of wondering how each story beat will be adapted to an interactive medium – but the gameplay is exactly what I needed after a year of softer science fiction.

the invincible dragonfly spaceship interior

My favourite part of The Invincible is how diegetic all its systems are. This is nothing new by any means, but having to physically look downwards to see the map you’re carrying in your actual hands is incredibly immersive, and the fact the only UI is the microphone hovering inside your spacesuit’s helmet (does that even count as UI? It’s just a permanent fixture on the screen) allows you to properly marvel at the arid mountains of Regis III.

Scanning the planet’s metallic plants won’t bring forth pop-ups about their chemical makeup, you’ll have to look closely at your scanner to work that out. And that paper map you’re looking at? It’s a hand-drawn diagram detailing geological landmarks more than a proper video game map with every area filled in and some greyed out. Haven’t been to that eastern portion of the map yet? You’ve got no clues as to what lies there.

the invincible exploring regis iii with a probe

Every piece of equipment is incredibly satisfying to use, with an excellent use of tactile feedback to really sell the pieces as real, clunky, scientific apparatus. My favourite is the telescope, which you can manually focus with a clicky dial reminiscent of an analogue camera lens. Couple this with the aesthetic of a future imagined up in the 1960s, and you’re ticking all my boxes.

It’s impossible to call The Invincible chilled – there are far too many delirious crewmates and worrying signs planetside for that – but it’s refreshingly straightforward. Give me a fairly (although not completely) linear path through an interesting, polished story with strong characterisation and a compelling central mystery over 1,000 empty planets any day.

Next: I Now Have Two Reasons To Go Finally Finish Dragon Age: Inquisition

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