In just a small slice of Starward Industries The Invincible, I was swept up in the awe and wonder of the situation. If the 30-minute preview I played is anything to go by, then this sci-fi adventure is going to be methodically paced, heavy on dialogue, and surprisingly unnerving. In short, it’s my kind of sci-fi.
I was put in the space boots of astrobiologist Yassna, sent to the planet Regis III to discover what happened to a missing crew, and ultimately stumble upon a danger to humanity. To this end, Yassna has a set of tools the developer has declared to be atompunk in design and will use them to unravel the mysteries of Regis III, and possibly beyond.
The demo drops in early on in the story, with Yassna having just arrived on the outskirts of where the missing team was based. This area of Regis III has a desert canyon atmosphere to it, and yet still manages to feel alien thanks to the way the dialogue informs the environment. For instance, when Yassna talks about plant life having a metallic origin, it does a lot in selling the otherworldly nature of Regis III. There’s something uncomfortable about being in a place that seems so familiar yet subtly strange.
She’s in conversation with her Astrogator constantly, relaying any relevant sights and sounds she finds along the way. In the opening moments, Yassna brings up a tablet with a map of the area ahead, and discovers two possible routes to her destination. One is to drive through a potentially risky area, the other will allow her to sneak around to it. Being dropped in on a story in progress means it’s not exactly clear what it is Yassna is trying to avoid, but it adds an extra layer to the air of mystery.
I set off on the side path and come across a couple of places with radiation spikes before arriving at a suspiciously cylindrical tunnel through a rock face. At the other end is a down machine, which Yassna seems to be very wary of. With good reason, it turns out, as she discovers bodies belonging to members of the missing party nearby, and after a bit of exploration, manages to find a series of images from the incident that led to the carnage.
The Invincible shows off a couple of tools in the latter half of the demo. One is the image tablets where Yassna flips through a series of related images and pieces together clues as to what they’re telling her, leading to information on what to do and where to go next. Later, Yassna gets out a metal detector that shows the roots of the metal plantlife through the rock in a sickly green X-Ray kind of way. There will be more funky tools at Yassna’s disposal as the game progresses, but this was the extent of it in the demo.
Something I quite like about The Invincible’s structure is how it handles interaction and conversation. Multiple choice responses crop up as Yassna wanders the planet rather than being static for every conversation. The vocal performances on show could do with a bit of fine-tuning, sure, but it flows pretty nicely anyway. The interactions in The Invincible are largely simplistic, but there’s a tactile feel to a lot of it. At one point Yassna investigates a stranded vehicle’s cab, and she’s able to fiddle with all the switches, open hatches, and unlock compartments in a hands-on way.
The demo concludes with a hint of danger, and a morsel of the mystery being solved. Honestly, it’s a clunky place to leave you hanging, but there’s just something about The Invincible that is negating my small grievances with it. This is a game that appears to be fully dedicated to telling a hard sci-fi story and I’m all for it.
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