Beautiful canyons, the bright cosmos above, oceans, and relatively tame atmospheric conditions. Regis III seems like a paradise for alien life and a curious astrobiologist. The Invincible teaches us not to trust first impressions.
Polish sci-fi legend Stanisław Lem published The Invincible in 1964. Lem passed away in 2006, but his legacy of injecting heavy psychology and philosophy themes into science fiction works lives on today.
Lem worked with the precision of a scientist, and that attention to detail often meant the author disliked many adaptations of his works. He even loathed the 1972 adaptation of Solaris by Soviet director Andrey Tarkovsky!
I will readily admit biases from nostalgia or my academic formation as a psychologist. I believe science fiction creators often miss the point by feeling they must choose between fleshing out the people, the world, or the story.
What is stopping books, movies, and video games from having people feel as believable as the wondrous worlds and technology introduced?
Starward Industries is new, but the people behind it have rich CVs, with the core coming from CD Projekt Red (famous for The Witcher series and Cyberpunk 2077) and Techland (Dying Light and Dead Island series).
Regis III, Pleased to Meet You
A new game in The Invincible opens with a comic book. The endearing art style and short but sweet descriptions match the gameplay. This book updates based on your choices as you progress through the game. Read it from the beginning once you finish playing if you crave more.
You are Dr. Yasna, the astrobiologist of a diminutive crew aboard the Interplanetary Commonwealth exploration ship Dragonfly. You wake up on Regis III, and your last memories are of your crew sealing a winning streak.
With an inoperative radio receiver and no sign of her colleagues, Yasna sets off to find her comrades and investigate what has happened since.
The immersion in The Invincible hit me like a bag of bricks. The game plays in first person, with zero UI items clogging the screen outside the occasional contextual clue or dialogue prompt.
The only constants in sight are the microphone and the helmet visor frames that appear if you try to turn your head too far up or down. After the first couple of minutes, my brain could hardly tell the TV screen from the helmet glass. I was in a world of trouble, but it was my trouble.
An Astrobiologist and Her Tools
The two main things you use to explore the world and story in The Invincible are dialogue (which Yasna uses from the beginning to report, philosophize, and sometimes argue) and legs to get around. Dr. Yasna has a basic exploration toolkit to aid her journey.
The Invincible has nothing resembling a tutorial, but I found the intuitive mechanics and minimal tooltips enough to use these tools and navigate with confidence.
Yasna also carries a mission logbook containing maps, notes, and scientific entries. These offer the only clues about what happened before the astrobiologist collapsed.
Like any diligent scientist, Yasna constantly adds notes to her journal. I found myself taking periodic breaks to go through those while absorbing the atmosphere of Regis III (metaphorically, of course – while the air has enough oxygen to make it safe to breathe without helmets for up to an hour, methane poisoning symptoms set in after that).
A lot hinges on your ability to interpret notes and maps, so if these are your weak spot, parts of The Invincible may get frustrating.
The tools and journal are in-game objects. You interact with them as such, a design choice I much prefer to overlays or menus that break the immersion.
The helmet glass fogs up from Yasna panting after sprinting. The handheld equipment and journals are part of the world and, by association, of your adventure.
I got the same awe in The Invincible as during my first time playing Metro Exodus, slapping on the gas mask while holding my breath, lifting my left arm periodically to read the Geiger counter. I did that not because the game told me to, but because I was scared of the radiation.
Holding up the scanner in The Invincible in the dark, I was no longer after what the game wanted me to find. I just wanted answers.
Third-person view is a common choice for games where exploration is concerned, but playing The Invincible validates how much better things look when you are seeing a strange world through your own eyes.
Navigating Regis III
Walking feels awkward, and I was ready to note this as a downside until a casual mention highlighted the attention to detail in this game: Regis III has lower gravity than the Earth! With the bulky exploration suits, this makes for a clumsy, floating feeling when traversing the planet.
Controversially, movement at times is a weak point in The Invincible. There is no way to trigger a jump or vault over random obstacles, which occasionally meant being stopped by a small boulder in the way like on GameBoy Pokémon titles.
Vehicles play a minor role in the game. While I have learned to live with Unreal driving and flying mechanics through other titles, they still suck compared to most other engines.
The Invincible plays considerably better on a controller. The ability to control your walking pace translates the anticipation. Panning around with the right stick helps you feel the weight and discomfort of the helmet.
Every corner of Regis III makes you want to stop and look in awe. Stressful sequences have an extra layer of anxiety to them because by rushing, you are missing out on the details, like boot prints on the sand or heat blur on landers fresh from reentry.
In Space, Nobody Can Hear You Sing
Walking the lonely surface of Regis III, your usual comforts are the radio chatter, Yasna’s voice, and the soundscape orchestrated by Brunon Lubas. Psychological works like The Invincible live or die by their atmosphere, and the sound design is on point.
Lubas created a soundtrack that blends in seamlessly with the experiences of Yasna on the surface of Regis III, arguably on the same tier as heavy-hitters like Eduard Artemyev writing for Tarkovsky or Angelo Badalamenti’s partnership with David Lynch.
Outside the music and equipment, an endearing face of The Invincible is Yasna humming or singing to herself. To have an astrobiologist stranded on a strange planet trying to calm herself down through the tensest moments of her life through memories of music feels human.
A special mention goes to the voice actors behind the two voices you hear the most during your trip to Regis III. Daisy May and Jason Baughan deliver all the right notes in a world that brings more emotions in a day than a person goes through in their entire life.
Unlike the omnipotent John McScientist from many sci-fi titles, Dr. Yasna follows the flow of a field researcher facing mysteries outside her field of work.
The conclusions Yasna makes are rooted in your observations. Your dialogue choices steer theories and opinions. Under immense pressure, you will make assumptions that are not always correct.
I tried to think like an astrobiologist and give my honest assessment. This saved me from some situations and troubled me in others. There is catharsis in feeling in control when everything is so alien.
The philosophical questions confronting Yasna are surprisingly current regarding the debate on artificial intelligence and machine learning.
There are 11 ending variations to The Invincible, and you can revisit yours by looking through the comic book available in the main menu. My first ending was bittersweet, but one I am content with.
Retrofuturism is Back, Baby!
It warms my heart to see Eastern European retrofuturism depicted in such beautiful detail. Atomic Heart brought an Earthly vision of such a future, while The Invincible brings it to space.
The retrofuturism label is paradoxical when talking of The Invincible. The novel was published three years after the first man in space, making it feel like the bleeding edge back then.
The artists in Starward Industries blended creations by Lem with some extreme condition equipment from the 1960s.
Yasna and Commonwealth astronauts wear suits and helmets modeled closely after the orange SK-1 flight suit, made a global icon in 1961 when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.
Alliance members rock a green Michelin Man suit. While not based on any real model, I was happy to see it follows the ergonomics and safety design principles of space suits. The helmets are faithful reproductions of the GSh-6 pressurized helmet, intended for high-speed, high-altitude flight on Earth.
Fictional and futuristic appliances still draw to period technology. Reconnaissance and surveillance equipment store data as slides. Like the real deal, you get a clearer view by holding them against a light source.
Every new set of slides was the perfect reason for me to stop, collect my thoughts, and examine Regis III through the eyes of a robot.
A cool tidbit is that the slides follow the cartoonish style of the comic book, rather than being simple renders from the game engine. I was happy to grab every crumb of the artistry behind The Invincible since I knew the experience would not last long.
Space Bugs and Snags
The Invincible is very polished for a debut title, albeit not immune to the troubles that often come with this territory, no matter how experienced some team members are.
Some gripes are small and will probably disappear after the first patch or two. Others are design decisions that are difficult to justify for a game released in 2023.
The most jarring bug was minor: I was walking with the beacon detector when I triggered a flashback sequence. In this cutscene, Yasna had one right hand holding the tool to her face and another right hand making different movements.
The problem fixed itself after some fumbling, but I was suddenly very far away from the story. This highlights the main risk with narrative-heavy games like The Invincible: it only takes a small problem during a crucial time to spoil the experience.
Some prompts and triggers refused to do their thing until approached multiple times. Other times, it was the movement system that got in the way. I had to guess which of the twelve rocks that led to the same plateau Yasna should approach to trigger the animation.
Brunon Lubas did a spectacular job with the sounds in The Invincible, and the game plays well on speakers. Still, the audio mixing is very clearly geared towards headsets. I struggled with radio transmissions without subtitles when playing on the TV.
These are reasonable but frustrating limitations in sound design when The Invincible is a story that deserves sharing. While playing the game, my partner begged me to pause before leaving the room after a few minutes following the story.
The amount of possible endings in The Invincible is inspiring but deceptive. You can hit 11 different situations, but it is hard to call this game immediately replayable.
Yasna may have suffered from amnesia, but I do not, and trying to go through it again immediately after reaching one end took a lot of the shine off.
Alternatives: Where to After Regis III?
Few games deliver the level of narrative immersion of The Invincible, but any have aspects that feel similar.
- Mass Effect trilogy
- No Man’s Sky
- Alien: Isolation
- Metro Exodus
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
- Life Is Strange
Verdict – 8/10
They say Stanisław Lem’s books come out ready to become scripts. The Invincible is the first major video game adaptation. The narrative leans heavily on the source, but rather than use it as a crutch, Starward Industries gives the player agency without sacrificing the cinematic experience.
The gameplay does not introduce any revolutionary features, and it does not need to. Immersive interface design and strong characters make The Invincible a delight for most science fiction fans, and artistry becomes the centerpiece even when nothing is happening.
The action and lack thereof feel deliberate and make The Invincible play like the director’s cut of a movie that is hard to drop. My sleep schedule was the only thing in the way of finishing the game in one long session.
You play the role of a stranded astrobiologist with realistic tools and skills. You do not have superhuman strength. Your deduction abilities are limited to observations you can make with few tools and time at hand. You are not a combatant capable of blasting problems away.
Sure, if the gameplay of The Invincible was about any other story or character, it would be about nothing. But if Yasna had superpowers or an arsenal capable of blasting her way out of every situation, it would make the story meaningless.
This is a game with a clear goal and an elegant execution, and the result is far greater than the sum of its parts. Some aspects require an added layer of polish and others that I hope become learning experiences for Starward Industries in their future titles.
This is one for the lovers of cinematic experiences and reflections on humanity, life, and evolution. The game itself is a solid 8/10. It is capable of leaving a legacy far beyond that rating.
Pros & Cons
- Immersive visuals and interface
- Emotional voice acting
- Deep addressing of philosophical themes
- Faithful to the values of the original work
- Awkward movement around obstacles
- Long exploration sequences that are not for every player
- Poor sound mixing when using speakers
- Immersion-breaking bugs during important scenes
I play for 8 hours on the PlayStation 5, split between three days. I would have run the game from start to finish on day one if sleep was optional.
Question: How many Endings are there?
Answer: The Invincible has a total of 11 ending variations. Some are loyal to the book, others diverge to reflect your choices. This gives The Invincible some limited replayability.
Question: How Long is The Invincible?
Answer: The average playtime in The Invincible hovers around 6 hours. There are few opportunities to wander off course from the main story, and they rarely add more than 10 to 15 minutes each.
Question: Is there Combat in The Invincible?
Answer: The Invincible has combat sequences, but the game primarily focuses on exploration, so do not come in looking for a fight.