For a while there, first-person exploration games — otherwise known as walking simulators — were all the rage. There were titles like Gone Home, Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture that were basically FPS games without the guns, allowing players to explore spaces from a first-person viewpoint, uncovering a story as they went. For whatever reason, the genre has been relatively quiet of late. But now, it’s back in a big way with The Invincible, a quiet, desolate trip to an eerie alien planet that starts strong and never really lets up.
Based on the novel of the same name by Polish author Stanisław Lem and developed by Starward Industries, The Invincible puts you in the role of Yasna, an astrobiologist who is part of a crew researching the very strange world of Regis III. At the outset, things aren’t going so well. Yasna has been separated from the rest of the team, so the game begins as something of a rescue mission. With her commanding officer in her ear, Yasna sets about finding the rest of the crew by navigating the seemingly barren planet’s surface.
Regis III is a curious place. Initially, it feels like a dead alien world, its surface covered mostly in sand and rocks. But eventually, you’ll learn that life does exist, but only underwater. For some reason, there’s absolutely no life on land — not even bacteria. Yasna’s quest to save her crewmates naturally becomes linked to the mysteries of the planet. I won’t spoil too much, but as Yasna uncovers sprawling metallic structures underground, it becomes clear there’s something much bigger — and unexpected — going on here.
You uncover this story mostly by walking around. While the planet is pretty quiet, Yasna talks a lot as she explores, reporting new details to her commanding officer over the radio. And as she investigates new locations — abandoned camps, underground caverns, and the like — she’ll come across old notes and audio recordings that further the story. The Invincible even has a cool feature where you can flip through security cam photos like pages in a comic book.
That’s all pretty standard stuff for the genre, but one of the most interesting things about The Invincible is how its gameplay builds alongside the story. Eventually, you’ll have a handful of tools, like a scanner that can detect nearby people and a sort of X-ray camera for peering underground or behind thick rock formations, both of which give you more ways to interact with the world. Later on, you get a vehicle to alleviate those long stretches of walking across desert. Basically, the game gives you more and more stuff to do as it progresses. You start out mostly just walking around, but it’s a very different experience by the end.
Image: 11 Bit Studios
At the same time, the story steadily progresses from a simple rescue mission to a tale of discovery, before ultimately shifting to a possible conflict. Again, I don’t want to spoil too much, but the nature of the planet and its history is fascinating, and it forces you, as Yasna, to make some difficult decisions. All of the weird and unsettling stuff you encounter — the dead bodies, the crew members with scrambled minds, the vast metallic structures hidden underground — eventually make sense in a very logical, hard sci-fi kind of way. It gets surprisingly tense considering it’s the kind of game where you can’t really die or fail in the traditional way. At the end, there’s even a shift to action that somehow doesn’t feel out of place at all.
The Invincible also just has a great style to it, with a retrofuturistic vibe full of knobs and dials and things being recorded on actual tape. It gives it a real tactile nature to the experience as you pull out your rugged scanner or flip the power switch inside an abandoned transport vehicle. Basically, it’s the kind of experience for people who wish they could just wander around the ship in Alien: Isolation or who watch Loki purely for the gadgets.
It’s also a game that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The Invincible lets you take some detours and make some choices, but it also pushes you forward in a way that feels both natural and necessary. It took me around six hours to see it all — which is good because I’m not sure how much longer I could survive.
The Invincible launches on November 6th on the PS5, Xbox Series X / S, and PC.