Even when they’re right in front of your face, you can’t see words written in invisible ink without “decoding” them. It’s appropriate then that you can’t see what’s right in front of your face in Klei Entertainment’s Invisible Inc. without first performing what amounts to in-game decoding work.
The game’s PAX East demo places the player in a room of some evil corporation or another’s building. In the room is a pair of controllable secret agents who are equipped with skills and equipment to furtively navigate their way past guards and turrets and to the top of the building. We don’t get to see what’s at the top, but Klei explains that at the top of buildings will be the culmination of “multifaceted” objectives. Several floors must be accessed and information and/or keycards obtained along the way before ultimately cracking a computer core or something of the sort.
“The main objective of each floor is to get to the next floor,” says Klei’s Matthew Marteinsson, “but there will be some objectives that you can complete along the way. And there’s different things you can find, like documentation for your player. We give a bonus for exploring the whole floor. You get more credits the more you explore, you get credits for not having killed anybody. So those sort of things that you can…do if you want to do.”
Klei wants players to explore the buildings they enter as much as possible. To do that, we’ll have to get out of that room we started in. Invisible Inc. is turn-based, and each room’s floor consists of tile grids. Moving agents across tiles costs movement points, of which naturally come in limited supply per turn. Once I’ve moved the agents as far as I can towards the room’s exit door the unseen enemy takes its turn, scurrying about performing unseen actions in the surrounding blacked-out rooms. Well, not entirely unseen. The game shows dotted lines and arrows indicating where the bad guys are moving in the darkness.
They finish up whatever it is they’re doing, and it’s my turn again. I have one of the agents crack open a safe to secure a keycard that permits access to the next room. Once the door is unlocked it’s time to move on through — but not before Marteinsson stops me. It’s impossible to see what’s in the room ahead, so rushing in is an ill-advised strategy. Instead, it’s best to use the agents’ peaking ability to take the invisible out of Invisible Inc. Peaking reveals a hallway bereft of threats, so it’s time to usher the agents through it. There is a door on the left and one on the right, and I opt to use my turns to move the spy duo to the right and perform some more peaking when the door is reached.
There’s trouble ahead. A guard is facing a door on the left wall of the room, with the only other way out appearing to his right. Sneaking past him seems like it might be a viable option, but there are risks involved. Making noise will alert guards and moving into enemy sightlines will cause your current action to be interrupted and allow the bad guys a chance to get a free shot in.
Marteinsson advises me to take advantage of enemies’ ability to hear the player. My agent causes a noise on the other side of the room to distract the guard and get his back facing me instead of his side. The guard runs over to explore the noise, leaving himself completely vulnerable to a tranquilizer dart that puts him down for the count.
More red tiles in the next room mean more danger. This time it’s in the form of a couple of automatic turrets at the far end of the room that look like they mean business. The elevator to the next floor is directly behind them. It’s possible that had I gone left in the previous room with the guard I might have come around behind them through another door, but a flash of red back that way indicates guards are closing in on my position. Forward it is, then.
Dealing with the turrets is easier than it appears to be. The trick is remembering something Marteinsson mentioned earlier: players can enter into “Mainframe Mode” by pressing space bar on the keyboard. Doing so opens up hacking opportunities when electronic equipment is present. Option one is to shut down the turrets, but that doesn’t sound particularly exciting. Option two is to switch their targets from my agents to the corporation’s guards. Option two will cost more of the CPU points that make hacking possible. Players are only given a limited amount of CPU points, but this sounds like a worthy expenditure of them.
Unfortunately, both agents make it onto the elevator, ending the demo before any unlucky guards wander into the turrets’ line of sight. The whole demo is over in what feels like fewer than 10 minutes and with very little action along the way. Levels are procedurally generated, though, meaning other players will doubtless experience things differently. The experience feels akin to a stealth version of X-Com: Enemy Unknown, which is not an unfavorable comparison. It also leaves XBLA Fans wondering what this game is all about. Who are these spies? Why are they doing all of their spy stuff in this building?
Not even Klei has that one fully figured out yet. Marteinsson says the game is about infiltrating an “evil bunch” of corporations in a dystopian cyberpunk future. But he’s short on specifics. “I would say we aren’t 100 percent [finished developing the story], but we do have an idea. We know where we want to take it.”
Spies like us
All we learn is that agents are going to “take it” to this naughty corporations. The two agents in the demo are a trench coat-wearing guy who walks silently and is armed with a dart gun and a woman carrying a taser and a handgun. For some players, a sniper appears in the demo, and he can be hired onto the team. Klei wants to offer a range of different agent types so that players can build a team with whatever strengths they value most.
Another potential team member is a cybernetically enhanced agent with what sounds like extremely useful abilities. Marteinsson says this character “has shock traps that he will apply to doors, so guards who come through them get knocked out. And he’s got a wireless hacking ability that he can detect within a range of safes and consoles and hack them through a wall, so you don’t need to be next to it to use the CPU points.”
There will likely be more ways to find additional agents like this ranged hacker than locating them in levels, but Klei hasn’t figured out what those will be yet. “There is going to be a meta game that you have a base that you will level up the base and train agents at the base and make teams,” Marteinsson explains. “So there will be a way to build those teams, build them with the agents you want.
“As well, there’s moles that you can like — mercenary moles that you can hire as you find them within the world. So then you want to keep cracking safes to get the money so you can keep that guy with you, because every floor, he’s like, ‘You got to pay me.'”
Xbox players aren’t currently set to have the option to pay moles for their services, or Klei for its game. Invisible Inc. has only been announced for PC, sadly. But hopefully soon you’ll be able to peak ahead and see an Xbox release date in the next room over.