“No one is interested in classic science fiction anymore,” they said. “Sci-fi games don’t sell well,” they said. But here we are, it’s 2023 and we have Farlanders, Deliver Us Mars, Terraformers, of course Starfield and finally, one of the most anticipated games of 2023, in my opinion, The Invincible by Starward Industries and 11 bit studios. What is this if not a real renaissance of hardcore science fiction? At least in games. Well, The Invincible is out, let’s see if Polish developers managed to convey the spirit and style of their great compatriot’s novel? Let’s try to tell you about the game without spoilers.

Game The Invincible
Genre interactive story
Gaming platforms Windows, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S
Developer Starward Industries
Publisher 11 Bit Studios

Spoiler Alert

Yes, yes, we promised to tell you about The Invincible without spoilers, and we will try to keep our promise. But there is one VERY big problem here. 300 pages of spoilers for the game were published back in 1963-64 in 70 issues of the Polish newspaper Gazeta Bialostocka. In 1964, the novel Niezwyciężony, or Invincible, was published as a separate book, and in the same year it began to be actively translated, including into Russian and Ukrainian. So, all science fiction fans are well aware of what exactly is happening on the planet Regis III, why it is happening, and who is to blame.

No, The Invincible doesn’t retell Lem’s novel word for word, or even more… [censored] It’s just that the game takes place on the same planet, at about the same time. So the main mystery of Regis III, which actually worries the characters of the game the most, will not be a mystery for players familiar with the original source. And this actually spoils the whole intrigue and detective research part of the story a bit.

So, The Invincible is the rare case when we REALLY don’t recommend reading the source novel before playing. But, if you, like the author of this review, are still familiar with The Invincible… just enjoy such a high-quality “adaptation” of a famous work.

A woman’s perspective

It seems very strange now, but Lem’s original novel, like almost all other sci-fi novels of the time, has almost no women. Space is explored and mastered exclusively by stern and not very talkative men. And women appear only in the role of Damsel in Distress, attractive space princesses who need to be rescued from the clutches of yet another bug-eyed alien monster or crazy robot. 1964, what can you do?

Perhaps that’s why the game’s authors chose a female protagonist, the biologist Yasna, to give a different perspective on the events of The Invincible. There is another woman in The Invincible, but she appears in the story only a few times and, by the way, the authors even give an explanation for this gender inequality.

Yasna comes to her senses in Regis III. She does not understand how she ended up here and what is going on. Amnesia is a common technique used by game developers so often that it has long been considered a sign of weak narrative design. But not this time. Here, amnesia is not a desire of the developers to make their lives easier, but a fully explained and important thing for the plot.

Yasna has to find out what she’s doing on Regis III, what happened to her comrades, and where the Invincible is. She doesn’t need to be rescued, she’s trying to save the other astronauts who are in trouble.

Art of The Invincible

To create a game based on the 1964 science fiction novel, the developers from Starward Industries chose the style of science fiction comics, movies, and paintings of the time, what is now called retrofuturism. This is a very popular visual style among modern developers, but what Starward did deserves the highest honors.

They managed to revive the illustrations from the fantastic books we read as children. It appears that black and white pictures from the pages of The Invincible, Magellanic Cloud, Return from the Stars, Tales of Pilot Pirks, and other classic science fiction works of the time have become colorful and come to life.

Moreover, you yourself are in the middle of these drawings and can now study them, looking at the strange machinery: massive spaceships; titanic cranes; transporters and emitters of the protective field that look like large beetles; field bases assembled from standard blocks; human and non-human robots that help astronauts. Giant computers powered by electronic tubes; memory units on magnetic tapes; colossal consoles with numerous toggle switches, switches, and buttons; TV monitors and slides as information display devices.

You’ll even have to control some equipment. And interact with some of it. And all of this is done with such love for these retro mechanisms and such attention to small details that it surprises and delights. Good job, Starward Industries, you truly enjoy the way The Invincible looks.

Yes, The Invincible has considerable system requirements, but I’m glad to see that the release version no longer has the stuttering that could be seen in the first demos of the game. The only drawbacks I encountered during my playthrough were the jerky movement of the heroine in some narrow places and the teleportation of the transporter after important plot dialogues.

As Mr. Lem bequeathed

But more significant than the game design is The Invincible’s compliance with the spirit and letter of Stanislav Lem’s novel. And here it should be said that the developers have treated the writer’s legacy with great care and reverence.

The Invincible is perceived as another component of the novel. It is told in the same words, with the same accents, in the same style. It’s beautifully written. Hell, the texts here are a pleasure to read and the dialogues to listen to.

This is a real 1960s science fiction in spirit and style. Perhaps The Invincible is the best “hard” science fiction you’ve ever seen in a game. Mr. Stanislav would be pleased.

The story of Yasna

In terms of gameplay, The Invincible is an interactive story. There are some elements of adventuring here, that is, sometimes you will need to find some items or perform some actions to move on, but for the most part, it is a walking or all-terrain vehicle simulator. Yasna moves from location to location, searches for crew members, scientific data, robots, etc., gets a new piece of information about what happened to her or other researchers before, and moves on.

This is not a completely linear story because the heroine can react to events in different ways, choosing certain options for dialog or her actions. Everything that happens to Yasna is presented in the form of a comic book, which can be viewed from the main menu. It is also made in the style of fantastic comics of the 1950s and 1960s and deserves attention.

The Invincible even has several endings that depend on Yasna’s actions in certain episodes, although I, personally, noticed only a fork in the road at the end of the game. Plus, there are several endings to the conventional good ending, when Yasna can stay on the ship or go on additional research. I chose the latter option, but what I saw surprised me because in my opinion, it contradicts everything we learned about the events on Regis III earlier.

What’s next?

Despite several ending options, I probably won’t replay the game. This is a complete story for one time. There are 7–9 hours of gameplay, but against the backdrop of endless sandbox games and service games, this is likely for the best.

Do I want to see a sequel? For example, The Invincible 2? More likely no than yes. I want to see more games from Starward Industries and more sci-fi games in general. Really sci-fi games about space exploration, about exploring planets and searching for the unknown. I hope that the success of The Invincible will help this happen.

Heck, I’m even a little jealous of those who have this journey ahead of them. Especially if they haven’t read the original novel. Read it after the passage because… [censored]