Review of The Invincible. Retrofuturistic Firewatch

 Outstanding directors have worked on films and performances based on cult books, from Folman and Wajda to Soderbergh and Tarkovsky. And in most cases, “ Solaris ” and “ Inquiry ” from the series of adventures of the pilot Pirx were chosen for film adaptations. But the cult novel “ Invincible ,” which seemingly has everything for an action movie with horror elements, has only received a radio play in its entire history.

When the Polish studio Starward Industries chose this particular novel for its debut game, it was difficult not to be filled with doubts. After all, so far not a single work of Lem has become the basis of a video game, with the exception of The Sims , inspired by the toy city from the Cyberiad . And the first confidence that the developers were on the right path appeared only after the demo version was released.

On the dusty paths of distant planets

The novel “Invincible” was published in 1964. At this time, after people had been in space, humanity experienced an unprecedented surge in optimism and hope for the future. “Progressive” science fiction writers described the exploration of distant planets, contacts with developed civilizations, unprecedented scientific discoveries, universal unity and unlimited prosperity. “Box-office” creators depicted intergalactic wars and invasions of alien invaders – however, as always. And the skeptic Stanislav Lem stood apart, who, with all his intellectual power, argued that everything may not be at all what it seems.

The creators of The Invincible (2023) were inspired by illustrations for books from the “golden age” of science fiction. And the landscapes of the desert planet Regis III immediately plunge us into the dusty book past with heroic astronauts, incredible achievements of progress and unimaginable landscapes: bright illustrations, large forms, active use of fantastic color combinations like blue and orange.

All the realities that we see on the screen come from those eras. The designers created realistic and at the same time atmospheric objects: streamlined lines of buildings and furniture, large buttons next to small black and white screens, bulky spacesuits and technical devices, tents with airlocks made of transparent plastic, and finally, the Jasny magazine , in which electronic records combined with manual notes. And the “antique” plastic microphone in combination with the contours of the spacesuit’s helmet does not allow us to forget for a moment whose eyes we look at the world through.

Lem’s history of searching for the Concorde spacecraft turned out to be large-scale and “crowded.” The creators of The Invincible relied on intimacy and individuality of experiences. To do this, it was necessary to make amendments to the world order: it turns out that at that time two factions were fighting on Earth. And so the captain of a small Commonwealth research ship takes on a seemingly simple mission: to find out why the Alliance sent its most powerful ship, the Invincible, to an unremarkable planet.

The expedition initially successfully explores the strange phenomena of local life, but soon all four of its participants stop communicating. And the most inappropriate crew member for this is sent to search for them: biologist Jasna.

Scream in space

Jasnah came out as a convincing and believable character. The girl, little adapted to cosmic exploits, at first cheerfully rushes to save her comrades from an unknown danger. But as fatigue, doom and pain from numerous injuries grow in her, she increasingly begins to sway when walking and close her eyes exhaustedly. And the moments in which she realizes that she can die alone here on a useless planet evoke understanding and sympathy.

For most of the journey, only one thing supports her – the voice on the radio. Astrogator Novik, who remained on the ship due to a broken leg, is not just trying to help Jasna and his found comrades by all available means. He listens to her, gives her hints, argues, talks about a variety of things, including the prospects for the development of robotics (also one of the most pressing topics of the novel).

At certain points the game starts to feel like a copy of the excellent Firewatch . But here, too, the developers managed to walk along the edge and take their own line: the relationship between the commander and the biologist is far from the main thing in The Invincible.

The game can be safely classified as a walking simulator. The tasks that Jasna has to face cannot even be called puzzles. Almost the most difficult thing is to count the light bulbs. The girl won’t have the chance to fight, and she doesn’t even have a weapon.

Instead, we will be provided with a whole range of research instruments. The detector and locator will help you find traces of lost comrades, as well as detect strange accumulations of metal. Binoculars will allow you to view objects from a safe distance, and the probe will not only provide a whole photo report from the past, but will also help you choose a safe path in rocky gorges.

A simple and unhurried game slowly unfolds a story before us with unpredictable twists and discoveries that will knock you out of the saddle. It’s very difficult to tear yourself away from her! And, although some secrets can be guessed in advance, it is better not to go into details. After all, unnecessary knowledge spoils the joy of discovery.

We will unravel the mystery of what happened on the planet “manually.” Neither photo reports, nor found recordings, nor the stories of an eyewitness (whom we saw in trailers and official screenshots) will provide a complete picture. The solution may not surprise those familiar with the novel. But we will face the same questions that faced Rohan: what to do with the force opposing us? Is a possible technical breakthrough worth the risk of the death of all humanity? Is it worth whipping the sea that has swallowed the ships with rods?

Footprints in the sand

Planet Regis III is a real challenge for the environment artist. There is nothing here but sand, rocks and the ocean. But from this minimal set, the creators of The Invincible managed to create a simultaneously unfriendly and bewitching world with landscapes that are fantastic in every sense of the word.

Despite the fact that the map, “dissected” across the pages of the diary, can hardly be called convenient, problems with orientation on the ground rarely arise. Visible landmarks and skillful distribution of lighting help to understand natural routes. And in particularly intricate labyrinths, unobtrusive hints are in full swing: Jasna can ask on the radio whether she is moving correctly, and Novik will report that we are heading somewhere in the wrong place. And periodically appearing remarks right on the spot perfectly illustrate the heroine’s train of thought and help decide what to do.

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It’s worth noting that things didn’t go well with the decisions during the playthrough. Attempts to deviate from the general plot line led to a dead end, forcing us to return to the path anyway, simply wasting time. And an unexpected discovery off the main route (I don’t want to spoil it) led to a reboot of the game. As a result, in the final stages I did only what was in the log, and this led me to complete and utter disaster. Now I want to start all over again and try to understand how I can at least fix something.

The developers have already promised a release patch that will fix a number of noticed errors, so I won’t dwell on them. I will only note that my system, which no one has called powerful for many years, coped with all the tests with a bang, only slowing down a couple of times at moments of global change of locations. Players with modern hardware will most likely not notice this.

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The Invincible should be recommended as a must-play for all fans of fantasy adventures, if only for the fact that the game reminds us of a wonderful book by a brilliant science fiction writer – we bet the joystick that many will be drawn to read or re-read “Invincible.” 

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