Sunday, 16 October 2016

Not Quite Review Corner: Invisible, Inc (iPad)

I've mentioned Klei's Invisible, Inc before, but until now it's always been a PC and PS4 title. It recently popped up on the iStore for $4.99 and, as Hurricane Nicole bore down on the island, I thought it was as good a time as any to give it a whirl. I played this on iPad Air 32 GB, so not the most recent model; performance-wise, I have no complaints.

If you've already played this or read the previous review then you know the basics, but to briefly reiterate: this is a stealth turn-based strategy roguelike with cyberpunk elements, in which you play a team of highly trained corporate spies on the run, trying to find out why your agency got smashed by the corporations while at the same time saving your powerful Artificial Intelligence, Incognita. Think of it like Pelgrane's Night's Black Agents, except the enemies are powerful megacorps with private armies at their disposal, not vampires.

Its basic release in May 2015 gave you the game, several unlockable agents and hours of fun. The November 2015 DLC Contingency Plan gave you several more agents, a ton of new items and equipment, and increased gameplay considerably with two new custom missions and several extra basic missions. I've played Contingency Plan to death on PC; in fact as the iPad release surfaced I was already on Day 16 of an Endless Expert run, so my people were about as skilled and as tooled up as it is possible to be.

It came as a little bit of a shock to discover that the iPad release includes just basic game content. Oddly, when Contingency Plan came out I didn't think it added much to the game. It took this release to make me realize just how much the DLC brought to the experience. On iPad it seems a shorter, less fulfilling title without the DLC content. I also realized that, without the Contingency Plan stuff, a shorter game means less of a challenge since you never encounter any of the tougher enemies in campaign mode. You'd have to go to Endless for that. There are several new agents only available on Contingency Plan that won't be available here, and all the side missions I'd come to expect - retrieving drones, hacking software laboratories, retrieving Invisible's data, raiding power vaults - are gone.

I played through one story campaign in Expert on iPad, and it was a lot of fun. It might be shorter, and that may mean it's not as much fun as the expanded Contingency Plan version, but it's still one of the best turn-based games out there. I was sweating bullets by the end, using up all the toys I'd saved to get my people to the final scene, and more than once I was convinced I'd completely screwed myself and lost the game. Particularly since, as this was basic, I hadn't the time to get any of the really powerful toys, which meant that any enemy with better that Armor 1 could have my agents for breakfast spread over a nice bagel.

A few things struck me. First, this game kills batteries. One level used, on average, about 30% of my battery life. Two levels would have me reaching for my charger.  If I were going on a long journey or thought I wasn't going to be able to charge my device, I wouldn't touch this game. When the hurricane knocked my power out, for instance, I immediately stopped playing and didn't touch it again until power was restored.

At first I thought I would need a Wi-Fi connection to make this work which, since Hurricane Nicole was bearing down on me, would mean I couldn't play. Not so; it works fine offline. It takes a while to load. I'd guesstimate maybe a minute and a half, at most, between boot and play. Given the complexity of the title I'm not surprised.

I wouldn't try this on a phone. Things got very busy on my screen, and more than once I really couldn't tell what was going on without juggling the screen a few different directions and squinting. Moreover there are times when two enemies would sit on the same square and I really couldn't tell which was which; very annoying when those two enemies are hackable drones, but I only want to hack one of them. I dread to think what the experience would be like on a smaller screen.

I used finger rather than stylus as a control, and on reflection I really wish I used a stylus. Maybe it's just me, but I think that might have given me better control. That said, gameplay was smooth and I never once made a disastrous mistake through fat-fingering.

It's almost but not quite the same game on iOS as it is PC. There are some gameplay changes, and I noticed two which may have a significant effect on your experience:

First, enemy drones have slightly different behavior patterns when hacked. In the PC version hacked drones can open doors and, if armed, shoot things, but other than that they have no function. In the iOS version hacked drones can also manipulate switches and apparently gather items, though I didn't have many chances to test that last part.

Several levels depend on you doing certain things in certain areas. In the detention center level, for example, you have to hack a control panel, manipulate that panel to open the cell door, and then guide the prisoner out. Usually this means you have to send an agent in to the control panel, but if a drone can do that job it can change the way you deal with the level. You don't have to send an agent in, thus possibly alerting the captain of the guard. The drone can do all the really dangerous bits while your agents sit outside, probably distracting the captain by opening doors and running away, a cybernetic version of Knock, Knock, Ginger.

Moreover if they can gather items then they can empty safes, which would make bank robbery much easier. I didn't have many chances to test this theory, but it's worth trying.

Second, at least one and probably more items have changed slightly. I'm talking about the Invisibility Cloak, but I wouldn't be surprised if other items changed too and I didn't notice.

The Invisibility Cloak in the original came in three versions: Basic, Cloak II and Cloak III. Basic lasts for three or four squares of movement, I misremember which, and then fades. Cloak II lasts the full turn, and then fades. Cloak III lasts two full turns and then fades. You need to have a certain base level of Speed before you can use the advanced Cloaks, and even Basic needs a higher Speed than your agents usually start with.

In the iPad version all's the same, except for Cloak III. This time Cloak III only lasts for one turn, not two, but the kicker is that when activated it generates a small cloaking field around your agent, allowing you to make more than one friendly target invisible. They don't have to stay chained together either; once invisible no matter where they go they stay invisible for the rest of that turn or until they attack.

This came in very handy in the final encounter. Shalem and Monster were cut off from the rest of the group, and the enemy were closing in. Decker had Cloak III ready. He ran in through the enemy, activated it next to Shalem and Monster, and all three of them sprinted past the guards, Decker frantically gobbling Stims for extra move boost. They still needed a smoke bomb from Internationale on the next turn, otherwise the guards would have nailed them. But without that first turn of invisibility, the team would have failed right away.

Understand, these are only two changes I noticed. I'd bet there's others I didn't spot. That said the core game is basically the same as it was when Invisible, Inc first launched in 2015. Tweaked certainly, but not fundamentally altered.

Do I recommend this title? Yes. If you like turn-based strategy with roguelike elements and a high degree of stealth gameplay, this is a must-purchase. I'd warn you to watch your battery life, but apart from that, enjoy!

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