Yesterday, Scavengers Reign, the original sci-fi animated series that premiered last month on Max, concluded with the release of its final three episodes. Co-created by Joseph Bennett and Charles Huettner, the 12-episode series follows the adventures of several groups of survivors who crash-land on the alien planet of Vesta Minor. Separated from each other with no possible means of signaling for help, the survivors must trek their way across the hostile and frequently beautiful terrain of this strange world to find their lost ship and return home.
The series has garnered a glowing reception among audiences and critics alike. Annihilation author Jeff VanderMeer and Naughty Dog co-president Neil Druckmann have praised the show as one of the best original sci-fi series on television, and it’s not difficult to see why: It’s a gorgeous survival thriller that features a lush and exotic world populated by strange and memorable creatures, and it follows a cast of complex characters with rich personalities and pasts that make for an engrossing psychological drama. And if you’re looking for a great game to play that explores the same basic elements of ecology, xenobiology, and existential horror as Scavengers Reign, you owe it to yourself to give The Invincible a shot.
Developed by Starward Industries, a Kraków-based indie game studio founded by former CD Projekt Red producer Marek Markuszewski, The Invincible is a first-person sci-fi adventure game based on the 1964 novel by Stanisław Lem, who’s best known for his novel Solaris, which was adapted for the silver screen in 1972 by Andrei Tarkovsky and in 2002 by Steven Soderbergh. In The Invincible, players assume the role of Yasna, an astrobiologist who wakes up on the surface of Regis III, an arid desert planet, after the completion of a successful mission.
With no memory of how she ended up on the planet, Yasna sets out in search of her lost colleagues, piecing together the events that led up to their arrival and uncovering what separated them from each other in the first place. Along the way, Yasna must rely on the aid of Novik, an “astrogator” commander stationed on the team’s ship that’s hovering in orbit around Regis III. Eventually, Yasna stumbles upon a deadly new life form that could threaten the extinction of all organic life in the universe. She also encounters a number of individuals who wish to manipulate these organisms for their own shortsighted gain.
In terms of design, the closest game to compare The Invincible to feels like Campo Santo’s 2016 game Firewatch, albeit with a stronger emphasis on horror similar to 2020’s Amnesia: Rebirth or 2014’s Alien: Isolation. Yasna travels across the dunes, plains, tunnels, and cliffsides of Regis III, speaking to Novik through her helmet’s mouthpiece by responding to context-sensitive prompts that open up divergent conversations and options to precede. All actions take place in-game, as opposed to in menus, with Yasna checking her map, using her binoculars, or inspecting nearby items and surfaces using a handheld scanner. The game documents the player’s actions and choices via a graphic novel that expands as new plot points and characters emerge, which is accessible via the game’s main menu.
The environments in The Invincible don’t share that much in common with those of Scavengers Reign, which feel more reminiscent of the ’70s sci-fi art of Chris Foss or John Harris than they do the ligne claire artwork of Jean “Moebius” Giraud. What the game does explicitly share with Bennett and Huettner’s animated series is a thematic emphasis on xenobiology, ecology, and the question of humanity’s purpose in the vastness of space.
“Interference is at the heart of human nature,” Novik argues with Yasna at one point. “Man would still be a monkey if he’d only looked at trees instead of cutting them down.” The writing is as rich as it is meditative, ruminating on the human urge to explore — and conquer — foreign terrain in a way that feels like a counterpoint to Scavengers Reign’s emphasis on the symbiosis between human beings and their environment. In any case, if you’re looking for a breathtaking sci-fi world filled with retro futuristic technology and beautiful landscapes to lose yourself in, I highly recommend exploring what The Invincible has to offer.