On paper, Invisible, Inc reads like a long list of things that I already love. This is a stealthy turn-based tactics game in which you lead a squad of double-dangerous secret agents through procedurally-generated maps whose wayward sprawls are broken down into neat little tiles. The art is angular, long-limbed cartoon noir, the title's a truly stellar pun, and the whole thing's put together by Klei Entertainment, a virtuoso group of ludic shapeshifters whose last few games - Mark of the Ninja, Don't Starve - have closely orbited a core of brutal, unforgiving, economical brilliance without letting the paths intersect.
This doesn't explain why I love Invisible, Inc so much, though. To do that, you have to strike beneath the careful template and get at the behaviours that the game's rules and restrictions encourage. I love Invisible, Inc because its systems come together with one aim: to make me decisive. A ditherer by nature, it is fun to roleplay as someone so clear-eyed and free from doubt - someone who's able to ditch a team-mate when things get bad or decide, on a steely whim, if such a thing is possible, to risk absolutely everything on a hunch. With limited resources, warrenous maps, deadly enemies and short sight lines, Invisible, Inc prompts you to make one quick decision after another - and then dark emergent joy erupts as you try to live with the consequences of what you've just done.
This theme goes deep, too. Invisible, Inc's structure is seemingly pretty simple: you have 72 hours to rebuild your ravaged corporation and gear up for a final all-or-nothing mission that will probably kill you. You do this by jetting around the world and raiding rival corps, stealing new weaponry from Alaska, say, or busting a fellow agent out of a holding cell in China. With a wealth of options available at all times, you'd imagine that you're free to ignore the objectives that don't interest you and zero in on the ones that do. But that 72 hours is encouraging you to play temporal Tetris. It can take a long time to fly to Alaska, where a sweet new gun might be waiting for you - time that you could maybe spend taking in two separate missions closer to home, whose objectives, granted, you're less excited about. Getting the most out of your 72 hours is a crucial concern, then, even before you've set foot inside an enemy compound or chambered your first stun dart. This stuff matters. The first time I arrived at the final mission, I was down to a single agent, and they were armed - ha - with nothing more deadly than some reviving gel. That went well. By comparison, the last time I headed into the final mission I had four guys, and they were seriously tooled up. I still only squeaked it, though. Invisible, Inc really isn't screwing around.