It’s always a good sign when you have to physically tear yourself away from a game in order to write a review on it. In fact, when I went to play it earlier in order to capture some extra screenshots for this article, I ended up playing for a good hour longer than I intended.
There was a time when the very mention of Avicii (aka Tim Bergling) was enough to make me roll my eyes and groan, thanks to a flatmate loving Levels so much that he played it on a loop for months, at full volume, with only Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO as an occasional reprieve. (I was in the room next door, so I almost went insane). I can’t say that I’ve developed any love for that particular track in the years since, but I am glad that Hey Brother brought me back into the fold.
My Spotify Wrapped for 2019 put Avicii at the number two spot on my list of most-streamed artists this year, and I’m pretty pleased with that. I already listened to him regularly, but playing Invector at EGX back in October had me ditching my usual playlists, and exclusively streaming my favourite tracks on my walks to the supermarket or on quiet afternoons.
I do want to avoid dwelling on the sad side of things, but it’s precisely the infectious feel-good vibes of Bergling’s music that makes the fact that Invector is a posthumous tribute all the more tragic. If there’s one thing this game does, and it does so many things so incredibly well, it’s that it illustrates just what a talent Berling possessed, and that the world is that much darker with him gone.
Dark, the game itself, certainly is not. Invector’s visuals are vivid and varied, with the songs divided into groups of four to five tracks, set in different environments, such as a forest or a valley. Players must clear each song in an environment to progress to the next one, with the final three tracks that take place in the ‘oblivion’ world unlocked upon completion of the game.
Gameplay puts a nice spin onto what is a relatively simplistic formula. Instead of the usual ‘press the buttons when prompted as they reach the bottom of the track’ shtick, Invector puts players in the shoes of a spunky young woman piloting a small spacecraft flown over the button prompts, which vary dependent on difficulty level – easy had only L1, X and square, medium and hard introduced circle and triangle respectively. Additionally, players can move the ship side-to-side with the D-pad/thumbstick and – our personal favourite – shake the controller to activate a boost (this can be disabled, in which case L2/R2 can be used).
The difficulty curve is not to be taken lightly, as many of us discovered while playing the demo. I, like most seasoned rhythm game players, decided to jump in on the medium difficulty, because easy tends to be too little of a challenge. Within twenty seconds I had bailed because holy moly is it hard, at least in comparison to many of its peers. Even easy mode presents a meaty challenge, especially towards the end of the game. It really is a game where you have to start at the beginning and work your way up and whilst it can be unforgiving, it’s not unreasonable. Each song must be learned and practiced in order to be perfected, and the satisfaction of achieving a better score or getting a higher perfect streak is a hugely addictive reward.
Every song’s track is split into three sections: a flat track familiar to anyone who’s played Tap Tap Revenge or Guitar Hero, off-track segments where the ship can be flown freely into glowing orbs and a triangular tunnel. This tunnel is where things get funky; the directional prompts cause the ship to move onto the adjacent wall and the whole tunnel to roll with it. At speed, this effect is spectacular (if a little disorientating at times). It’s highly reminiscent of games such as WipeOut.
The similarity with WipeOut doesn’t end there though. Invector requires the same zen-like level of focus, where some parts of the brain have to be almost switched off entirely in order to not get overwhelmed (which is very easy, especially on the higher difficulties). The track and tunnel twist and turn, there are ‘jumps’ and the ship can crash into obstacles during the free-flight segments. With the boost active, things speed up even more, making some sections hair-raisingly fast.
At the end of each song the player is awarded a grade, in this case between S+ and F, and a percentage completion, with 75% being the minimum requirement to clear a song. Player scores are also ranked on a global leaderboard; I managed to make second place on two songs, so I’ll probably frame those screenshots for posterity. (Can I put that on my CV?)
Invector has something that so many games nowadays don’t: split-screen local multiplayer! Up to four people can cram onto the couch and play; Tim and I played it together and found it worked without any issue, although with both of us used to playing solo with headphones we found it a little trickier than single-player. Unlike single-player there is a ‘beginner’ difficulty which I think is fantastic: it allows players new to the game, or even the genre, to join in right away without being at too much of a disadvantage.
Honestly, we have virtually nothing negative to say about this game, and anything that’s not glowing praise comes down to minor gripes. My own annoyances boil down to slight accessibility issues: there is no ability to increase the opacity of the tunnel’s walls, or turn down the vividness/brightness of the background. This brightness can make it very difficult at times to see what’s coming next or to differentiate between the pink and red pickups (the shades are just a little too close to one another).
AVICII: Invector is not flawless, but its flaws are so minor that it might as well be. OK, some of the sequences seem impossible for anyone without freakishly fast reflexes, but there’s virtually nothing that can’t be achieved with simple diligence. The game is testing in the best possible way. It won’t induce a ragequit but instead spur the player on to try again, just one more time, one more go and you’ll smash that one section you’re struggling with.
Perhaps there is something to be found there between the lines, something deep and metaphorical about not giving up even when the challenge seems impossible. I choose to believe that’s true, and take that on board as something to bring out on my darkest days. I mean, hey: if I can manage to get 100% on that one song that’s kicking my ass, I can get through this rough patch, right?
Instead of ending on a joke or quip, I’ll end with a plea: if you are struggling with your mental health in any way, then please, please reach out and talk to somebody you trust. The world has lost a beautiful and artistic soul with Tim Bergling, let it not lose another one with yours.