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Mark of the Ninja Dev's Incognita Starts Paid Alpha

Klei Entertainment's espionage tactics game is available for fans' money and feedback.

Klei Entertainment has kicked off an early access program for its latest title, the tactical espionage game Incognita. For $16.99 you get the full game in its current alpha state, a free copy for a friend, and the final version when it gets released at retail. If you wait until retail, the full game will cost $19.99, so if you're interested, jump on in!

Early Access programs and Paid Alphas give developers access to a revenue stream earlier in the project, so they can do things like eat and pay rent while developing their game. Unlike other crowd-funding methods though, fans also get a copy of the game to play immediately. It's pretty cool and a personal step-up from some of the Kickstarters that I've backed.

I had a chance to play Incognita at PAX and while I was horrible at the game, I enjoyed it. The game is an odd hybrid of XCOM and FTL. The gameplay is delivered in the turn-based isometric style of XCOM, but combat is generally frowned upon. The FTL influence comes in on the overarching game: all the levels and your agents are procedurally-generated, so the success of each run-through is always up in the air.

"The two pillars of the game are information and improvisation. You have to work for the information," Incognita designer Jason Dreger told me. "You don't know what the rest of the map is. You can hear enemy guards moving around on each level and you can use your abilities to find out more, but you have to work for your information."

On improvisation: "You don't know what your team is going to look like in the end: maybe you'd prefer to use lots of stealth agents, but in one playthrough you end up with lots of engineers and sharpshooters. So you have to figure out how to play with that team."

My demo playthrough was dire and showed how much combat doesn't pay off in Incognita. Dreger said the game is tweaked so that information gathering is "80 or 90 percent of the game", with positioning and combat taking up the rest. Stealth agents can knock out guards, but they'll wake up in a few turns. You can kill guards, but if you haven't hacked into their heart monitors and disabled them, their deaths raise the overall alarm level. Once the alarm level is full, a corporation's SWAT team will swarm the level. SWAT busted a cap in my last agent and I was nowhere near the level's exit. It was sad.

The other big chunk of Incognita is the game's Mainframe Mode (you can see it at 0:37 in the trailer above), which allows you to hack computers and other objects in a level. In Mainframe Mode, you can unlock a safe, turn off guard's heart monitors, hack into camera feeds, and unlock doors.

Don't have enough information? Start panicking.

Dreger told me that Incognita began when his boss at Klei decided that the world needed a new Syndicate-style game. The team tried a few variations in pre-production - even a Magic the Gathering-style card game - before landing on isometric tactics. Now that the game is in alpha, Klei is focused on making Incognita's single-player great before entertaining other things like multiplayer and modding. Fear not, PC modders and Steam Workshop fans, you're on Klei's mind.

"We'd like it to be moddable for sure," said Dreger. "Once the the game is more settled on what it is and it goes into beta, then we'll start looking at how to help the modding community. We are interested in helping the modding community."

Incognita is currently only targeted for PC, but Dreger said that Klei is looking to mirror the release strategy used in Don't Starve: Early Access, PC, Mac and Linux, and then maybe consoles. It's still early though; at PAX, the game was clearly marked as pre-alpha. Expect a full release for Incognita in 2014!

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