The release of The Invisible Hand comes at a perfect time for Power Struggle Games. After a particularly high-profile stock fiasco with GameStop in the first half of the year, many gamers are more attuned to the ups and downs of the stock market. In invisible hands, players can manipulate it.
The Invisible Hand is the first major project of French independent game studio Power Struggle Games, released with the help of Fellow Traveler Games. Publishing games like this is nothing new for Fellow Traveler. Indie brands focus on supporting narrative-focused games such as the recently released Blackout, Genesis Noir, or In Other Waters’ innovative alien biology research. While The Invisible Hand is designed to be a full stock market simulator, players should think of it more as a narrative story with stock market mechanics.
Players jump right into the game, immerse themselves in the chaos of a stock company going through a market crash, and gain insight into the highs and lows that can occur in a career. Shortly afterward, the protagonists book an interview with trading firm FERIOS Capital, where they fill out an ethics questionnaire in which each correct answer is conveniently chosen for the player. Of course, the player was hired by FERIOS and came to the office on a sunny day in the fall of 2023 to start their new career.
The main gameplay of The Invisible Hand is pretty simple. At the player’s computer station, they will be able to buy and sell various stocks, hoping to maximize profits from each trade. On day one, players can only buy a limited number of stocks, but over the course of the game, more stocks will be added to their portfolio, ranging from coffee items from Dark Roast Co. to coal items from FBR EarthDrill. Players can eventually sort each stock by related material, product, currency or even country of origin. Players can switch between four screens, but only one will see the most action. Players who commit to the game may find themselves using the upper two screens to select their favorite stocks to watch, but otherwise, they’re pretty much worthless.
The game offers some useful tools so that players are not left in the dark about the up and down trends of stocks. The first of these is the Trade Feed, which is located on the home screen used by players. This showcases different news outlets and reports on market trends, suggesting whether a stock, product or material will increase or decrease in value. The problem is that they are not all equally reliable. More reliable tips will have more “likes”, but the market itself will still always be volatile. The International News Network and GEISTnet are two additional sources of information for players, the latter being more accurate due to insider knowledge and later causing trouble.
There are a lot of mechanics at play that help give The Invisible Hand a more robust feel, but some are clearly used more than others. Players can buy lobbyists to try to increase or decrease the value of certain products, materials or currencies. The game also offers players a unique way to change time in the form of coffee and tea. The strength of each drink can be adjusted, but coffee speeds up time and tea slows it down.
At the end of each day, players also receive an evaluation of their performance, showing experience earned, whether they met the daily challenge, and whether the public is aware of the player’s misuse of lobbyists. At the end of each day, players can also use the “Lifestyle” window to view certain aspects of life outside of work. First, players will be able to see their personal accounts, including how much money they’ve made that day. Players can also buy and furnish properties, which can then be rented out for extra daily income, or used to throw some sort of office party.
The results are pretty much the same every day. The player enters the office, engages in a meaningless conversation with the receptionist, and then enters the studio to start the day’s business. It’s not until about halfway through the game that more narrative aspects come into play. Can’t reveal too much without spoiling the plot, but there is a price for players to interfere in other countries’ affairs through lobbyists.
While the actual narrative of The Invisible Hand is interesting, the gameplay doesn’t feel like it has depth–it’s just complex. Once all possible stock portfolios are unlocked, it becomes cumbersome to keep track of most of them, let alone all of them. There’s nothing worse than investing in a stock and sending lobbyists to increase the value of that stock, only to have the game arbitrarily decide it should plummet. Ultimately, the stock had to be sold at a loss in hopes of doing better in the future.
There are other world-building elements that could be improved. The FERIOS office can be explored at will, allowing players to interact with multiple items through the office, even though it’s not particularly large. One would think that adding a mechanic where players can pick up and drop items like picture frames and books would mean making sure every surface in the office is solid, but that’s not the case. Unfortunately, several surfaces throughout the office are not physically solid, so trying to drop a book just makes it fall straight to the floor. This in no way affects the narrative or actual gameplay, but it’s still weird.
Taking it a step further, while most players will leave the office immediately at the end of the day, there’s nothing forcing players to do so. When the lights outside the windows are dimmed, players can stay in the office until midnight (before a new day starts automatically) and nothing will change. No maintenance crew came in, and colleagues remained at their desks despite repeated flashes on office TV screens. Also, it’s always a little disconcerting to hear the sounds of a busy, active office environment when there’s only one person in the office with the player. These are just some of the ways The Invisible Hand reveals its flaws, suggesting a lack of polish in some areas.
While some aspects of The Invisible Hand are eye-popping, more often than not the game is genuinely entertaining. The dialogue is witty and downright hilarious at times, and it’s always fun to hear the voice of a co-worker breaking down when he’s fired for whatever reason. It’s also fun to start throwing things at co-workers after being fired once, playing the role of the disgruntled ex-employee storming out of the office. The game has some great sound effects, plus a zany soundtrack that helps get you through the day, especially during special moments. Plus, throughout the game, there’s no better feeling than investing in a stock that starts to skyrocket in value, leading to a huge payday.
Ultimately, The Invisible Hand is a critique of capitalist economics, presented through a story that focuses on stock management. Unfortunately, those looking for a game with a deep and innovative stock simulator system won’t find it in The Invisible Hand. Players do find hours of entertainment in their aspirations to become better stockbrokers than their colleagues. Power Struggle Games should be proud of the release of The Invisible Hand, allowing players to live out their fantasy of being a great stock trader while warning them of the larger consequences of capitalism and Wall Street’s “invisible hand”.
The Invisible Hand is now available on PC. Game Rant obtained the PC code for this review.