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Invisibility with Drawbacks

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It's very common for the power of invisibility in video games and other media to have some inherent drawbacks that limit it to only being situationally useful.

The most common drawback is that the invisibility stops working when the character attacks or prevents attacking while active. The most limited form even only works when the character is standing still. This is often introduced by game designers to prevent it from becoming a Game-Breaker and keep invisibility balanced with other options. In other media it's often used as a plot point which the hero can exploit.



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    Film — Live Action 
  • In Mystery Men, Invisible Boy's power only works if no one is looking at him, not even himself. Allegedly. The other characters doubt him but are too polite to press him on it. His power is real.

  • The One Ring from The Lord of the Rings grants extremely good invisibility, even so far as to make dust and mud and carried objects invisible too. However, it also eats away at your soul.
  • Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy had Grand Admiral Thrawn discovering the Emperor's secret cloaking technology early in the first book. His initial plan is to use it to cloak the Empire's ships, however, it's discovered the invisibility, which in this novel works by bending light around the cloaked object instead of letting it go through, renders the ship totally blind. Thrawn instead puts the cloak to alternative uses:
    • 1: He straps a bunch of cloaking devices to small asteroids which he then dumps in Coruscant's orbit, effectively grounding the planetary defenses. In the process of launching a few dozen cloaked asteroids, Thrawn also conducts hundreds of fake launches, so that Coruscant would never know whether they've actually cleared away all of them and thus can never risk lowering their Deflector Shields. And since Coruscant has a population of over 1 trillion and can't produce enough food to support even a tenth that without importing from other worlds, this allowed him to place the Republic's capital under siege without even needing to keep his own fleet in place overhead. Unless a method of detecting the cloaked asteroids could be found (at the time, the only devices that might be able to do so were all in the Empire's hands), eventually the planet would've needed to surrender or else its population would starve.
    • 2: He sneaks cloaked battleships into a planet's orbit, so they'll be behind the planet's Deflector Shields when the main Imperial fleet arrives. When he orders an Orbital Bombardment, the visible ships outside the shield fire in the direction of the cloaked ships, which in turn fire at the planet - creating the illusion that he has a weapon that can bypass shields. Since the double-blind nature of Imperial cloaking devices also prevents any radio transmissions from reaching the cloaked ships, and the illusion required a ridiculous degree of precision to pull off...Thrawn employed a cloned Jedi to use his Psychic Powers to control the crews of the cloaked ships.
    • 3: He installs a cloaking device into the cargo hold of a freighter. This makes the hold look empty to outside scanners, so the freighter is able to smuggle fighters through a target system's outer defenses because they don't show up on scans while in the cloaked hold.
  • In Memoirs of an Invisible Man, the primary drawback to Nick Halloway's invisibility is that he cannot turn it off. This causes endless problems for him, not the least of which is that the government wants to force him to become an invisible assassin. Secondary problems include the fact that he only has one set of clothing that is also invisible, so he can be seen when he wears anything else. Also, anything he eats or drinks is perfectly visible as he chews, swallows and digests it, and that can be nauseating to watch.
  • In the Captain Future reconstruction novel Avengers of the Moon, our hero uses a man-portable version of his spaceship's fantome generator to infiltrate the moon habitat of a high-ranking politician. Reality Ensues as he has to consider such problems as power supply (only ten minutes using his batteries), being able to navigate when you can't see, and how to hide his footprints. The solution they come up with is for Captain Future to walk in behind, and holding onto, his Robot Buddy Grag, who pretends to be a simple maintenance robot. Later Captain Future uses the fantome generator in a shootout by switching it on, moving his position and aiming his weapon at where he can hear the enemy is (sound can still travel through the field) then turning it off again, giving himself a momentary advantage over his opponents.
  • The Ganymede Takeover. A soldier of La Résistance uses an illusion machine to turn himself invisible. Unfortunately on turning it off again he insists that I Can't See Myself, even though everyone else can see him. It's a result of the psychological effects of the illusion machines, which send the users crazy.

     Live-Action TV  
  • Klingon and Romulan warships in Star Trek have extremely effective cloaking devices, but cloaking takes up so much power that they can't fire any of their weapons or raise their Deflector Shields while cloaked. Another drawback of Romulan (but not Klingon) cloaking devices was the inability to use the transporters while cloaked. The one time they do, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, it gives the Enterprise and the Excelsior a hard time and the infamous Scimitar in Star Trek: Nemesis, which could cloak, fire and raise shields, which was able to outfight the Enterprise-E and a pair of state-of-the-art Romulan Warbirds at the same time.
    • The genetically engineered Jem'Hadar warriors in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have a biological ability to "shroud" themselves, but can't maintain this when attacking. For reasons that are never explained (other than to prevent them from being unbeatable by the heroes), this even includes attacking with bladed weapons or bare hands. It would be plausible if firing their plasma rifles disrupted the shroud effect, but why would throwing a punch do so?
  • Discussed and subverted in Stargate SG-1 episode "200". When the writer of a show based on the SG-1 team finds out that one of his actors has pulled out of production, the members of SG-1 suggest that he could continue to use the character by making him invisible, leading to a montage of scenes from an otherwise off-screen incident in which Colonel O'Neill was rendered invisible. The writer is wary of using this particular technique as it gives the character a little too much power. Carter points out that he can always invent drawbacks. She then subverts the example with O'Neill's own invisibility. She implies it did not have any drawbacks, but they came up with some to convince him to return to normal because, well, it's Jack O'Neill.

     Tabletop Games  
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The invisibility spell has retained the same drawbacks in most rules editions, which were specifically designed with warriors, rogues, and evocation spellcasters in mind. The standard invisibility spell ends immediately if the affected party makes an attack or casts a spell. More advanced versions of the spell, such as greater invisibility, remove this limitation.

     Video Games  
  • In Avencast: Rise of the Mage, the powerful Shadow Walk spell can only be activated while no one is watching.
  • Invisibility in BioShock is only active when you stay completely still and takes a few seconds to recharge whenever you move or attack an enemy.
  • Dead by Daylight
    • The Wraith cannot interact (attack mainly) with survivors while invisible, and must ring a very audible bell to become visible. He also slows down briefly while reappearing and suffers from Visible Invisibility of the distortion style.
    • "The Nightmare":
      • When initially released, the Nightmare was completely invisible to the Survivors, but he could not attack them unless he drew them into the Dream World, at which point he became visible to them. Also, Survivors who were still awake would hear his trademark lullaby when near him.
      • Following a re-work in a later patch, the Nightmare's invisibility has been toned down significantly. He still remains invisible to Survivors that are awake, but only when he is some distance away from them. He becomes increasingly more visible as he closes in on a Suvivor. Awake Survivors will hear the normal heartbeat when they are within his Terror Radius, while the lullaby that used to be his warning to awake Survivors is now what the sleeping Survivors hear when he's close.
    • The Spirit can turn invisible at any time—briefly leaving behind a decoy of herself to fool survivors—but Survivors become invisible to her while she is doing this. She can still see the scratches from their running to help track them down, while an add-on can also allow her to see blood.
  • In Dota 2, almost all forms of invisibility are gained from abilities on a cooldown and are lost upon attacking or casting a spell. Furthermore, the item Dust of Appearance is intended specifically to counter heroes that rely on invisibility by revealing them and slowing their movement speed. There are also several special invisibility cases, each with their own drawbacks:
    • Smoke of Deceit grants invisibility to allies in a large radius around the user and prevents them from being detected by sources of True Sight, and Phantom Assassin's Blur ability can grant this effect to herself only. The catch is that the invisibility wears off if you're near an enemy hero or building, making it less useful for making daring escapes and more for sneaking up on enemies without being seen by wards (as long as you're not using Smoke underneath one).
    • Templar Assassin's Meld requires her to stand completely still to maintain its invisibility, making it poor for escaping from enemies with half a brain on its own and only being good for setting up ambushes if you can predict the enemy's movements well. However, breaking invisibility with an attack grants that attack bonus damage and an armor-reducing effect, letting her briefly turn invisible in the middle of combat to backstab enemies in the face. The Shadow Amulet's invisibility has the same drawbacks without any of the benefits and takes a few seconds to kick in to boot, but at least it can be used to build items that don't have the "stand still" restriction on their invisibility.
    • Slark's Shadow Dance is one of the few invisibility sources in the game that isn't broken by any action, but it also surrounds him with a very visible cloud of smoke while active.
  • The Elder Scrolls series has two types of Invisibility spell: Invisibility itself and Chameleon. To note:
    • Invisibility makes the player character completely invisible for a set duration, but the effect ends as soon as the player performs an action other than simply moving. (Interacting with an object, attacking, casting a spell, picking a lock, etc.)
    • Chameleon only turns you invisible by a percentage and has a higher Magicka cost, but will remain in effect for the spell's entire duration. This makes it particularly potent when combined with custom spells or enchanting.
  • In Final Fantasy VI the invisibility status effect makes the target able to dodge all physical attacks, but also makes them 100% susceptible to magic. This led to a bug that let you one-shot bosses with normally unreliable insta-kill spells.
  • In most Halo games, a player with active camouflage becomes completely visible for a brief moment whenever they do an attack of any kind or get hit. From Halo: Reach onward, moving will also disrupt the camo (though to what degree depends on the game), with sprinting making it basically useless. Additionally, active camo only lasts for a short time before you have to either wait for it to recharge or pick up the required power-up again.
    • In Halo: Combat Evolved's campaign, you had to rely on melee attacks in order to remain unseen if you were cloaked, since enemies would see you if you fired your gun. In Halo 2's campaign, doing an attack of any kind would drop your cloak. Additionally, CE's and 2's active camouflage was incapable of hiding Covenant energy swords, which would continue to glow brightly.
    • In Reach and Halo 4, a player with active camo would cause the radar of nearby enemy players to go haywire; this was a double-edged sword, since it allowed people to know when there was an cloaked enemy nearby. Additionally, Reach's and 4's active camo would muffle their user's audio, reducing their situational awareness.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, you can't attack without breaking stealth, nor can you use it sneak past most droid opponents. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, stealth is limited to a handful of classes (Operative, Scoundrel, Shadow, Assassin), you won't be able to sneak past higher-level enemies, you can't use objects or attack while stealthed, and you have to keep a certain distance from enemies at all times to avoid detection. This is not to say a good Shadow or Operative can't learn how to use a combination of hit/stun/run/stealth to handle missions they shouldn't be able to solo.
  • Although it isn't explicitly stated, observation of the Chozo Ghosts in Metroid Prime makes it clear that they have to become visible to throw those projectiles.
    • And all invisibility is simply shifted visibility. No enemy is invisible to all the visors, after all. Said Ghosts are always visible to the X-Ray Visor; the Cloaked Drone is only visible to the Thermal Visor; the second form of the Metroid Prime itself is only visible to one Visor at any given time, but which one that is changes... Once you have all the visors, you'll need to switch them from time to time, but that's it for enemies being able to hide completely.
  • In Team Fortress 2, the spy's cloaking ability has several drawbacks:
    • Cloaking is on a timer and has to recharge.
    • You can't attack while cloaked.
    • You make a distinctive hissing noise and emit smoke particles when cloaking and uncloaking.
    • Touching enemies and taking damage will make you visible for a short time and make you flash your team color. Being set on fire or soaked with jarate or mad milk effectively neutralizes it for a while.
    • You can collide with enemies while cloaked, which is even easier to notice than the flashing.
  • In Star Trek Online, there are three types of cloaking:
    • Normal Cloaking, which players can activate outside of battle, but will drop once Red Alert is activated and cannot be reactivated until Red Alert goes down. Basic Klingon craft and certain Federation craft have this.
    • Battle Cloak, which allows players to cloak while in battle, but cannot attack. C-Store and Tier 5-6 Klingon craft and all Romulan craft have this.
    • Enhanced Battle Cloak, which allows players to fire torpedoes while cloaked, but they will give themselves away when cloaked. Tier 5 and 6 B'Rel Bird-Of-Prey and Tier 5 and 6 T'varo Light Warbird use this.
      • As well, the Federation Cruiser Refit (that's the Constitution-refit) has a Console which allows photon torpedoes to home in on cloaked units.
  • In every Mortal Kombat game he appears in (at least since MKII where he became a more individualized character), Reptile has the ability to become invisible for an indefinite amount of time. This is only canceled if the Invisibility command is entered again, or if he's attacked. Even blocking the attack will cut off the effect.
  • Perfect Dark has the Cloaking Device, an equipment that renders you invisible to enemies, allowing you to slip right past them (so long as you haven't activated it in their presence). However, shooting will make you and your bounding boxes visible for a few seconds, enough to get any soldier in the area to converge on you. Later on, you get the RC-P120, which has a secondary cloaking function with the same disadvantage plus one: keeping the cloaking on eats away at your ammo, and you get visible in that brief moment you get to change clips.
  • In Crysis "Stealth Mode" is less effective the faster you move, has a limited power reserve, and firing a gun drains the power completely if unsilenced or by an amount corresponding to the weapon's damage. Interestingly, this makes one of the best weapons in the game the starting pistol, silenced, with a laser sight, allowing you to pick off an entire squad of Cell troopers using headshots without completely draining your power.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, the most basic form of Obfuscate grants invisibility that fails if you move, act, or interact with anyone; leveling it up by spending experience points lightens those restrictions and eventually removes them.
  • Minecraft has invisibility potions that can make you invisible and only you. Your weapons/tools and armor do not become invisible, so having any gear on you will make you easily spotted by enemies and other players. Only by going fully naked can you achieve true invisibility at the cost of a weaker attack and defense.
  • Descent: The cloaking device renders you completely invisible to the enemy robots (enemy players can still see a faint outline, though it's very easy to miss). However, it has a time limit of 30 seconds. Furthermore, while firing your weapons won't cancel the invisibility, every robot in the area will immediately react and start firing in the general direction of where your weapons fire came from.

     Real Life  
  • The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft was practically undetectable to Cold War era radar. Even with heavy upgrades and software modernization, which allowed limited detection but not active tracking of the F-117, anti-aircraft radar couldn't "lock on" to the plane until it opened its weapon bay doors to attack, which reduced its electronic invisibility enough to make them vulnerable. The plane could not attack and be stealthy simultaneously. This is how the Yugoslav shot them down, and the fatal flaw convinced the USAF to retire its entire fleet of them to redistribute funds for the far superior B-2 and F-22. note 
    • The F-117 was also somewhat hamstrung by Crippling Overspecialization: Its impressive stealth capability was achieved at the cost of severely limiting its payload (it could carry no more than two 2000lb bombs and no other weapons), and it had a fairly low top speed and poor handling characteristics. If its stealth capabilities were overcome somehow it was a big fat target. The F-22 was designed as a direct response to these limitations, applying the lessons learned from the F-117 to create a stealth aircraft that was capable of holding its own in air-to-air combat.
  • Early versions of the B-2 and F-22 became detectable when the skin of the aircraft got wet after flying through the rain. Rumors claim it was because the stealth coating washed off or beading water droplets reflected radar signals (perhaps even both). Whatever the cause, the USAF claims the weakness was eventually solved, and both aircraft are all weather combatants: rain or shine. And even once that was sorted out, they still had one even bigger drawback: A staggeringly high price tag.


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