Review: Transistor Is A Unique, Expertly Crafted Piece Of Art
Transistor is an engrossing title with a deep, strategic combat system wrapped up in a highly captivating world.
- Worth The Time?There is not a second spent in Cloudbank that you'll regret. Dive in and just stay under as long as you can.
- Things LovedRed is an evolution of the silent protagonist, and a highly fascinating character. Fantastic dialogue and narrative structure that sets your imagination free. Cloudbank is a stunning, engaging world with thousands of secrets to discover. Combat blends regular action gameplay with deeper, strategic turn-based combat. Incredible depth with weapon, ability and passive choices. Limiters make the game genuinely challenging. Very long adventure that keeps you hooked throughout. New Game+.
- Things HatedOnce or twice the environments got in the way of the action.
- RecommendationThere really is no reason why you should think about skipping Transistor. Supergiant's second act is just as enthralling as its first, and often feels like a better game than what many consider near perfect. Red and the Transistor are extremely intriguing characters to take a journey with, and you'll struggle to tear yourself away after the credit have rolled.
- Name: Transistor
- Genre: Action RPG
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC, PS4
- Developer: Supergiant Games
- Publisher: Supergiant Games
- Price: $20.00 (Digital Download)
- Reviewed On: PC
When you start thinking about games that literally begin redefining what you think a game is, or can be, Bastion is usually one of those that you recall. The Action RPG from developers Supergiant Games made a big impact when it released in 2009, mixing together some deep, hack and slash combat with a tale woven so expertly that it is still able to instil the same feelings on repeated playthroughs. Transistor, the follow-up act to one of the greatest games ever made, borrows a lot from Bastion’s DNA, but also does more than its fair share with it. Transistor isn’t just another Bastion in a different setting. It’s an enthralling, emotional and spellbinding experience that takes everything that was good about Bastion and amplifies it, while changing the core of the game entirely.
Transistor is quick to get you going, thrusting you into the shoes of nightclub jazz singer Red. The game opens up with a gorgeous square in the city of Cloudbank, as Red pulls the transistor from a poor man’s chest and immediately begins her journey. Where are you going? What is this transistor that you’re being forced to carry around, dragging it on the floor behind you? What is the Process? Transistor doesn’t immediately answer these questions, and throughout its 8 hour adventure it doesn’t really try to directly answer them either. The game’s expertly crafted narrative is a bold one, since it takes a lot of investment from you as a player to discover. On top of that, pressing principles aren’t easily laid out in front of you, which makes for an interesting experience. You’re almost left to “fill in the blanks” on certain aspects, with events taking place all around you with just a little bit of context to get your imagination racing. Where is Cloudbank? Is this all happening inside a computer? What is the Transistor? The game asks these questions and lets you find the answers yourself, which almost definitely leads to different experiences based on the player.
Two things are made abundantly clear though. Cloudbank is in trouble. The colossal, futuristic city is crumbling under a force only known as The Process, who are stripping away its image and replacing it with white, blank corruption. The transistor seems to be one of the only ways to stop this all, but Red isn’t focused on that. Instead, Red is on a path to confront a group known as the Camerata, who seemingly started this entire process. But it’s a bit more personal than that. Trapped inside the transistor is someone very dear to Red, who is her only companion along this entire journey across Cloudbank. During an encounter just before the game begins, Red is attacked, her voice is stolen and her only love is murdered, becoming trapped within the transistor.
This relationship forms the crux of Transistor’s emotional weight. It’s a relationship that quickly grows on you, as you soon come to realise just what this voice means to Red. The transistor acts as your guide, the only voice by your side through all this adversity. This person trapped inside is also hellbent on revenge for what the Camerata has done to the both of you, providing Red with a direction to aim her rage. But it’s more about how these two lovers communicate with each other. The transistor is constantly speaking, but Red has no voice. Instead, you’re only able to communicate through scattered terminals that you interact with, leaving comments for Red’s lover in the transistor to read and respond to. It’s a fascinating take on a silent protagonist who has a medium to speak through, and makes these conversations, where only one person actually speaks, engrossing to listen to. It’s a brave and bold new way to tackle narrative, and Transistor pulls it off perfectly, to the point where you’ll feel an empty void inside of you when the story finally comes to an end.
It’s not the only innovative thing Transistor has going either. Combat is nothing like Supergiant’s previous venture, although it does feel like an evolution. As you continue forward you’ll unlock and obtain new Functions, which serve as your weapons and abilities in Transistor. No one function serves a single purpose though, as each one can be equipped as its own separate ability, an augment to another ability or a passive in its own right. This, coupled with the grand total of 16 available Functions, leads to some incredible depth in terms of combat. Having a bolt of energy augmented with an ability that slowly does damage to enemies could be great against a single giant foe, but swapping out for a life draining ability that breaks on contact with an enemy helps take out swarms. Since you’re essentially able to chop and choose what abilities you want at virtually every checkpoint, you’re free to experiment with variations that work against the rather large enemy pool Transistor draws from.
Enemies will blind your screen with snapshots, hit you back with tremendous force and even stealth and become invulnerable until they attack again. Making the best out of your available Memory, which restricts how many Functions you can have active at a given time, is key to succeeding in battle, but it’s not the only thing you have to take into account. For the most part, Transistor isn’t the hack and slash game Bastion was. Sure, you can still fire off abilities in real-time, but the real treat of combat comes with Turn(). This function, that you acquire at the beginning of the game, allows you to freeze time and plan ahead. You can move, stack attacks and then execute the queue, leading to some of the most satisfying moments the game has to offer. Of course, this comes at a price, with all your abilities then going into cooldown and forcing you to survive on the back foot for a few seconds. The balance between these two styles of gameplay is what makes combat so remarkable in Transistor, and the fact that you’re encouraged to experiment, along with the chance to change up so often, keeps the game from falling into tedium.
With this experimentation comes even more insight into Cloudbank’s world. Most of the abilities you pick up all contain a bio about an important figure of the falling city, with information being made available for you to read from the moment you pick it up. Use it in various different slots, and in various different ways, and you’ll unlock even more, giving you another reason to keep switching out your favourite combination in favour of more information. One thing that Transistor almost rips straight from Bastion are Limiters, which act as the game’s difficulty curve. As you level-up you have the chance to choose new and different Limiters, which make the game more difficult in exchange for faster experience gain. It’s still an effective way to up the ante here and there, and I found myself playing through Transistor with a few on at a time. Partly because having a challenge is what makes the combat even more engrossing, and partly because hitting zero on the life bar doesn’t mean game over. Instead, you lose access to an equipped Function until you reach the next checkpoint, giving you a second chance but putting you at a great disadvantage. It works well in context with the way combat conducts itself, and works equally well with the various different challenge rooms you’re able to visit via Backdoors. These little portals transport Red to her very own serine, private beach, littered with doors that have some rather demanding challenges and enemies just waiting to delete her. So like every other beach you’ve ever visited.
All of this is wrapped in one of the most stunning, beautiful packages gaming has ever been presented in. Transistor is nothing short of breathtaking, with the hand drawn environments and attention to detail bringing every facet of Cloudbank to life. Cloudbank itself is a rather interesting city to start off with, and it’s clear that Supergiant took inspiration from some Parisian architecture mixed with their own blend of cyberpunk goodness. The end result is an artistically gorgeous experience that pulls you in and doesn’t let go. And if the visuals are the initial draw, the soundtrack is most definitely the hook. Darren Korb has returned to deliver a stellar soundtrack of musical genius, mixing some upbeat jazzy tunes with his trademark bass kicks and modern style. His songs with returning vocalist Ashley Barrett are simply mind blowing, and serve as a keypoint in the overall tale now as well. At any point you can hit a button and hear Red hum along with the background music. A sombre and touching reminder of how important her voice was too her, and just how traumatic is was to lose it. It’s not something you hear about in games, and often sound takes a back seat, but Transistor embraces this strength and turns it into something spectacular.
And really, that’s exactly what makes Transistor the intriguing, incredible game that it is. It does so much that seems conventional but turns it on its head. Not for the sake of being different, but rather because the sum of its parts becomes something so much more than most games dream of. The narrative will definitely not appeal to everyone, especially those hoping for a coherent tale that doesn’t ask much of them. Transistor implores you to dig deeper, and rewards you handsomely when you do. Supergiant Games have made a bold statement with Transistor, similar to the one they made with Bastion. Games can be art, and Transistor exists to further prove this.