Do you enjoy overprotective parents holding your hand, guiding your every step through life while shoving their ideas for your future down your throat? If so, then I’m sure you love the nostalgic value of games that act in the same fashion. With that said, I’d like to impart some words of caution if you find yourself considering picking up Supergiant Games’ Transistor.
Imagine the complete opposite- a mother kicking their kid to the curb on their 18th birthday, the only thing given to start their new life is the clothes on their back. The tools this kid has to propel them further in life is their own intelligence and life experiences. Now picture Supergiant Games as the mother and you are the main character, Red. Keeping with this horrible analogy, your ‘18th birthday’ is the first scene in Transistor which shows Red pulling a talking sword out of a corpse. Congratulations, Tutorial and parental guidance complete, time to use your brain.
Instead of giving you the key concepts that I enjoyed or disliked about the game here, I’m taking a page out of Transistor’s book which will force you to continue reading if you desire to learn my opinions regarding this game. Or this will backfire and you will just search for another Transistor review. Either way, let’s dive in.
When the task of reviewing the second creation from Supergiant Games landed onto my shoulders, I knew writing this review would pose a challenge. My first review with Steam1st was on Bastion, and I gave them a well-deserved 5/5. The dilemma I faced was one that I’m sure most gamers have experienced in some form, comparing a newer game to one of similar origins or to previous games from that same developer. Well, about ten minutes into Transistor, I found myself laughing over my petty worries, because this game will delight anyone, regardless of how critical they want to be.
The storytelling approach in Transistor takes some aspects from Bastion and adds its own unique flare to it. You are Red, a famous singer from a future cyber-tech city called Cloudbank. The game starts with Red pulling a talking sword, called the Transistor, out of a corpse and you soon realize that your voice has been stolen and the only person around to keep you company is this talking sword. As the story progresses Red finds out Cloudbank is no longer the vibrant city she once remembered and was a victim of something called The Process, which caused the whole city to go ‘offline’, leaving Cloudbank a deserted ghost town infected with cybernetic monsters which are the body of The Process. As Red travels through the city, looking for a way out, they run across fallen citizens that the Transistor is able to absorb, and you can obtain more from leveling up. These citizens act as functions which we will discuss in a bit, and when each function is upgraded in some fashion, another piece of that person’s back story is unlocked.
Like Bastion, Transistor follows a unique type of real time narration, where most of the story is given to the player during the game play, and different actions in-game affect the comments from the narrator. I was worried that using this same method would hurt the feel of originality but I was surprisingly wrong and I can safely say that this type of storytelling could become its own sub-genre of gaming. I loved the interaction between Red and the person inside the Transistor and the added plot twists given from the news articles she would read from random Terminals in the city was a nice touch. I found myself glued to my seat, longing for the next bit of information and was emotionally invested into Red’s situation and felt like finding the cause of this tragedy was as much my life mission as it was hers.
Overall the Story in Transistor was nothing groundbreaking but was presented in a satisfying way. Unlike Bastion, this was not the best aspect of the game for me, but I felt like they provided a great story that I enjoyed until the bitter end.
Personally, I will always choose a solid story over amazing game mechanics but in this case, the gameplay was what intrigued me the most. Transistor takes a different approach to tactical style play which gives the user choices as to when they would like extra time to plan during a fight at a cost. Every encounter starts like any action style RPG where the battle is in real time and the player has four different moves to choose from. From there you can either fight the encounter normally or activate the ability called Turn( ), which allows the player to freeze time and take as long as their heart desires to plan out a limited amount of moves before restoring time to its original state. I loved this feature more than words can express. I am a big tactical gamer so this was a refreshing take on a great genre of gaming that added a new captivating element of strategy.
Another great feature Transistor has going for it is the level of skill customization offered. As mentioned earlier, the Transistor is able to absorb fallen citizens and use them as functions. Each function collected can be used as one of your four abilities, an upgrade to an ability or as a passive. The amount of combinations feels endless and allows the player to create a completely different tactical approach during each encounter. I feel I spent more time creating strategies and creating fun combinations than I did advancing the story. The gameplay never felt repetitive and I found myself spamming the bonus challenges in order to test out different play styles.
The only major issue I had with the game is the fixed camera angle. The game is played in a top down perspective which is fine but there is no way to rotate the camera which ended up creating issues for me more than once during my play through. During any battle, there is a lot happening on the screen and when using the Turn( ) ability, being able to have an unobstructed view of the map is necessary. I had a couple moments of rage when an enemy would be out of view due to a building in the foreground which resulted in a missed attack. I feel like not creating a solution to this issue was an oversight that hindered my overall gaming experience.
Soundtrack and visuals:
Transistor and Bastion both give off an upbeat yet bleak vibe through their use of visuals and soundtrack which work in their favor. Transistor is a story about an entire city being destroyed by an unknown enemy but yet it has an aura to it that is bursting with personality and color that finds a way to add to the dystopian feel. Transistor does not attempt to win any awards with top of the line graphics but provides an appealing art style that brings the characters and situation to life.
The soundtrack in Transistor adds another layer of beauty and depth to the experience by filling the game with soul. Red was a blues-type lounge singer and during the game, this genre of music graces your eardrums while providing an eerie atmosphere. Remember the scene in Titanic when the band was playing while the ship was sinking and everyone was falling to their deaths, all hope lost? I was getting that vibe with the soundtrack in Transistor which helped draw me into the experience.
Final thoughts and parting question:
Transistor solidified Supergiant Games as a force to be reckoned with and shows that they create games to tell a story and are not afraid of thinking outside the box in order to do so. The fixed camera angles hindered the overall experience for me but the strategic gameplay, mesmerizing visuals, and the game’s story made up for their blunder. With this being a shorter game, taking less than ten hours to complete, I feel its worth picking up and enjoying. You can check it out for yourself here.
So tell me, when playing a new game from a developer, do you find yourself comparing it to their previous work, and if so, do you enjoy the game taking aspects from their predecessors? Before you depart, I’m curious to know your opinion on this subject.