When everything changes, nothing changes.
Supergiant Games, creators of Bastion, have really done themselves proud this time so let us clear this up from the get go. Transistor has just become one of my most beloved of games in recent years. I never thought an action RPG could give me the immense buzz Transistor has and, I, for one am grateful it was Transistor that managed to get there first. Starting off quite abruptly, you are immediately introduced to your main and only weapon, the Transistor. Lodged in a dead man you do not yet know, the first task is to remove it on his instruction. Wait… What? He is dead; however his conscience is not. His conscience resides within the Transistor itself narrating the whole journey from beginning to end. From here, the story gets really weird and sets itself up for an amazing narrative. Please be cautious of the first two paragraphs, as they will have some minor spoilers about the setup of the game.
Transistor is an isometric action RPG that has you playing as a (very quiet) young lady who is known only as Red. Red is something of an icon in the world of Transistor, a huge musical star within the city of Cloudbank. Her disadvantage, however, is that she is unable to speak due to an assassination attempt by the Camerata gone awry. Without going into too much detail, Red’s life was saved; however her voice was not. The journey of Red begins as soon as that shiny blue sword is removed from the unknown man, and the game wastes no time getting you acquainted with the sword play.
From the get go, Red is able to use both Crash() and Breach() from within the Transistor to crush her foes. The enemies in this world are known as ‘The Process’. The Process are, in layman’s terms, robots – specifically, white robots created to control the world within Transistor. Little known to the Camerata, control of The Process would be lost when the Transistor was away from the ‘cradle’ (the home of the Transistor), for long periods of time. This then resulted in the Process attempting to erase the city block by white block, and all the people within it.
The story is a complex one, and I would be lying if I said I did not have to Google a few unanswered questions. No matter how much I dug through function fact files I still found myself needing more answers. Once you have it nailed down though, Transistor becomes one of the greatest stories in action RPG history.
Onto the gameplay itself, the very first thing you notice is just how gorgeous the game looks. Every lick of cybernetic paint beams out in neon glory. Transistor is simply a job to look at in every respect. Besides the area you find yourself in, Red herself looks amazing and the animations appear fluid; you cannot help but find yourself in a constant state of awe. Transistor, in terms of graphics and style, is stunning and I would not have it any other way. There is a real weight to the Transistor, when you first get it, smashes to the ground with a furious blast. Supergiant does not go all politically correct and make you a big burly woman for the sake of the Transistor. You are an everyday pop star who happens to inherit a big ass sword, not strength. Red drags the Transistor along the ground with all the strength she can muster up and sparks fly as the sword trails behind. It is a sight to behold.
The music in Transistor is simply wonderful, a real delight to the ears. I never found myself wishing it to stop or turning it down, it was always there; and always made sense. As you progress, you work through some fantastic hits, and you cannot help but wonder how a game based on tragedy and violence can be so tranquil and placid. The sounds made by the Transistor are also incredibly well done, with each swing feeling undeniably satisfying. It becomes hard not to appreciate the little things like it.
The main draw for Transistor is its Turn() system. Turn() is unlocked very early on and allows Red to cause time to come to an almost complete standstill. While in this mode, enemies are near-frozen and Red is able to make hyper-speed pre-emptive strikes on them in an attempt to destroy her foes. You have a bar along the top of the screen which shifts downward with every move you make until the turn is complete. You also have the option to reverse a move if you feel it has gone wrong, which I found myself doing a whole lot. Once you realize the power of this tool, the game shows its true colors in perfect form. With it, I found myself hacking, slashing and projecting beams of death at enemies with great ease, not that it required n0 finesse, mind. Transistor is one of those easy to learn difficult to master games and despite me completing it; I still feel compelled to go back for more which is a warranted feeling considering the new game plus option.
As Red continues on her journey she comes across functions which serve as power upgrades for the Transistor. With them she is able to set up to four in the Transistor, as well as unlockable passive ones for each active function. Sound confusing? That would be because it is. In short, this results in a near limitless combination of functions, in turn resulting in one amazing Transistor. Each function has a fact file which you can look into which further details the soul trapped within the Transistor itself. It is this and the fact that the narrator is consistently talking to you on an emotional level that reminds you that the voice is much more than a simple narrator and that attack you used was not just a simple attack. I find it rare for a game to achieve such deep storytelling, let alone make you care for a weapon as much as the Transistor.
When fighting, Red has to watch her health as you would expect, but failure is a much worse fate than a simple game over screen. I never actually died completely, but I did come close several times. When your health bar reaches zero, Red goes into emergency Turn() mode, where she must make an emergency turn in the hope of defeating all enemies. If, however, she failed to defeat the assailants in question, then the most used function in that battle is lost and cannot be bought back until Red finds the required number of access points. The access point is the area you will find yourself in a lot. Here you are able to assign the various functions you have unlocked (providing you have the memory, a meter ensuring you cannot use all functions at once) and enable limiters. Limiters are pretty self-explanatory, and hinder more than help Red. These, like functions, are unlocked through leveling up and provide an XP boost when active. These can be as simple as ‘The Process will re-spawn from cells in much less time’ or as painful as ‘The Process will strike with twice as much power’. For me though, I enable just one which was more than enough. In my case, giving the Process a shield before they de-spawned.
The final main feature of Transistor is its Sandbox area. At first, I found it to be a nice little distraction, but as I played through; it became more of an annoyance. I wanted to get to the damn Camerata, not toy around in some fantasy virtual world. It never seemed to make sense to me and for the most part felt like unnecessary filler. The Sandbox is an area you feel compelled to enter, though I admit I skipped the last door way because I was sick of it. It is literally a door way to a beach area, which though very pretty, was to me a pesky side trip. It acts as a hub of sorts for various challenges based on Speed, Planning, Stability, Performance and Agency. As I said, I enjoyed it to start, but it quickly annoyed me because it felt so forced. Completing challenges unlocks more of that wonderful music, which was another nail in the coffin for me considering I just did not want to. I was completely torn.
Despite a very minor fault Transistor impressed me to no end and provided me with thrills throughout. Not once was I bored of anything I had to see and not once did I find myself lost where to go. It may have been linear but that did not make it bad, it just meant traversing was a lot more straight forward. It was clear time was spent focusing on the games combat and RPG system, and that’s no bad thing.
“Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”