Review – Transistor
I’ll admit that until recently I had never played any titles by Supergiant Games, although I had heard of the wildly popular Bastion. I was intrigued by what I had seen in gameplay trailers for Transistor when it first released in 2014, but it was simply one of those titles that I never got around to playing. So now that it has gotten released on the Switch, I felt this was the perfect time to finally get around to it. I cannot express enough how happy I am that I did.
Transistor is a game unlike any other I’ve ever played. Everything from the combat, to the art style, and even the world in general is refreshingly unique. You start the game as a singer named “Red” who awakens after an attack to find she no longer has a voice and sees a man slumped over next to her with a giant glowing sword sticking out of his chest. She removes the sword to discover that while the man is dead, his consciousness has been absorbed and remains alive with the weapon, the “Transistor”. From there, Red and her companion, the Transistor, are on the run from an army of intelligent robots called the “Process”.
Transistor starts the game off without explaining much of what is going on. Red is uncertain of why the Process is hunting down her and the Transistor, but she finds snippets of information as to what has happened in short news articles found in terminals scattered all over the city of Cloubank. It seems the entire population of Cloudbank has been wiped out by the Process. She soon discovers that a secret group of high profile people and officials called the “Camerata” are the ones controlling the Process. The rest of the game is focused around her and the Transistor trying to discover their motives for the desolation of Cloudbank, a seemingly once thriving utopia.
While there isn’t much interaction with other people, since they’ve all been wiped out, Red does on occasion find someone recently deceased and uses the Transistor to absorb their essence, if you will. She does the same after fighting the Camerata. Each time she uses the Transistor to collect their life force, their genetic information is broken down and processed by the sword and converted into a new powerful move or ability called a “Function”. Using the Functions in combinations with others allow for different outcomes and tell a little bit more about the person they originally came from. This adds to the richness of the game since trying different moves actually unlocks more of the story.
This is where Transistor took me by surprise: its combat system. It took me a little while to get use to, but once I did, I was hooked. Transistor features both real-time attack mechanics as well as a strategic planning mode called “Turn”, that stops time. You can try out different moves on enemies while you run around and try to avoid their hits, or you can use Turn to carefully map out your plans of attack. There is a finite amount of moves you can in use at one time during Turn and there is a cooldown period afterwards where you won’t be able to use any of your moves at all. This adds to the overall strategy of it as you often have to find the right balance of real time attacks and carefully planned assaults.
There’s also a surprisingly large amount of moves you have available in Transistor. As previously stated, every time you gain a level or take someone’s essence, you get a move or ability that is specially related to that person. You can assign each move to be an active attack technique, a supporting enhancer, or a passive ability that helps Red in various ways overall. This means that each ability can have several different uses. For example, there is a move called “Help” that when equipped in Red’s active slot will summon a friendly robotic dog to aid her in the fight. If added as a supporting upgrade to another ability, Help will prevent downed enemies from respawning. If used as a passive ability, it gives Red a 25% chance of becoming a Super User while performing a Turn, thereby instantly killing most enemies. Needless to say, this makes the combat infinitely interesting as it offers you hundreds of combat combinations to play around with.
Another shining attribute to Transistor is its art style. In between the acts are hand drawn cutscenes that make Transistor feel like a graphic novel come to life. The world looks like a sophisticated futuristic metropolis, almost like something you would see in Blade Runner. There are large portions to the environment that are shown as large white blocks with red lights, making it obvious that world around you is actually a computer simulation. This shows that there are large parts to the city that the Process hasn’t figured out how to properly render, especially with less people around to draw information from. This was a brilliant and subtle hint as to the larger picture of what’s taking place in Cloudbank.
There’s not a lot of voice acting in Transistor, but the few who do lend their talents do it well. Logan Cunningham once again takes up the mantle of narrator in a Supergiant Games title by providing the voice of the Transistor. I have to say that Transistor has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in any game, hands down. Darren Korb, who wrote and produced the soundtrack, describes it as “old-world electronic post-rock”. That might seem confusing, but I assure you that’s a pretty fair description of it. Several songs are accompanied by Ashley Lynn Barrett’s sultry tones and make for some truly memorable songs. I’ve had “In Circles” stuck in my head for about a week now, not that I’m complaining.
Transistor is truly a treasure of game and if you haven’t played it before, then do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s available on most platforms and handles very well. The gameplay is highly addictive especially as you unlock more moves. There’s also a Recursion Mode that allows you to play again from the start, but at your current level and all of the moves you’ve gained in the previous playthrough. The enemies will also retain their levels, making the game tougher and vastly different each time you play it. The high replayability factor also makes this game worth your time. In fact, I think it might be time for a third playthrough…
A sleek and stylish futuristic world with beautifully vibrant hand drawn illustrations during the cutscenes.
There’s a learning curve at first, but once you figure out how the combat works, it’s a blast playing around with all of the moves and abilities.
Not too much voice acting except for the Transistor and a couple of the villains, but what’s there is good. One of the coolest soundtracks I’ve heard in a while.
Fun Factor: 9.0
There’s a lot of vagueness surrounding the world and much is left up to interpretation. The combat is wonderfully engaging and there are perks when played more than once.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Reviewed on Switch.
Transistor is available now on PC, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Transistor was provided by the publisher.