Transistor Review – PC, PS4

Transistor was released on May 20th, for the PC and PS4. The game was developed by Supergiant Games. A PC download code was provided for review purposes.

Transistor is the second game to come out of Supergiant Games, an independent studio in California. Their first game, Bastion, rocked the world when it hit back in 2011 on the Xbox 360. This time around the studio has decided to launch first on PS4 and PC. I don’t think Transistor packs as much of a wallop as Bastion did, but the game is not one to ignore. It follows some of the same ideas as it’s predecessor, in terms of being an isometric action game and having a gorgeous art design and killer soundtrack, but it makes advances that create a fresh new experience.  It might not be a long journey, but it’s one worth taking, so pick up your Transistor and join me in a journey through Cloud Bank.

In the game you play Red, a singer living in the sci-fi city of Cloud Bank. A group of ne’er-do-wells have created a weapon called the Transistor and aim to use it on you. When that plan fails and takes the life of one of your close friends, absorbing his essence into the blade in the process, you seek revenge for not only the attempt on your life but his life as well. The story feels fairly fragmented as you play through the game, and it seems like the characters know a lot more than you do for most of the game. Bits and pieces slowly get explained to you, but they feel very vaguely explained. Even after playing the game once I only understood the story on a very surface level. Although the other elements of the game help keep you moving along and the experience enjoyable, I would have prefered a bit more attention to detail on the story since it is only a single player linier game.

Supergiant came up with quite an interesting approach to combat in Transistor. Because the genre is so close to their last game they really needed to bring something fresh to the combat to make Transistor stand out. They accomplished this in two big ways. The first is the way they handle your abilities. You are given four attack slot to fit in moves like slash attacks and dash moves. However, each of these attack slots can be augmented by other abilities. Say you have one move that creates explosive energy balls, in an augmented slot it adds splash damage to your weapon strikes. As you progress you unlock more and more abilities allowing you to try many different combinations with your abilities. You also get the ability to socket a few moves as passive perks to your character, be it a shield or health regen. Mixing and matching these moves really adds depth and keeps the game fresh rather than making the combat go stale after an hour or so.

The other big addition to combat is the turn counter. What this does is freezes time and lets you plan an all out assault on your foes. You have an action meter that you can fill up with movements and attacks and once your plan is in place you unleash Red in a fast paced flurry of attacks. This is helpful in taking out either powerful enemies or enemies that are just giving you a rough time. Another benefit is that you can combo attacks to create bonus damage and also line up your attacks just right for optimum results. The only downside to using your turn is that it then has a cool down in which you can’t use another turn and you also can’t use your normal attacks. Adding the turn element creates some much needed complexity to the combat of this game. It’s not necessary to use turn in the game, but you will definitely get pummeled if you don’t. It would be like playing Fallout 3 and not using the Vats system. These intricate layers that have been added to the button mashing combat of an action games allows Transistor to shine out among the crowd.

Just from looking at this game you know the art is something special. But the game is more than the still art, the animation is stunning as well. Red drags the large Transistor behind her creating digital sparks everywhere she goes. Little touches like this make the world feel so alive, even when you are the only one living in it. The soundtrack also complements the art and game play very well. Casting Red as a singer allows for the inclusion of a few nice vocal pieces throughout the game. I love listening to video game music and this score is definitely joining my playlists.

An extra note that I enjoyed about transistor was how it handled meta content. It gave me a Dark Souls vibe as I played. You can see shadows of other players running around. It’s a little random but a nice subtle touch. Also throughout the game you access control stations, which sometimes ask you random questions or give you news updates. What’s interesting is that your answers seem to go into a pool of ever changing results with all the other players. As more people play the game the results will change.

I only really had one big gripe about the game, and this is it’s linearity. The problem is that this could have fairly easily been fixed by just letting you go backwards. It’s usually pretty easy to tell when you break from one level to the next and I can understand not being able to go back at that point. But once you make progress in a level you can’t really go back and explore anything you might have missed. The worst part is you never really know if the door you are next to is the exit or just an interesting part of town you can pop into, and if it is the exit then you can’t go back and explore the other nooks and crannies that you had not gotten to yet. It doesn’t ruin the game experience, just for someone like me who is trying to get into the game world and learn everything I can, it’s a bummer when you don’t know if you might have missed something interesting.

Transistor is an amazing game, and has been well worth the wait. From game design and combat to art and soundtrack this game
has been well thought out and executed. Red is a strong character even though I find how the story unfolds to be a bit obtuse. It’s the small touches that really make this game shine. Supergiant Games has once again brought greatness to the downloadable scene. Transistor is a fun ride, one that you will want to line right back up for after you are finished.

Score: 9