With the argument over whether video games should be considered art still burning fiercely, Supergiant Games have just released another reason for why the games we play and love today should be compared to the likes of Picasso. Following the release of their debut game, the stunning Bastion, Supergiant Games set out to create another beautiful world, which this time comes in the form of Transistor, an action RPG set in the futuristic city of Cloudbank.
First off, Transistor is going to confuse you. The game begins without any opening sequences or a title screen, and you are left puzzled as to whether you accidentally skipped the first cutscene or not. The player immediately gains control of Red, our main protagonist who is a famous singer within the city of Cloudbank. In front of her is a man impaled by a sword, this is the Transistor. Red removes the Transistor from the man and discovers that his consciousness has been absorbed by the Transistor, which allows him to communicate with Red. After around an hour of play time, it is revealed that the Camerata, the main enemy force in the game, tried to kill Red with the Transistor, however the man we found at the beginning of the game stepped in front of Red and took the blow himself. After this revelation the main objective of Transistor is revealed, to take out the leader of the Camerata.
The Transistor itself is the main narrator of the game, giving details on the backstory, its relation to Red and details on how to progress in the game. The Transistor plays the same role as the narrator does in Bastion, however the Transistor is much more of an active character within the story as opposed to Bastion’s passive observer. Logan Cunningham, who stole the show in Bastion, returns here in Transistor and gives yet another excellent performance. His voice acting helps the player gain a better understanding of Red, the Transistor itself and Cloudbank. Logan seems to be a perfect fit for the worlds created by Supergiant Games, so we hope to see him return for their next project. Transistor wants you to fill in the blanks in its story, and this can be both a good and bad thing. When a lot of the story is left with the player to figure out themselves, an imagination can run wild which means you’ll be running to your chosen internet forum to discuss your theories on the game. However on the other hand, it can be difficult to follow the story sometimes because of its vagueness and the confusing opening doesn’t help this. The impact the story has on the player comes down to how much they are willing to engage with the game, and how much effort they want to put into exploring Cloudbank.
One of the best things about Transistor is its combat, and the variety of ways you can approach any fight with the Process army, which is being controlled by the Camerata. Throughout Cloudbank, Red collects functions which act as attacks in combat, with four being equipable at any one time. These can range from a simple slash of the Transistor to grenades which damage multiple enemies at a time, and the trick to Transistor comes in combining these functions to create the most effective attacks possible. When the player has chosen their four main attacks, Red can pick up further functions which can be used to bolster the four attacks to make them even more powerful. This gives the player a lot of freedom and allows them to customise the combat to suit their needs, which really helps in the later stages of the game when the enemies become a lot tougher. The other half to Transistor’s combat is the ability to stop time and plan your moves within a certain time frame, and then see Red execute them to perfection. If the player knows a combination of moves that will take an enemy out before they can even land a hit, then it is a joy to plan this out and watch Red move about the environment seamlessly and take out an enemy with ease. These functions are found throughout the game and form the collectables within Transistor, with sixteen in total. Transistor combines the quick reactions of a real-time action game with a strategy RPG to create one of the best combat systems we have seen for a long time. The only gripe we have with Transistor’s combat is that once you gain some of the more powerful functions, the game can become very easy and dwindles down to pausing time and using the same attacks over and over again.
Transistor uses the same hand-drawn art style as seen in Bastion, and the result is quite simply beautiful. The world of Cloudbank is brought to life through the bright and vibrant colours used throughout the city, and we found ourselves just stopping for a few seconds and admiring the background and scenery, it’s just that good. Transistor’s soundtrack compliments the visuals and really fits the mood of the game. The music is perfect background noise for exploration in Cloudbank and speeds up slightly during combat; this fits the mood of the game to a tee. It gives the player a sense of going into the unknown, which complements the point made earlier about the player not knowing for certain what is really going on in Transistor’s story.
We finished Transistor in five hours and there is also a new game+ option upon completion, where you can run through the game a second time with all your functions and current level intact. This adds more value to the game because it gives you the chance to face some tougher enemies, a better understanding of the story after the knowledge you gained in the first playthrough, and access to some more trophies. The only real bad thing to say about Transistor is that it is very linear, with few branching paths. There is the occasional side path where you can gain a bit of extra information from a computer on the city of Cloudbank, however these paths always finish with a dead end.
Right at the beginning of Transistor, we discover that Red has lost her ability to speak, which severely hinders the interaction she can have with the Transistor and any NPCs she encounters. You will gain backstory on the other characters of Cloudbank through OVC consoles scattered throughout the game, and when the Transistor speaks. Rather than giving you a number of side-quests handed out by NPCs, Transistor offers side challenges which can all be accessed at certain points in the story. These skill challenges include tests such as killing all enemies on screen while time is frozen, and they offer an opportunity to level up outside of the main story. The challenges can also be revisited upon completion of Transistor. Due to Red’s muteness, this is a good workaround to standard side-quests because it wouldn’t feel natural receiving a side-quest when the main character has no say in whether they accept such quest or not.
Transistor gives players a dazzling world to explore, a customisable combat system that anyone could find pleasure in, and a story that can pull on even the toughest person’s heartstrings if engaged with. Transistor is a worthy follow up to Bastion and it shows that Supergiant Games aren’t finished with bringing truly jaw-dropping worlds to the videogame industry. The linearity and confusing opening hour do hinder the game somewhat, but as you come to understand Transistor, you’ll be swept away by its charm and beauty.