Transistor: review

With their debut game, Bastion, Supergiant Games proved a mastery of their craft in the all-but-perfect action RPG. Three years on and they’re no doubt hoping that lightning can strike twice with their follow-up, the sci-fi strategy RPG Transistor. Here players take on the role of Red as she fights her way toward the ominous group known as the Camerata, hoping to take back what they stole from her along with her talking sword, the Transistor.

The story that grows from this is masterfully and subtly told, the player given just enough information through both gameplay and text logs to infer its intricacies, sometimes via the player’s own interpretation of facts. For example, text logs give information on the disappearances of prominent artists of Cloudbank City, all tied together by an innocuous line of dialogue that also link it into Red’s own story.

The voice-acting aids with this, each character brought to life with subdued and powerful performances. Logan Cunningham once again does a sublime job in portraying the titular character, lending an emotional weight to the moving dialogue. This all takes place in Cloudbank City, a rapidly dying metropolis that is vividly realised via fantastic artwork. Transistor presents a world of stark contrast; oppressive dark tones and intimidating whites look fantastic with Supergiant Games’ colourful, unique, and distinct art style.

The soundtrack continues this trend, moody music weaving itself naturally into the world of Cloudbank City and providing a perfectly oppressive atmosphere for the story being told there. A song is also used at one point to bolster the narrative, creating one of the most powerful scenes in the game.

There’s not a whole lot to the gameplay aside from the combat, a hybrid of strategy and RPG mechanics that creates tense encounters to challenge the player’s creativity and execution. You’re given a limited battlefield, dotted with destructible cover, on which to fight against a variety of enemies known as the Process – from simple dogs and stealthy humanoids to machines whose sole purpose is to shield their allies.

The planning phase pauses the action, so that players can plan out Red’s movements and ability use for a limited amount of time. It’s an intensely rewarding experience to utilise your choice of four abilities to create an efficient method of taking out your opponents. The planning phase has to recharge after using it, creating a period of vulnerability and downtime since you can’t use most of your abilities during this time.

Combat never reaches a high enough level of challenge due to the copious chances at each encounter. When Red loses all of her health, she enters an emergency planning phase for the player to try to end the encounter quickly, but if they fail to do this – then the combat just continues. Should Red run out of health again, she will lose access to one ability each time until finally hitting a game over. It probably would have been a more challenging and enjoyable experience had it skipped the loss of abilities.

Transistor features a levelling system that will unlock both difficulty-altering limiters as well as new abilities. For the number of them, it’s a credit to the game that they’re all incredibly varied. These offer an overwhelming amount of customisation to the player, especially when taking into consideration that you can also equip them as upgrades and passives. For example, you might take both the Crash and Breach abilities, using the former to apply a debuff to enemies and then the latter to deal huge amounts of damage. Alternatively, you could equip Crash as an upgrade to Breach to add the debuff to its high damage and long range. This gets incredibly complex and enthralling as you unlock some of the more elaborate abilities like Help, which summons a robotic dog that you can control.

While experimenting with these is rewarding in itself, lore-filled text logs will also unlock as you use these abilities in active, upgrade, or passive roles. Along with the OVC terminals throughout Cloudbank City, these offer a well written insight into the city, the villainous Camerata, and the Process. The terminals also allow for some poignant interaction between Red and the Transistor.

While these are great, there’s not a whole lot of reason to explore Cloudbank City; the path Red walks is somewhat barren aside from the terminals. It’s a shame that there are no items to search for such as Bastion’s weapon upgrade materials. There are “back doors” throughout the game that offer challenges to the player such as timed encounters, waves of enemies, and limits to loadout and planning phases. These can get really tough and thus incredibly rewarding when gaining additional mastery over the combat. These are best left until after completing the game or when taking a break from the main plot, as they do a disservice to its pacing.

The game lends itself perfectly to replays with Recursion mode, allowing you to keep all of your abilities and play through a tougher version of the game with more varied and beefed up enemies.

While underwhelming when compared with Supergiant Games’ previous effort, Transistor remains a fantastic game. Some minor mechanical issues don’t make the gameplay any less than stellar, and certainly don’t detract from the immaculately crafted world and narrative.

critical score 8

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Written by Adam S

Hailing from Parts Unknown, Adam grew up with a passion for three things: Videogames, anime, and writing. Unfortunately his attempts to combine the three have yet to form Captain Planet, but they have produced some good byproducts.

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