For all its possibly divisive qualities that people may disagree on, there is one thing about this game that no one can deny: Transistor is absolutely beautiful. Almost every frame is splashing with lights and colour that breathes life into Cloudbank, the futuristic cyberpunk world where this game takes place.
Transistor is made by Supergiant Games, who previously released the highly successful Bastion. So it’s hardly surprising that Transistor plays a lot like Bastion, but with a lot of added features. Both games are isometric games with melee and ranged combat. But while Bastion plays mostly like a hack-and-slash, Transistor is more of a hack-and-slash and turn-based RPG hybrid.
You play as Red, a singer whom we first meet in media res as she discovers the Transistor, basically a talking sword, or sword-like object that she wields to fight off machines which the characters call The Process. With the right trigger (RT), you can pause the game and plan out your actions. Then hit the right trigger again to execute your plan. Combat proceeds in real-time as your cooldown restores your option to go into pause/plan mode again. It’s a nice balance for someone like me who isn’t typically interested in turn-based combat, and a bit reminiscent of Bioware games like Mass Effect which has a similar balance of paused-planning vs real-time combat. The game also have a huge variety of Functions (essentially, the game’s jargon for weapons), which, in the context of the story, are characters whose consciousness are uploaded into the Transistor.
These Functions can be equipped as one of your four main weapon slots, or be used to augment other Functions or as passive enhancers. So with all the various Functions available, there’s a multitude of ways you can mix and match all the different skills and upgrades to your attacks. It’s quite fun trying out the various combinations to see which ones are best suited for my play-style.
The story, or its narrative devices of Transistor is the kind of thing that different people might have differing opinions on. To me, I do find the premise and world-building to be excellent and gripping. But the actual story that runs within it leaves something to be desired. Many elements of the plot are vague, perhaps intentionally so. But the cost of this vagueness is that we lack the emotional investment of the characters. The main voice acting comes from the Transistor itself, talking to the mostly-silent Red (she lost her voice), and making comments about the things she sees and does throughout the levels. But during character moments, like when the Transistor talks about Red’s past actions, or hopes, or desires, seem vague and out-of-context. So it wasn’t as easy to care about the characters as I did in Bastion.
Almost all other characters besides Red and the Transistor are encountered when they’re already `dead’ and absorbed into the Transistor as the aforementioned Functions. While each of the character/Functions have their own backstory, we only learn about them through flavour-text within the in-game menu. So, it’s kinda sad that we hardly ever see Red or the Transistor interact with the other Functions. This was quite a departure from Bastion, where we do meet some side-characters, and even get to interact with them.
Nevertheless, the artwork and music more than makes up for it’s lack of story. Every single level was drawn with exquisite detail and the entire game looks breathtakingly gorgeous. I found myself taking screenshots of the game every few minutes as potential desktop wallpapers.
Despite it’s vague story, the gameplay and beautiful art style makes Transistor a great game. It’s not often that I like a game for its mechanics more than its story, and its game mechanics is definitely an improved and expanded version of what they did in Bastion. And so far Supergiant has maintained a solid track record of making great looking games in fascinating worlds across different genres. I can’t wait to see their next game.