This week’s review is part two of the Supergiant Games reviews. Another hack-and-slash narrative-driven action game with great music that still manages to be unique from the last game. It’s Transistor, let’s go!
As mentioned, Transistor shares many similarities with it’s predecessor Bastion, as a hack-and-slash action game named after a single noun with excellent narrative and an awesome soundtrack. Despite this, Transistor proves itself to be a game that goes above and beyond. You play as Red, a singer who has lost her voice, accompanied by your murdered friend, now embodied in the titular Transistor, a combination greatsword and circuit board. Travel through the city of Cloudbank, a modular luxurious city shaped by the choices of its denizens through vote. Fight strange robotic beings known as the Process bent on assimilating Cloudbank into their design. Wield the Transistor, collecting new functions for more ways to push back against the Process. Investigate the Camerata, a mysterious group of people striving to control Cloudbank and its constantly changing opinions of the world. Find out why all of this is happening, and why you are at the center of all of this drama in Transistor.
Much like Bastion, which is something I will say a number of times in this review, Transistor is a good-looking game. Using its own graceful visual style, Transistor exemplifies the fact that a game doesn’t need to be realistic in its graphics to look good. Moreover, it’s the use of composition and color that make Transistor look amazing. Bastion had a cartoonish style and bright colors of its won, but Transistor brings a new palette and brush, using the straight geometry of the level design and isometric viewpoint to create a visual masterpiece of a world to explore that is stunning to be a part of.
The music, much like Bastion, is fantastic, creating an atmosphere perfect for the sci-fi city of Cloudbank and the mysteries it holds. With the music being written and composed by Darren Korb, you know that some quality stuff is in store. Combining guitar, bass, and synth, along with the lovely vocals of Ashley Barrett, Korb once again creates the most accurate music score for the story, building this musical atmosphere that compliments every other aspect of the game. You can listen to the soundtrack here.
On the surface, Bastion and Transistor seem pretty similar. Hack-and-slash action game with a silent protagonist, a narrator, and an isometric view point. Once into the game, however, differences are immediate in how the action takes place. I mean, you still finish the tutorial with three different methods of attacking and a dash, but as you progress, you don’t collect additional weapons. Instead, what you start with and what you’ll find throughout the game are functions for the Transistor, all of which are named like Help() and Get(). You start with Crash(), a short-range attack that stuns enemies, and Breach(), a stronger attack with a long range that pierces enemies. You quickly pick up Spark(), an area-of-effect attack that you can fire out at enemies, and later Jaunt(), a dash move.
You can use these functions individually, but the most gameplay variety comes from the ability to use functions as upgrades. You can use one functions to upgrade another, like using Breach() to upgrade Crash(), giving Crash() a longer range, or use Crash() to upgrade Breach() to give it a stun effect. You have up to four different assignable functions, each of which may have up to two upgrade slots, meaning you can . There is also the option of using a function to upgrade yourself, trading off an action to give yourself a passive bonus. For example, using Crash() in a passive slot give you damage resistance, as well as resistance to effects that would slow you down, and using Spark() in a passive slot will spawn copies of you to distract enemies. As there are 16 different functions in total, there are a lot of options when it comes to how you want to play Transistor.
With all of these various was to conduct combat, what exactly are you combating? While you proceed through the city of Cloudbank to try and find the Camerata, an entity known as the Process will regularly appear and try to kill you, in a variety of forms. From multi-legged Creeps, to sledgehammer-fisted Jerks, to laser-firing Young Ladies, the Process will try to stop you from continuing your journey. Fortunately, combat happens in distinct areas, and the combat space is always marked and well-defined when combat starts, meaning you are always aware when enemies are showing up. A large variety of enemies with unique abilities will require a game plan, and while you can run around hacking at every enemy in sight, you can plot out the best course of action for any combat scenario using the Transistor’s unique function, Turn().
Turn() is one of the most unique features of combat in the game, as it allows you to stop time, set a plan of actions in order, and execute them in the blink of an eye. You can activate Turn(), Jaunt() behind your opponents, hit each with Crash() a few times, and then finish them off with a Breach(), all in a matter of in-game seconds, with all of the time you need to plan your Turn() the way you want. After activating it, however, the Transistor cannot use most of its functions until it recharges, leaving you vulnerable.
While there are plenty of options in utilizing your functions, don’t expect all of them to be open immediately. Collecting and unlocking functions requires story progress through the game, and upgrade slots are locked behind character progression. In typical video game fashion, beat enemies, get experience points, reach the next level, and get goodies, in the form of the much-desired upgrade slots, passive slots and memory. Memory is the capacity for upgrades that the Transistor can handle; You cannot go above this limit in function values, and each function has its own cost to equip. When you lose enough life, instead of an immediate game over, you lose one of your function actions and its associated upgrades. When you lose all four actions, only then to you reach a game over. Checkpoints are frequent, however, and save your game each time you visit, so at most your lost progression is only one or two combat encounters.
When it comes to the story of Transistor, much of how you get information is through the narrator, in this case your friend who’s been integrated into the Transistor. Much like in Bastion, your narrator is how you learn about the world, its people, and where the story is going, and much like in Bastion, it works very well in conveying various details and fleshes out the game through a multitude of details. The difference between narration styles is that Bastion’s narrative was told in the past tense, a story being recounted, whereas Transistor’s narrator is speaking in the moment, accompanying you on your journey to the end. Your narrator will also add little quips during combat as you mercilessly hack at enemies and when the Transistor is back online after a Turn().
Transistor is a game that, while I enjoy greatly, is a subject that is hard to put into words my feelings for. But even if I can’t get what I want to say down, I can say this: Transistor is an experience to behold. It is one of a kind, and I don’t think watching someone else play it really does it justice. If you would like to experience transistor for yourself, check it out on Steam, Playstation 4, and iOS.
This is in fact part two of the Supergiant series of reviews I’m doing. The next and last of the Supergiant games is Pyre, so stay tuned for that in just a bit! See you later!