REVIEW: Transistor [PS4, PC]

When Transistor started and the lead character’s sword began to provide narration for proceedings, I remember rolling my eyes. I thought, “C’mon Supergiant Games, this can’t be your go to gimmick”. At that time, I was naive. I didn’t yet understand that the ongoing narrative was simply part of Transistor’s arsenal and not it’s main attraction. I hadn’t played enough of Bastion’s spiritual successor yet to understand, that there is no “Main Attraction”; every element of Transistor culminates into one of the single most unique video-games I have ever had the good fortune to play.

If you’re looking for critique, it shan’t be found here, because although I’ve sat for hours trying to pick apart anything negative to say about Supergiant’s second major release, I’ve sadly come up short. All I can do with Transistor is sing it’s praises and for me, it’s been a long time since a game has left me unable to highlight any flaws. This may seem like hyperbole and I apologise, but I’ve sat here for hours musing on how to talk about Transistor without gushing like an abhorrent fan-boy and once again found myself at a loss.

I played Transistor on the PS4 (for sake of context) but the game is also available on PC, meaning that it’s not exclusive to Sony’s next gen console. The PS4 version does have one (surprisingly) killer feature. You can elect to hear the games rolling narrative come from the Dual Shock 4’s speaker instead of your T.V. Although it sounds cheap and gimmicky on paper, you’d be surprised at how much this tiny feature adds to the overall experience. Especially when you come to further understand the symbiotic relationship of Red (the protagonist) and her talking sword.

This game is a work of art... in every sense of the word.

This game is a work of art… in every sense of the word.

Transistor does something very brave right from the outset. It starts right slap bang in the middle of the story, with the events preceding slowly getting unveiled as the game progresses. Rather than spoonfeed you a very direct narrative, Transistor trusts you to figure out much of the games relatively obtuse narrative using that thing inside your skull. Yep, your brain. Over the course of the games run time (which can vary wildly depending on your play style), you will piece together the motives of the games villains, the Camerata and each boss fight will make you feel a little worse for wear; both emotionally and physically.

The only other game that really made me feel for the antagonists in the same way would be 1998’s Metal Gear Solid – and that right there is one hell of a compliment, in my eyes. When you’ve felled one of the games primary bosses, you will often have to deliver a final blow. As the game progresses, this last blow becomes something you learn to dread, knowing and understanding the “enemies” motives and feeling a deep empathy with them, despite your desire for self preservation.

Cloudbank is a beautiful world full of references familiar to programmers everywhere.

Cloudbank is a beautiful world full of references familiar to programmers everywhere.

I don’t want to talk too much about the narrative, because it really is one of those “the less you know” situations. Basically, Red awakes atop a roof in Cloudbank – the city in which the game takes place. She was once a famous singer, as we learn from the posters adorned around the environment early on in the game. Now however, she has had her voice stolen. She does have a huge sword with a consciousness all it’s own though. The sword has deep feelings for Red and together they set off to destroy an enemy known as “The Process”, while facing the Camerata along the way.

The combat present in the game is honestly some of the best in any action RPG I’ve ever played… and I’ve played quite a lot of ARPG’s. Transistor blends real time and turn based combat in such a way that defining it as either is flimsy. It really is a new breed of combat, feeling more akin to Fallout 3’s VATS system, than the obvious comparisons like Diablo, Torchlight or even it’s predecessor, Bastion. Which makes elaborating on it in a review, really tough.

RedVsTheCamerata

Red rides through Cloudbank in search of The Camerata.

Essentially, you can equip four primary skills to your character at any given time. These can also be enhanced with other skills, creating a huge amount of variety in your arsenal. Your basic melee attack is called Crash(), but this can be enhanced with Load() for example, which add’s an explosive effect to the attack. Likewise, adding Load() to the Breach() skill, which is a long range laser strike, grants Breach additional damage and an enhanced area of effect. This barely scrapes the surface of the complex nature of Transistors deep and rewarding combat system, but it should give you an idea of how it works.

Each skill can be used in realtime, with no cooldown required. Using moves like Crash() in realtime allows you to attack enemies continuously, but can be inefficient for moves that require a charge before use, for example Breach(). Never fear, Supergiant has taken all of this into account. At the press of a button, players can freeze the action and plan out their moves more in line with a turn based RPG. Each skill uses a certain amount of energy and the recharge time after using this ability, is long and tough, meaning that there’s a beautiful balance between usefulness and risk.

Transistor 3

Sometimes combat can be hectic, so the ability to freeze time is a welcome one.

Each area contains an access point, which will give the player an opportunity to respec their character at any time, meaning that experimentation is actively encouraged. Players can also increase the games challenge by equipping Limiters; these are special items that will increase the games difficulty but offer significant EXP bonuses when activated. I found myself playing the game with every limiter available active, just to extend the running time and keep me in this marvelous, mysterious cyberpunk inspired world.

There really is so much to say about Transistor that no amount of writing can do it justice. In terms of user experience, Transistor delivers more than most full price AAA games and actively engages its users intellect in every way, from it’s narrative to the rich, unique battle system. When I hear people say things like “But it’s an indie”, it sets my blood to boil. Transistor is one of the finest games released this year and it’s low cost, digital nature and developers status should only be seen as positives, considering how well rounded the end product is.

transistor4

The relationship between Red and the Transistor is at the core of the games narrative.

I haven’t even discussed the gorgeous visuals or the incredible soundtrack, because to delve into those elements would lead to another thousand words of praise…

Yep. Honestly, can’t find anything bad to say about this game… I mean, I wasn’t even that sad when it ended, because I was immediately able to jump into the new game plus and gladly continue experimenting with the games skills and limiters. Buy this game. That is all…

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