Unlike many indie games, Transistor has some very big shoes to fill, but developers Super Giant Games have only themselves to blame for this.
In case you think the developer’s name is familiar, it should be. They’re responsible for the fantastic Bastion. Released in 2011 for the Xbox 360 and Steam, Bastion was a ‘sleeper hit’. A fantastic top-down action RPG, with an excellent story, thoroughly enjoyable characters, great gameplay and beautiful art style. Bastion had it all going on.
Needless to say, I entered into Transistor with high hopes. But fortunately, Transistor not only met my expectations, it exceeded them.
Set in the futuristic sci-fi city of Cloudbank, Transistor sees you take control of the character Red, one of the most renowned singers within the Cloudbank. You start the game lost and under heavy pursuit from the ‘Process’. Fortunately, you quickly discover the mystical great sword called the ‘Transistor’ buried in the chest of some poor unfortunate soul.
From the moment you wield the Transistor, the constant narration begins. Logan Cunningham reprises his role of narrator here, a role he played exceptionally well in Bastion. And much the same as Bastion, the majority of the game’s narrative is told through this narration. However, you’ll also find terminals throughout the world that house short news stories, polls and character profiles. Interestingly you’re able to interact with these news stories by casting votes in certain polls and posting replies to stories.
The various ways in which the story is told make it very easy to pick up whilst exploring the world, and without getting bogged down by heavy dialogue scenes or pages of in game text. It’s up to you how much you get out of Transistor, but exploring the world of Cloudbank City is something you’re certainly going to want to do. Like Bastion before it, the art style in Transistor is beautiful and that alone compelled me to explore every corner of the city to see as much of it as possible.
The combination of excellent storytelling, beautiful art style and a simply fantastic soundtrack all work well to suck you into the world of Cloudbank City and simply won’t let go. All things considered, Cloudbank is an extremely enjoyable place to be, or rather it would be were it not for the ‘Process’ hounding your every move.
The Process are robotic minions under the control of the Camerata, the group who tried – and failed – to assassinate Red using the Transistor. So her quest to defeat the Camerata sees Red clearing each section of Cloundbank City of the Process.
The combat is a mixture between a real-time and turn-based system. You can run about freely attacking enemies, but after a time runs down, you can pause the action and plan your attacks and movements, in a similar style to the V.A.T.S system featured in the latest Fallout Games. Then, once you’ve selected your movements, once the game is un-paused, Red will quickly perform the actions. The option to pause the combat and plan your attacks certainly adds an enjoyable depth of tactical decision-making to the game and due to the variety in different combat moves that are presented in the form of ‘memory modules’ you attach to the Transistor, there is a lot of depth to be found in Transistor’s combat. The memory modules themselves can be found, or rather, extracted from the few corpses littered throughout Cloudbank. These modules do appear rather baffling at first, I certainly felt overwhelmed with options, but as you become more accustomed to the combat, so it becomes easier to explore and combine the different modules to shake up the attack options available to Red. Before long, you’ll soon figure out which ones work best for you.
Here-in lies the only fault I’ve found with Transistor, Despite the variety of move-sets on offer, toward the midpoint of the game – especially in the later sections – the combat started to become rather repetitive. As soon as I found which combination of memory modules would allow me to dispatch my enemies the most efficiently, there was little inspiration for me to delve any deeper into lesser-used modules.
That’s not to say that Transistor gets easy, just that the combat soon descended into me moving through motions until either the fight was over or I died.
Death, however, is another aspect that Transistor approaches differently. Once Red has sustained enough damage, a module becomes damaged and becomes unavailable during that fight. As a result, you’re going to have to wait until you’ve made it to the next area before repairs can be made. It’s an interesting twist on the combat, yet I found it only worked to slow the combat down, which can also be said about the ‘Turn’ system. Red can only use her attacks if the charge meter is filled and using the Turn system will, more often than not, deplete the charge bar leaving you run around helpless until it recharges.
Also at odds with the pace of the game is the challenge system. Every so often, at different points in Transistor, you’re given the chance to exit the actual game world to a relaxing seaside resort hub-world. This hub-world is populated with a couple of doors that present different challenges behind each, such as defeating x amount of enemies in an alotted time. I found the different challenges to be quite frustrating at times and certainly didn’t find that they fitted in well with the rather ‘laid-back’ nature of the main game. However, the reward of unlocking additional music from the soundtrack was certainly worth it as Darren Kob, composer of the music in Bastion, has simply out done himself yet again with Transistor.
Transistor is a very different beast to its older sibling Bastion despite the obvious similarities. It’s slower paced and certainly more atmospheric and it represents a game studio that have matured over the course of development of both games. I’m certainly finding myself exploring every corner of the world in order to learn as much about Red and the mysterious Transistor that I can. And the great thing, the more I learn, the further I want to explore. How many games can you say that about?
The Good Stuff
- Enthralling narrative and characters.
- Beautiful art style.
- The excellent soundtrack is worth the price tag alone.
The Bad Stuff
- Combat becomes repetitive all too quickly.
- Challenges can be quite frustrating
- … I don’t want it to end…
Transistor is certainly the most enjoyable game I’ve played this year. It offers up a world full of mystery and emotion. The narrative will suck you and set you searching through the beautifully drawn world of Cloudbank City on a quest to learn as much as possible. The few characters in the game are steeped with personality, helped only by the constant narration from the, once again, excellent Logan Cunningham.
Quite simply, you’ll find yourself falling in love with Transistor every second you spend in its world.
Techical Competency – 8/10
Graphic Quality – 9/10
Sound Quality – 10/10
Network Stability – NA