Having made the mightily successful indie game Bastion, Supergiant Games were always going to have a hard time making a second indie hit in the big bad world of gaming. Transistor, the answer to people's cries for more, comes at the start of a new generation gaming consoles, and although it's not the graphical powerhouse that most people would want to show off the potential of these new systems, it's still a delight to behold, allowing PC and PS4 gamers to revel in a gorgeous, inventive and original world.
Transistor starts out by chucking you right in at the deep end, giving you no context for the world, or the characters within it. You play as Rose, a red haired beauty and a famous singer, that has regained consciousness with a dead body stabbed next to her. The unique-looking sword (the transistor) sticking out of the dead body asks you to take it out, and so begins your quest through Cloudbank where your goal is to hunt down the killers and the ones that took Rose’s voice away.
The lack of context works against Transistor in the early stages of the game, with the fighting and news reports found in the environment causing frustration because you don’t have any idea what the characters or tutorials are referring to. This frustration soon turns to joy; as you invest more of your time and energy into discovering and understanding Transistor's world, you start to love it more and more and become personally invested in it. By the end of the game I was hooked, wanting more from the world than it had to offer, something I would never have said if you’d asked me how I felt about the game in its early hours.
A lot of the story is told through narration from the sword that Rose welds. Rose has lost her voice, so it’s up to the sword to guide you through the weird world of Transistor. In a way this is a shame, as it would have been nice to have heard from the red haired lady that you control. The sword does a good job of making the world feel lived in, telling stories about places you visit, and generally fleshing out the environments. You’ll occasionally happen across landmarks that you can interact with; sometimes it’ll be a building, other times terminals that are hidden away and which give you a little more insight into how life was before your adventure began, or the current happenings of the city via news reports. These pieces of information are optional, so some players may never come across them, but for those of you that do decide to track them all down, you’ll be glad you did, as they allow you to truly understand the world you're exploring.
Combat starts off feeling like a hot mess, but soon becomes a tamed wolf through sheer force and determination, enabling you to feel empowered when you find the perfect way of handling enemies. You can freely move around the battle area and attack enemies when and as you like, but doing so will get you killed quickly at the start of the game. This is where Transistor's turn-based mechanic comes into play, which you can use once every few seconds. Once activated, time freezes, allowing you to plot out a course of actions, from running away from your current threat, to getting in a more suitable position to unleash an attack. Once you’ve planned out your moves, you’ll be left vulnerable whilst your abilities recharge, so you’ll have to make the most of these moments while they last. By the end of the game you’ll be pretty powerful, and I found myself rarely going into this turn-based mode because I could kill most enemies with relative ease.
The combat ties in closely with Red's abilities (called functions), which you can combine and experiment with to your heart's content. These abilities vary from the offensive, like a blade slice which spans the whole battlefield, to the defensive, like an ability which allows you to become invisible. They can also be combined with each other, transferring their traits either to another ability, or being passively used by the player all the time on the battlefield. This system gives players a lot of freedom and creativity - indeed, I was still experimenting with different combinations right up until the end of the main story.
What stands out in Transistor more so than Bastion and other games on the market is its exquisite soundtrack. The score absolutely blew me away at times. Songs are deep, powerful, and emotional, helping to get you more immersed in the world Transistor has to offer. I would spend minutes simply daydreaming in some areas so that I could listen to a certain track.
Many may remember the distinctive look and feel of Bastion, which centred around the world building itself at your feet as you navigated its varied environments. In Transistor, the world is already built, but is splendidly detailed with gorgeous, lush environments. The city of Cloudbank (where the majority of the game is based), which is a sprawling metropolis, has plenty of variety to it as well.
There’s plenty in the world to explore and keep you coming back for more, even after the main story has concluded. After the credits roll, Transistor tries to throw you straight back into the main campaign with a 'recursion' mode, which is basically a new game+ that allows you to keep all of your perks and upgrades from your previous play through, but challenges you with harder enemies the second time round. The recursion mode also allows you to carry on trying the “back door” side quests, which have you testing your skills in different combat scenarios, from lasting as long as possible against an onslaught of enemies, to seeing if you can kill all of the enemies on the battlefield in one turn. Rest assured, there's plenty of replayability in this indie game.
Transistor takes the success of Bastion and runs with it. Supergiant Games have gone to new heights in their race to become a bigger and better company. It may start off feeling pompous and arrogant, but give it enough time and you’ll start to uncover a deeply sophisticated world, supported by a brilliant story, and solid, dynamic gameplay.
This review is based on a digital copy of Transistor for the PC