Transistor is one of those games that do not come around all too often. Then again, coming from SuperGiant games, this may not be a real surprise to many, having already produced a well trimmed blend of combat, storytelling and mystery into 6 or so hours of game play that you don’t come across too often in the market today. It’s action role playing style draws you in like the very Transistor that you freely thrash about. There is one thing you can be certain of, its one heck of a beautiful game.
For those of you who have played Bastion, the method will not be something dissimilar or new. And for those of you who loved playing Bastion, much like myself, I found it difficult not to like, if not fall in somewhat virtual love with, for the same reasons. It has that anime drawing style that seems both intricate but also simple. It forces your focus on what needs to be seen and not just bamboozle you with everything at once. Much like Bastion, there is a narrator style approach. Although in the previous title, it was purely based on an unseen character, in Transistor, the narrator is your weapon -acting as your accomplice on this journey through the city, whilst also being the huge hunking sword that acts as your weapon.
The game kick starts rather oddly, and in the sense that you start off in the middle. Not a way that I personally am a favourite of. I like to know what’s happened before its happened if I can. So Transistor kind of threw me, having felt I had been cheated of some major cut scene that I had foolishly skipped at the start by accident. It was only until I got further into the game that it is all done on purpose. The purpose of letting you figure out bit by bit what has happened. As the story unwinds you are like the cogs of a clock, as it all begins to click into place, minute by minute.
What makes the game great is the audio. If you think back, there aren’t many games where, upon discussing it, the audio plays such a part in an RPG of its kind that it has to be mentioned. The music itself, from playing through level to the next level, has just been created so well, it sends musical shivers down the spine, with a bass so deep and melodic. You find out that as the main character, Red, your voice has been stolen by the Camerata, an organisation behind the Process who is quickly found out to be the ones behind the mayhem within the city. All audio spoken is either through the Transistor who seems to say out loud one sided conversations, or the Camerata themselves. You can also change the setting of the Transistor so the voice comes out the controller’s speaker, something I would advise as an extra tick in the novelty box.
What makes the game even better is the general game play. It may come across as simple, but it is actually remarkably complex. As you go forward, you unlock more abilities to use, mapped to the 4 main buttons. Each one is entirely different to the other, making it easy to choose abilities that match your play style, but also to change for different situations if needed, allowing for both defensive and offensive play. Also, as each ability is obtained, you unlock its own back-story of a main character in the game for that added insight. Out of said abilities, they can also be mapped to give you a passive bonus or as a additional active slot, meaning you can add the ability onto one of the 4 mapped attacks to provide a bonus for that particular attack. For example, if you chose to summon Hound, this can be combined with leech, to mean that the hounds bark does damage over time. The further in the game you are, the more memory you can unlock to use more attacks or passive bonuses at one time. On top of the attacks of running around in real time, you can go into what’s known as the turn phase. In this, all time stops – allowing you to plan several attacks within the bar given, giving that great moment of stepping backing and thinking and planning your attack. After you choose your attack, you will zoom around performing the chosen abilities and be back in real time, where the bar will than fill back up shortly allowing you to enter back in. This means therefore, thT you need to make full use of this phase to be beneficial – Which I mainly used for those helpful backstabs for additional damage.
I also liked the little touches found within. Those moments of sorrow or joy that brought me out of my gaming shell. Coming across a familiar turf of the characters memory, only for them to give an insight as to their memories before chaos broke loose. The game is so well written, it isn’t just jargon that comes out for the sake of it. You genuinely feel for Red and the Transistor of whom you know so little, which only increases as you get further into the game. Then there is the moment where you can just stop and hum along to the background music. It’s almost surreal, that such a function is added, but it’s so cleverly done that despite Red having lost her ability to talk, it can still produce sound. As you progress through, you see the city change, reflecting how dangerous times are becoming. Encounters with the Process increase as they increase the search to find and take you out. Giving the game a good sense of increased difficulty as you progress on, and punishing you for foolish deaths by taking away your abilities one by one after each one
Now as much as I loved Transistor for all it’s greatness and stunning game play, there was one thing that annoyed me to no end. And that my friends was the route system. I found it more than frustrating being presented with multiple routes, and having chosen one, I found I was on my way through the main story, and not down some side alley to dig up an insight into the world of Transistor. Sometimes I hit gold, and ventured down said streets being fully able to go back the way I come. Although more often than not, I progressed through the game, having chosen some a route to which I could not return back down, knowing full well there was another location I could have explored first.
Once completed though, as many other gamers have mentioned, and I totally agree with, I found myself jumping back in to play through the game again. I wanted to see again with new eyes the game, understanding what had happened and thinking more of “ahhhh now that makes sense” as opposed to, “who is that guy?” and “what the hell am I doing exactly?”
Simply put, if you played Bastion, you are going to love Transistor from the get go. Its unique approach to storytelling is moving and beautifully told. It is also a game you can’t sit on the fence for. You will either read this and other reviews like it and not be turned on, or you will want to indulge it and experience for yourself, the 6 hours of mystery and mayhem that the city of Cloudbank has to offer. There should be no middle ground. And lastly, as much as my colleagues may mock me, it is an emotional game, which is something that only the truly well written games can accomplish.