After playing Supergiant’s breakout game Bastion, I was pretty much in it for the long haul with them. Because of that, I’m still baffled why it took me so long to play Transistor, and I hate that I didn’t dive into it sooner.
In an assassination attempt on the famous singer Red, a mysterious man jumps in front of the massive sword Transistor to save her. While he’s killed his consciousness, along with her voice, are sealed within the sword. With both of them missing something dear to them they begin their journey to discover what happened and, once the pieces fall in place stop the Process, the threat that’s bringing the city to ruin.
The man trapped in Transistor served as the narrator of the tale, and narrate he did. He talked an awful lot and that could have been entirely off-putting. Thankfully I quite like the sound of his voice so even when he was rambling or talking for the sake of talking I didn’t mind too much.
At certain points of the game he was affected by the Process despite being sealed away and through these moments I learned that he wasn’t just some random citizen looking out for Red. His confident and helpful facade crumbles away and he spoke his true feelings, both about the helplessness of the situation they’re in and how Red is his world. These sections were actually quite sad and it was hard to not feel for the guy.
Without her voice it’s impossible for Red to talk to him. However, there were terminals scattered throughout the city that under normal circumstances were used to vote on what weather should be produced or to show the news of the day. Most of these had a comments section, so if you read through the bulk of the information on the terminals you got the chance to comment. In this way Red was able to hold conversations with Transistor; she would type a comment, he’d respond vocally. It was a very clever way of giving her a voice without hearing it and helped develop what the two of them had.
Aside from that pair, and that almost entirely consisted of just one of the two characters, the villains that were behind things just seemed bland. By all means they should have been more memorable; they regretted what their actions had wrought and felt somewhat fleshed out, but the voice work for each of them was monotone and bare. I wish they’d been better realized, because that would have made the game just that much better.
Visually Transistor is stunning. The painted art in the scenes between gameplay sections was beautiful and the world was just as pretty. Cool colors dominated the landscape and the layouts lent themselves well to the atmosphere. Through the game, as the process took over, those nice pathways were turned white and blocky, creating a contrast that gave a feeling of just how dire the situation was.
In between walking around and observing the scenery there were bouts of combat against the enemies that make up the Process. These are played by primarily activating Turn() to gain access to your attacks. While Turn() was active time was frozen, letting me plan out which enemies I wanted to take out in which order. There was a set amount of action I could take, so it did take some planning.
Thankfully, there was a massive amount of customization in terms of which attacks were available. Some functions were gained at the beginning of the game in the form of personalities, much like how the mysterious man got in there, while the majority were gained through leveling up. Each had three options: it could be used as a main attack, an add-on to power up a main attack, or a passive ability. And with sixteen functions, that means there were a crazy amount of possibilities. In talking to others who’ve played the game, no two people have had the same set-up, or even took the same approach.
The combat did get a bit annoying at times, however, since the system would consistently report things wrong. Each attack would be shown and it would display how much enemy health the attacks would shave off, but it didn’t take into account how the enemies reacted to attacks – while it showed the enemies dying and signaling I could move on to the next target, once the turn played out it was revealed that they didn’t die, which only made things harder.
As well, instead of dying after reaching zero health, there were as many health bars as there were abilities, up to a maximum of four. The catch was that when one full bar of health was depleted the highest cost attack was overloaded and unusable for one or two more fights. It was a system that could end in frustration, however to help combat that and compliment it there was the backdoor system.
Sprinkled throughout the journey were backdoors, which led to areas containing a series of tests and one sandbox area, where any ability could be equipped (so long as it had been obtained already) and their effectiveness could be tested. Thanks to being able to test my combinations beforehand I was able to mostly avoid losing anything while in the heat of battle, although it was a feature easily overlooked for anyone only wanting to participate in the main story.
As pretty as the visuals were, the music was just as beautiful, if not more. It gave the perfect amounts of emphasis to each situation, and was an absolute pleasure to listen to throughout the game – and out of it. Being able to unlock tracks while in the Backdoor and listen to them meant that I was able to listen while I was away from my computer. All of the elements in each song worked perfectly together to create something that has to be heard to be appreciated.
To bring this review to a close I’ll just say that I do have a soft spot for things like this – mediums that take technical terms and personify them in some way. Playing through Transistor I got that same giddy feeling I used to get watching Reboot. That’s probably just me, but the care that’s put into these types of things to have the names match up with how they actually work is always something I can appreciate on a geeky level.
It’s not a long game, and it goes on sale often enough, so I’d wholeheartedly recommend Transistor to anyone wanting gameplay that’s entirely customizable and amazing music and visuals. It can be a hit or miss situation, especially when compared with Bastion, but taken on its own it’s worth every penny.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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