Developed by Supergiant Games, Transistor is a cyberpunk themed action-RPG that follows the tale of Red; a silent protagonist who wields an extraordinary talking sword of unknown origin. Dropping Red straight in the thick of things she must now fight from street to street against forces that will stop at nothing to recover the weapon. Supergiant is previously known for Bastion which was an amazing experience and hopefully Transistor will follow suit.
The inhabitants of Cloudbank have been completely eradicated by some sort of plague called “The Process”. Because of this the streets in between combat sequences are barren and give a real feeling of loneliness. You and your unnamed sword are all alone against The Process and you will have to find a way to hopefully bring back the joy that once inhabited this city. Your only lead to go on is a group known as The Camarata who could know something more about what happened.
The first thing you will notice is the wonderful art style of Transistor. This game is absolutely beautiful due to the artistic direction and isometric viewpoint. Each section is lovingly hand crafted and even while walking through the barren streets you can still take in the sights. Everything pops with the cyberpunk feel and mixed with the effects from the combat abilities it makes the game that much more enjoyable.
Continuing with the theme of amazing detail, the sound design is also masterfully crafted. The sound track (which can be listened to HERE) is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. Each piece of music fits the game’s atmosphere and drives the point of a well-crafted experience. As an added level of awesome you can have Red hum along with the songs. While this isn’t necessarily a feature of the game I still found myself doing this on multiple occasions after combat sequences and scene changes just to see how Red would interpret the music. While the game is focused on combat there is still a chance to take a step back and drink in the atmosphere.
When you don’t feel like progressing with the story you have chances to hang out in the hub type area which will give you access to different challenges. These challenges are split into multiple categories and will test your speed, planning and adaptability in a variety of situations. Completing these different challenges will earn you soundtrack music (and possibly other rewards). It’s actually a viable option to just lie in your beach hammock, just letting time pass while you stare into the sunset and listen to that sweet sweet music.
In saying that, Transistor is mostly about the combat and to its advantage it has an In-depth combat system to back it up. This system allows you to choose what the swords abilities will do in combat and how you will utilise them in a turn based or real time battle system. The game is balanced between the two systems which both have their strong points. With turn based attacks you are able to execute actions very quickly and with pin-point precision but the downside is you need to recover from using that turn and escape from the enemies during that time. In real time can use almost any ability with no cooldown which helps to alter strategies mid fight.
Acquired throughout the game by leveling, these combat abilities can be used as a primary attack skill, an upgrade or a passive system each with their own effect. Upgrading other abilities will give them certain attributes (chain reaction, stuns, charms etc) to help with difficult enemies you encounter. This cannot be changed on the fly however and must be pre-planned at an access point. You can also dynamically change the difficulty at these access points which helps if you are having trouble along the way or want to give yourself a challenge.
The combat difficulty however can change mid-fight due to the way Transistor handles death. If your health reaches 0 you will lose one of your slotted abilities until you either reach 0 abilities (which means death) or an access point which acts as a repair station of sorts. These access points will also allow you to combine your abilities and read into the lore of the people you have encountered along the way. For that extra level of dynamic difficulty you can enable “Limiters” on Red’s enemies. By adding these Limiters you can increase monster damage or shorten the enemies respawn time. Turning these on will increase Red’s level quicker allowing you to gain more abilities but can result in more death and frustration.
The combat is unforgiving and can indeed cause frustration from time to time. Without a block or dodge button (save for the “Jaunt” ability) it means fights can be difficult when you have nothing to defend yourself with. While this is the case you have access to abilities which create copies of Red or create diversions but enemies are usually fast to catch on and you will find yourself losing half of your abilities during a boss fight making some of them almost impossible.
One thing Transistor lacks is a sense of direction at times. While still being fairly linear you can still run back through an area without a clear goal and this pops up on more than one occasion. A recap loading screen or a direction arrow when you loaded back into the game would be just a little feature that could have led to less frustration and more pretty art. The story is also more up to speculation than forcing exposition down your throat. You seem to be dropped into a story that is already half way complete without much to explain the previous events. The sword does all the talking and while the voice acting is still good it gives a different feel to the game, adding to the loneliness when you can’t actually interact with it. With the game being a little shorter than expected I would have liked to see more story come out in the time I was given.
The game is quite short compared to what I was originally thinking the complete game time would be. Transistor can be completed in about 5-6 hours depending on your Limiters, how well you can plan out your combat and time spent in your hammock. While this doesn’t take away from the game it would have been nice to get a chance to discover more of Cloudbank. While there is a New Game+ option it doesn’t seem to progress the narrative any further and instead increases the combat difficulty so you can unlock new abilities and combinations.
Transistor is a wonderfully crafted game that deserves to be played by anyone. It’s easy to pick up and you
quickly learn which combat abilities you will use to overcome the challenging enemies. Combat is balanced whether you’re into turn based or real time strategy and you can get some awesome ability combos going. While the game is a little on the short side I was still satisfied with the overarching story all said and done.