Transistor is SuperGiant Games’ follow-up to their first smash-hit title, Bastion. Expectations and hype were high for this game ever since its reveal at last year’s E3, especially in regards to the game being a big feather in Sony’s cap and a showcase of the PS4-indie relationship. Transistor delivers on those expectations in spades as the game presents challenges and charm at every new encounter and level, just as SuperGiant Games had done previously with Bastion.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
In Transistor, you play as Red, a prominent singer and social figure in the city of Cloudbank. However, things start to go awry as other prominent figures begin to disappear one by one until it’s your turn. In the same style as Bastion, the game’s story, events and dialogue are all narrated through a secondary character while the player character is a silent protagonist. Transistor’s plot presents a sort of slow, yet harrowing quest to stop entities known as the Process and discover the truth about their origins. It’s an interesting premise that’s made possible by the its focus on characters, their motivations and their interactions. Where this comes out best is in the fact that every ability at your disposal has its own complete backstory with connections to the two main characters. The twists and turns you’ll encounter will spark your interest and will keep you wanting to move forward.
The art of Transistor is spectacular in its ability to convey the vibrant but grim dystopia known as Cloudbank. Heavily focused on cybernetics and noir, the art style pops and glows against a dreary, black background; environments and effects all dazzle with digital sparks and particles as the database city of Cloudbank starts to crumble. Particularly notable are the transitions between levels, which feature Red silhouetted against a significant backdrop or setting. It’s a visual splendor, one that captures the imagination in an instant and keeps you wanting to see more of Cloudbank.
Darren Korb and Ashley Barrett are back as composer/singer respectively in Transistor and deliver a powerhouse soundtrack for the game. You can definitely hear Darren Korb’s musical style building and becoming more distinct as many of Transistor’s tracks feature that slow, haunting blues rhythm which made Bastion’s soundtrack so popular. In Transistor, music acts as a focal point for the plot as the spine-tingling vocals of Ashley Barrett becomes the voice of the main character (there’s even a hum button) to represent her inner thoughts.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
Transistor’s gameplay is similar to Bastion’s, but focuses much more on strategy and planning rather than reactive actions. The new Turn() system freezes time in battles, allowing the player to plan their moves out carefully, setting up combos and evading counterattacks all in an instant once your “turn” is over. The new battle system puts Transistor more in the realm of a strategy game than an action game, though it plays like it belongs in the action genre. As expected, it’s much more slow-paced but doesn’t make the combat any less exciting.
As mentioned before, your abilities are a key focus in both the game’s story and gameplay. Each ability can be equipped and combined with other abilities to add special traits and change their functions. What’s more interesting is that instead of lives, your abilities act as your lives; if your health reaches zero, you lose an active ability (temporarily) until you are left with no available actions, unable to fight back. This system makes experimenting with combat and strategy extremely enjoyable and gives the player the option to tackle encounters in many different fashions. Want to rush in and start clobbering? Want to use stealth and sneakily subdue your enemies? Want to turn the battlefield into one giant explosion? Transistor’s flexibility exponentially creates a new content and new ways to play; it’s the mark of good game design.
Transistor is a fantastic experience in all facets of aesthetics and gameplay. The rich, cyber-dystopia of Cloudbank comes to life through a beautiful blend of well-written characters, a slick art direction and haunting electro-blues. The gameplay is robust and highly adaptable to the player’s style, all in part to the vast amount of ability and difficulty customization present. More of a strategy game than its predecessor Bastion, battles are still intense and frantic.
However, I will admit I wanted to see SuperGiant Games grow and evolve a bit. I mention quite a bit throughout the review that the game shares many similarities with Bastion and, while I hate to say it, Transistor is so close to Bastion it almost feels like rehash of Bastion, just slightly tweaked and with a futuristic skin plastered over it. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a great video game, especially those who want a beautiful aesthetic experience.
Final Score: 9 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood
Chief Editor at The Pixel Pen Review