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Transistor Review

Posted by Cha Holland On Friday 27 June 2014Comments Off

Available on PS4 and PC l Published and developed by Supergiant Games l Classified PG l Supports 1 player

REVIEW IN BRIEF > Bastion was a wonderful debut from Supergiant Games, and could be difficult to live up to, but with Transistor they’ve put in a solid attempt. Moody sound and visuals draw you into its rich dystopian world. The plot’s intriguing and doesn’t insult your intelligence, and the combat is clever and interesting, even if it doesn’t always flow smoothly.

REVIEW IN FULL > Transistor explores a cyberpunk future with anachronistic elements and features a spunky redhead who tears away her long fishtail skirt (but decides to keep wearing her corset for some reason), and goes into battle with a comically oversized talking weapon. Transistor could easily have suffered from its silliness and clichés but it’s infused with enough style and personality to get away with it.

Transistor could easily have suffered from its clichés but it’s infused with enough style to get away with it.

The game begins in the middle of its story without much explanation. Something bad has just gone down and there’s a dead man with a giant sword sticking out of his chest. Red is a famous singer whose voice has been stolen. The Transistor is her weapon, possessed by the consciousness of a man who seems to know and care about her. The plot is peppered with questions and reveals about the characters, the nature of the world they live in, and the mysterious organisation known as the Camerata. It trusts that you’ll have the intelligence and patience to piece it all together.

The talking weapon serves a similar purpose to the narration in Bastion, but this time it’s part of the current action instead of telling a story after the fact. It creates a more uncertain feeling about how things will turn out. With Red silenced, the Transistor could easily end up speaking for her: a subdued woman hidden behind a man’s voice. The setup is not completely without issues in that regard, but thankfully Red communicates clearly through actions and sometimes actively ignores instructions. Her full motivations are unclear but her determination and willingness to face danger shine through. She pushes forward regardless, dragging the Transistor awkwardly along the ground behind her.

Combat is a clever blend of real-time and more tactical sections. In real time, abilities can be used one at a time whenever their cooldowns are available. Or, time can be paused and a series of actions lined up to execute as a quick sequence. It takes some care to ensure the plan makes sense. For example a knockback could push an enemy out of range of the next attack, wasting a move. There are a wide range of possible setups for powers and upgrades, and experimenting is encouraged. Taking too much damage doesn’t cause the loss of a life or reloading a save point, instead a particular ability is locked for a period of time. As an extra incentive to try out different options, lore is unlocked for using certain abilities.

This is all very smart, and has reasonable depth, but the feel of a battle never completely gels. It can be difficult to get a flow going, and there’s a lot of shuffling through abilities without much chance to click with favourite setups. The aesthetics and world building are more appealing for me.

There’s decadence to Supergiant’s design that draws me to it and easily holds my attention.

The environments manage a colourful seediness, with hazy cityscapes and neon lights, often bathed in greens and oranges. Terminals scattered about provide news and allow people to vote on upcoming events, or even the city’s weather, but it’s a transparently false democracy and superficial sense of participation. The media reports are false; the comments heavily moderated. You can vote for any weather you like as long as it’s not rain. Enemies aside, the streets are largely deserted but occasional flocks of birds take off as you pass through. These kinds of details give everything a richness and even a dash of warmth that’s often missing from cyberpunk settings. The scenery and little details are stunning, but without compromising the sense of dystopia. The soundtrack works beautifully with the scenery, with moody instrumentals and the occasional track with vocals.

There’s decadence to Supergiant’s design that draws me to it and easily holds my attention. Even the slightly tired elements, like the dystopian future setting, feel fresh. Transistor is easy to recommend based on art style, setting, and even the combat system, which is at least trying something new and is well worth trying out for yourself.

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