Transistor is the second game from Supergiant Games. Their first, Bastion, came out in 2011 and was an absolute marvel. To this day Bastion stands as one of my favorite games for its fantastic combination of narration, story, gameplay, and visuals. It goes without saying then that I have been extremely excited for Transistor ever since it was announced. Now that its launch has finally come, does it stand as a worthy successor to Bastion? Absolutely.
There are two things you'll notice upon starting Transistor up for the first time: that the visuals are as gorgeous as you'd expect from a Supergiant Games release, and that it knows how to drop you straight into the mood of the game. This game starts off in such a beautiful and fitting way. No main menu or any of that nonsense; you're immediately greeted with a shot of the heroine, Red, and the titular Transistor and are then thrown straight into the story.
The plot revolves around a singer named Red, who has taken an extremely powerful weapon called the Transistor from a group called the Camerata. It takes place in an amazing sort of cyber city called Cloudbank. The Camerata has taken Red's voice and have seemingly released a robotic force known as the Process, which is slowly wiping out the city. The Transistor acts as many things: a guide, a key, and above all, a weapon. The voice of the Transistor will have Bastion fans feeling right at home as it features the fantastic voice work of Logan Cunningham, who manages to make the narration feel both familiar and unique at the same time. The weapon speaks to you as a friend and has the ability to absorb deceased citizens of Cloudbank you meet along your journey, supplying you with new abilities.
As amazing as each individual part of Transistor is, it's the combat that takes center stage this time around. The game features a very unique combination of ARPG combat and turn-based combat. By default you run around freely and can use any of your abilities on the fly. However, with the press of a button, you are taken into “Turn” mode. This freezes time and presents you with a long bar at the top of your screen. The idea is that while time is frozen you use up that bar, one action at a time, and then exit Turn mode and watch all of your planned actions play out incredibly fast. The downside to this is that after exiting turn mode the amount of the bar that you used will be missing, and you will be unable to use most abilities while it is recovering.
Speaking of abilities, the ability system in this game grants an immense amount of depth and customization to the combat. Red has 4 slots available for active abilities at a time. By leveling you can obtain 2 upgrade slots for each of those 4 active slots as well as 4 passive ability slots. Now here is where things get interesting, every ability you obtain within the game can go into any of these slots. For instance; there is an ability called Bounce. When used as an active ability it fires a projectile that ricochets between enemies in a cluster. If you set Bounce as an upgrade to any other ability, that ability gains a ricochet effect. If you decide instead to set Bounce as a passive ability, Red gains a deflective shield.
There are about 18 abilities in the game, and they are kept in check through the Memory system. Simply put, each ability has a memory cost to equip it, and you have a set amount of memory available to you. Don't fret though, your memory is upgradeable as you level. The game also takes a unique approach to player death. Upon losing all of your health you will, in most cases, first get an emergency turn, which immediately activates the turn system for you and allows you to run to safety. If your turn function is unavailable, you lose one of your 4 active abilities and are returned to full health. This can make continuing the fight more difficult as you are now down an ability, and upon losing all 4 abilities you get a game over. These abilities aren't lost forever though, they can be reequipped after a time.
In addition to its in-depth combat system, the game features what is probably best described as a customizable difficulty system. As you level you can unlock what are known as Limiters. These limiters each make the game more difficult in a unique way, and allow you to level a bit faster as a reward for undertaking them. These range from making the Process spawn in greater numbers to making them more powerful altogether. Transistor also takes a bit of a different view on new game plus. After beating the game, you are given the option to return to the beginning of the story but you maintain your levels and abilities, with stronger enemies to match your skill. This is by no means a brand new concept, but it does give you a way to replay the story while maintaining the challenge right from the get go.
If you've played Bastion then you've already experienced the undeniable talent of Supergiant Games' composer, Darren Korb and vocalist Ashley Barrett. If you haven't, then you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't play this game with headphones on and no one around to bother you. The music in Transistor is phenomenal and it continues to offer something new without fail as you continue through the game.
Honestly there's not a lot I can say negatively about the game. The story is excellent, though you may need to take a bit to think after completing it to piece all the information you've gathered together. The environments are beautiful. It isn't the longest game, clocking in at around 5-6 hours for your first playthrough, but it makes the most of those few hours and is only priced at $20. Overall Transistor is an absolutely amazing game, and I would urge everyone to give it a shot. Supergiant Games may have only put out 2 games so far, but the quality of those games speaks for itself. I can't wait to see what they do in the future.
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