Transistor - Review
With striking visuals, a unique narrative and a style all of its own, Transistor is a must-play game of 2014.
9 / 10
In recent years, many video games have diverted from the norm in the way that their stories have been delivered to players. There has been an emergence of games that do not necessarily fit under a single category as they try to change what our perceptions of video games are. Many small, indie-type games have experimented with the traditional conventions of gaming to try and create a unique video game experience. Transistor, the second game developed by Supergiant Games, falls under this banner and part of it’s uniqueness comes from the way its story is told.
You play as character Red, a popular vocalist in the city of Cloudbank who, in the initial moments of the story, is attacked by a mysterious group of influential people known as The Camerata. This forces Red to lose her voice just moments before she comes across a sword known as ‘The Transistor’. The sword speaks to Red throughout the story and this one-way communication makes ‘The Transistor’ the games primary narrator. While the story can be relatively confusing at first, there is a certain charm in the way it is told that doesn’t quite mess with the games quality. There are many underlying, almost hidden, hints to the games overall plot and it is the way in which the narrative is delivered that makes Transistor one of the most uniquely expressed video game stories in a long while.
8.5 / 10
Transistor’s gameplay is both explorative and action based. As you travel around Cloudbank, you will encounter enemies known in the game as ‘The Process.’ At first introduction, Transistor’s battle system seems fast-paced and action-oriented, however, this is not entirely true. These encounters feature a system known as the ‘Turn() Function’ which allows you to pause time and set a limited number of actions which, at your command, will play out almost instantaneously. This system works similarly to that of the V.A.T.S system in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas.
There are a ton of customisation options that you can make to Red’s abilities that allow her to defeat ‘The Process’ in numerous ways. The core of the system revolves around ‘The Transistor’ itself and its ability to absorb the essences of fallen victims called ‘Functions.’ Think of these ‘Functions’ as ‘Abilities.’ You can assign these abilities to one of four slots which you can then use during a battle. However, the customisation comes into play as you can also attach these functions to another function to create an ability that reflects elements of both of these abilities. For example, The Function ‘Breach()’ will attack targets that are a long distance away from you and the function ‘Tap()’ will absorb life points from targets that are nearby and around you. If you assign ‘Breach()’ as one of your abilities and attach ‘Tap()’ to it as an upgrade, when you use ‘Breach(),’ you will attack targets that are far away, but you will also absorb some health from them. Every single Function can be attached to another, so in this way, the game creates numerous customisation options as you gain more Functions.
On top of this, you can also assign a Function to a passive slot. When using the ‘Tap()’ Function in an Active slot, it normally absorbs life points from targets nearby when you use it. however, using the ‘Tap()’ Function in a Passive slot will increase your overall life points. Every Function can be used in either an Active slot, Upgrade slot, or Passive slot and they all do different things depending on where they are placed. There is of course a limit to the amount of Functions you can use, so choosing wisely is also another important decision. This whole process may seem a bit complicated, but once you grasp this concept, the possibilities are almost endless.
The game also features a system known as ‘Limiters.’ Simply put, they allow you to adjust the difficulty of the game by applying certain effects that make the game harder for you, in exchange for more experience points. For example, one limiter will allow ‘The Process’ to hit twice as hard, while another will decrease the amount of Functions you can use at any given time. It is a great feature that allows you to tailor the game to your liking.
Transistor features a New Game Plus mode that allows you to replay the game with all your previously obtained Functions and Experience Points. There are small ‘Trial’ like side missions in the game, and in order to experience all of them, you will have to dive into Transistor for a second time. The difficulty also increases somewhat during the second play through.
10 / 10
Transistor’s biggest appeal is its presentation. The game is filled with gorgeous art, vibrant settings and imagery that builds a story all in itself. The colour palette is a mix of emerald greens, deep purples and fiery oranges that never overstay their welcome.
There are no real cutscenes in the traditional sense, but there are small, story related scenes that play scarcely throughout the game. The opening scene, which plays a few moments after the game begins, is simply amazing. The screen shifts from left to right as it tells the story of how Red came to be in the situation she has found herself in. Scenes similar to this are found scattered throughout the game and tie the games major chapters together.
The voice acting in the game is exceptional, and while there isn’t a huge cast of characters, the few that are in the game are all presented with a deep level of personality. ‘The Transistor’ speaks throughout the entirety of the game and the audio for its dialogue comes through the DUALSHOCK® 4 Controller’s speaker. It may seem like a gimmick at first, but as you hear ‘The Transistor’s’ speech come through the controller’s speaker, you become accustomed to it, building a strange affinity for ‘The Transistor’ because it feels like it is speaking directly to you/Red.
The visual mix of Art Deco and Cyberpunk themes found in Transistor have been carefully pieced together to provide you with eye-pleasing imagery that makes Transistor just as exciting to look at as it is to play.
9.5 / 10
Transistor’s soundtrack is one of the best video game music releases in recent years. The soundtrack was composed by Darren Korb, who also worked on the game Bastion, and roughly a quarter of the songs found on it feature vocals by Ashley Barrett. The songs shuffle around during gameplay and the vocal tracks are not only reserved for special events in the story. They also appear during casual gameplay and random encounters with ‘The Process,’ which is relatively refreshing.
There is a common theme dripping throughout the soundtrack to Transistor which is one of the major factors in creating the games unique and intriguing atmosphere. What makes Transistor so wonderful is the way these major components work with each other, as opposed to just feeling like they were thrown together.
Transistor is one of the finest games of the current generation thus far, with beautiful imagery, addictive customisation options and one of the best soundtracks you’ll hear this year.
- Amazing atmosphere and aesthetics
- “We All Become” and “The Spine” are stellar music tracks
- The game simply looks stunning
- The game is rather short
- You have to actively be invested to understand the story fully
- ‘The Function’ system can be a bit confusing at first
Overall - 9.5 / 10
The overall score is not necessarily an average
Transistor was released for PS4 and PC on May 20, 2014.
Written by Michael Villalon for ‘The VG Island’.