Publisher: Supergiant Games
Developer: Supergiant Games
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), PC
Release: May 20th
A songstress who has mysteriously lost her voice. A talking sword. A mystery that may end in the city of Cloudbank’s destruction. This is Transistor. It may look a lot like Supergiant Games previous effort, Bastion, with the same isometric viewpoint, similar vague narration, and with the exception of your enemies, an empty landscape. But scratch beyond those similarities and you’ll find a very different game, all about planning your actions. And style, lots of style. But is Transistor a worthy follow-up to Supergiant Games previous effort?
Though it features a similar story structure to Bastion. where the protagonist is silent and the story is revealed bit by bit by a “narrator” of sorts, Transistor takes a very different tack. The Transistor, which is a sword protagonist lounge singer Red carries, reveals bits and pieces of what has happened as you go, but he’s not omniscient like Bastion’s narrator. It’s more like a stream of consciousness, reflecting on what happened before everything went to hell and commenting on what is currently going on in the game. The sword is an interesting way to go, and I think it helped the atmosphere, but it still doesn’t reveal the whole story and if you are not enjoying it, it’s pretty much the only voice for about 99% of the game.
Transistor also has a lot of moments that are their purely for style points (like parts where you are supposed to hum or flourish, which serve no real purpose gameplay-wise). Most of these I enjoyed, but it happened a ton and I honestly think having them a little more spread out would’ve made them more impactful.
Transistor is very insistent on you mostly figuring things out for yourself. It’s both a good and bad thing. This can occasionally lead to be a little lost on where to go, and how combat works. When enemies show up, you can attack them in real time, but odds are you’ll go down pretty quick. What you are really meant to do is pause the action and plan out your strategy. Different enemies may require different attacks. Some are only vulnerable in certain moments or protected by another enemy that you have to take out first. Transistor admittedly does not do a great job of communicating this, and I occasionally found it a tad frustrating, but it never took me a horribly long time to figure out effective tactics.
And the great thing about the tactics in Transistor is how you can mix them up. You gain access to a pretty wide variety of attacks, and they can all be mixed and matched for a huge variety of combinations. My personal favorite was turning my defensive dash move, Jaunt, into a dangerous offensive move that could damage enemies even after I had planned my actions and had to dodge around until my bar refilled. And you can change them out quite often if you don’t like your setup and want to try something new.
If you are finding Transistor too easy you can even equip Limiters, which give you combat penalties but also an experience boost. It’s kind of a shame that Transistor clocks in at about 6 hours, because that doesn’t give you a lot a time to try out the tons of differing combinations. And yes, there is a new game plus mode, but though I really enjoyed my time with Transistor, it wasn’t really a game that gave me that urge to play through the story again as the mystery was a huge part of the appeal and once that’s done it loses some of it’s luster.
Transistor presents itself with little hand-holding in regards to how you play and what is going on for better or worse. But Transistor really rewards players who are self-motivated to find what has happened to Cloudbank and the best way to go about combat and experimenting with the different abilities to see what kinds of crazy combinations you could come up with. Again, it is a bit on the short side, but I’ve played plenty of shorter games well worth my $20 and Transistor is a great value at that price.