Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Platform: PC (Steam), PS4 (PSN)
ESRB: T for Teen
Release Date: May 20, 2014
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game
Supergiant Games made a name for themselves when they launched the critically-acclaimed Bastion in 2011. Ever since, players have fallen in love with that game and were eager to see what the developers came up with next. Transistor, despite only being their second game, was met with tremendous anticipation. Now that the title is finally out we can see if it will meet expectations.
The first thing you“ll notice about Transistor is the artwork. It simply looks gorgeous. Taken from an isometric perspective, players are shown a bright, colorful town that has an excellent sense of design. The world is both futuristic and lonely with art deco flourishes. Lead character Red and all her enemies also fit right into the visual aesthetic with their bold attack flourishes. Honestly, it“s hard to say many games measure up to this standard of beauty, indie or otherwise.
Music also helps set the mood and elevate the experience further. Artist Darren Knob should be commended for his amazing soundtrack which evokes sadness, strain, and at times, hope. There are only a few vocal songs but Ashley Barrett performs them amazingly well. If there“s one thing Supergiant Games is able to do consistently well it is providing excellent art and music for their projects.
Since players are greeted with a great soundtrack and visuals right off the bat, you start off on a great foot with Transistor. Story-wise, things take longer to get rolling. Basically, nothing is explained upfront except for the bare essentials—Red had been a musical performer until just before the game begins. Something—we don“t know what—went down and now she is in possession of a talking blue sword as her companion.
This sword is known as the Transistor. It doesn“t simply chatter incessantly (although it does do that a lot) - it grants Red an incredibly useful skill. You see, there“s tons of enemies around the world known as the Process and they“ll pick a fight whenever possible. Oftentimes, fights are unfairly stacked as four or more against one. What the Transistor does is pause time, allowing players to plan attacks and movements freely. Of course, there are only so many attacks one can pre-define before the Transistor will need to recharge, effectively ending your paused turn.
Although it seems like a fast-paced action game at first, the Transistor turns it into more of an action RPG. But there is actually even more to the battle system than just a neat pause feature. As you proceed through the game you unlock new Functions, which are basically different attacks (lasers, bombs, etc). Because you can only have four Functions assigned to your attack bar, each also has active and passive slots. By combining different Functions together, you get tweaked attacks; most of which are far better than their original states.
In theory, this is a totally awesome concept. Some players will definitely enjoy messing with combinations and leveling up to continue expanding this freedom. This was not the case for me, as instead I explored only until coming upon â€œidealâ€ attacks. At that point, it was simply a matter of using the same general tactics on every following battle. Players simply aren“t required to continue experimenting to beat the game as most situations can be taken care of by strategy-free brute force. At least, this is true during the first playthrough.
After beating the game once you unlock Recursion Mode. This is effectively a â€œnew game +â€ mode but named with a programming concept to fit in with the rest of Transistor. Players maintain their Functions and levels and get to go up against tougher, smarter enemies. You“ll also likely pick up on tidbits of story that didn“t make sense upon the initial playthrough. Still, there“s not too much story to be had until the game attempts to shove tons of exposition upon players about halfway through.
For as beautiful as the game is, the aesthetics cannot shield players from faults. The purposefully obfuscated story can work, but the handling of it here doesn“t feel right. Pacing is off considering how there is a slow drip of info before finally being inundated by it. Then there is the Transistor who mumbles what would probably be a very important line if it didn“t say the same thing at multiple points during one playthrough. It“s easy to see what Supergiant Games was going for with their narrative choices, but unfortunately it doesn“t work out entirely in their favor.
Finally, the experience is quite brief. I finally began to get into the swing of things only to find that I was in the last hour of gameplay at that point. Players will take anywhere from 4 to 7 hours to beat it once, although there is no limit to Recursion Mode. Those who really love the freeform battles will likely seek to complete Recursion, but it is not a requirement.
Do you love turn-based strategy and attack customization? If these are both awesome features to you then you“ll more than likely have nothing but adoration for Transistor. If these are just neat, but not things you love, then Transistor is probably not going to live up to your expectations. It has managed to perfect a few things, though, such art and music. Beyond that, the game leaves something to be desired. That“s not to say Transistor isn“t great, because it is pretty fun, but you can“t help feeling that it could have been even better.
+ Simply amazing visuals
+ A soundtrack that perfectly encapsulates the game“s mood
+ Intriguing Function system that allows players to tweak attacks
- Story pacing feels somewhat off
- Strategy is almost entirely unnecessary for battles
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
Supergiant Games have yet again created a truly unique game with Transistor. Although it doesn“t live up to expectations, it still manages to be more fun than many of its action RPG contemporaries.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code from the publisher.