Review: Transistor (PC)

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Transistor takes players on a bittersweet journey of revenge, mystery and romance. The second title from revered developer Supergiant Games, Transistor aims to please and bewilder audiences with its stunning visuals, fantastic soundtrack, and unique take on action-RPGs.

Transistor (PC)
Score: 10/10

Platform: PC
Release Date: 5/20/2014 (USA)
Developed by Supergiant Games
Published by Supergiant Games

Transistor comes from the creative minds and developers at Supergiant Games. Only their second title, the futuristic action-RPG is a stark contrast to their award-winning 2011 game Bastion.

Players are thrust into the vacant city of Cloudbank; all of its citizens have mysteriously disappeared. Cloudbank’s most famous vocalist, Red is left as the only survivor of the city, apart from the Camereta who failed to assassinate her. While she survives the attack, her voice is stolen in the act. The Camereta’s own army- the “Process”- walks the streets of Cloudbank, and Red’s only weapon is the one intended for her disposal, the “Transistor”. Guided by the voice of a close soul trapped within the sword, Red and the Transistor traverse through the city to uncover the truth about the missing citizens, and put an end to the Camereta’s hold over Cloudbank. Where some titles “spoonfeed” the plot to their audiences, often presenting the story in a very direct manor, the majority of Transistor‘s story is told through in-game interaction. Key elements regarding Red, the soul trapped within the Transistor, and Cloudbank society are discovered by interacting with objects within the environment (i.e. returning to Red’s apartment), through conversation with the Transistor, and by reading public bulletins and street posters. In a market littered with games that stretch the plot across 40+ hours, Transistor doesn’t overstay its welcome, and keeps its compelling story confined to a roughly 6-hour experience.

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Those who are familiar with Supergiant’s first game- Bastion– will initially feel right at home with Transistor‘s gameplay, though it quickly diverges into a completely different beast: When fighting against a Process, the player can “freeze” the action in order to script-out a plan of attack. The battlefield transforms into a large point-grid, showing all areas where Red can move, and which areas are affected by her attacks. In this mode, referred to as the “Turn()” phase, the player can move Red out of harm’s way, or reposition her for critical strikes. However, only a certain number of actions can be performed during this phase, every attack- and movement- fills up a bar indicated at the top of the screen. Once the player finalizes their offensive strategy, once he or she leaves Turn(), Red will quickly perform all of the player’s queued up actions. This tactic also has a “cooldown”, meaning Red will be vulnerable for a short amount of time once she finishes her moves. Players have the option of attacking Process enemies in real-time, but Transistor‘s combat is clearly structured around using the previously mentioned gameplay mechanic. When a Process is slain, it drops multiple “Cells”; if the Cells aren’t absorbed in time, each one will regenerate into a new Process.

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Over the course of the game, Red and the Transistor will come across deceased members of Cloudbank. It’s revealed that the Transistor is capable of absorbing souls, to then convert into abilities. Each new soul can be used as a base-attack, or as an upgrade to another ability; an example found early in the game can be found with a lightning-based attack. If the ability is assigned to an empty attack-slot, Red can shoot charge lighting at enemies; when it’s assigned as an upgrade, the base attack now has electrical damage. When Red falls in battle, it isn’t counted as a “death”, however it still comes with a major penalty; when Red loses all of her health, she’s immediately revived, however the player’s most-used ability will be disabled. This continues until all abilities have been lost, then the player restarts from the nearest checkpoint. Abilities aren’t lost forever, however they can only be re-equipped by accessing the Transistor’s upgrade screen from an “Access Point”. While this mechanic has the potential to frustrate players, it keeps Transistor from going stale, and it forces players to think outside the box, by using the full repertoire of what the game has to offer.

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There’s no denying that Transistor is a gorgeous title. As games are slowly transistioning out of the “sandy brown” phase, the city of Cloudbank leads the charge, with its fantastic use of color and lighting. From the architecture to the characters themselves, everything about Transistor oozes with vibrant “art deco” flair. The almost noir scenery is a contrast to the futuristic simplicity of the varied Process designs. Yet, nothing feels out of place; from the desolate city of Cloudbank, to the somber amphitheater, and the monstrous Spine of the World that looms above, all of the visuals within Transistor compliment each other…Transistor is essentially “the 1930’s of the 22nd century”.

Music plays an essential role in the tale of Transistor. Responsible for Bastion’s fantastic soundtrack, Darren Korb once again steps up for the music of Transistor. Backed with an amazing performance by Ashley Barrett, the soundtrack reflects both the current situation of Cloudbank, and it’s love of music and the arts. The vocal tracks are both chilling and emotional; not only are Barrett’s tracks tied to events within the game, but they give the player a sense of Red’s incredible voice before it was lost to the Camereta…It’s clear why Red’s posters coat the streets of Cloudbank.

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Whether it’s experienced on PC or PS4, Transistor is a title that shouldn’t be overlooked. It introduces new elements to the action-RPG, and delivers a fantastic, memorable and emotional experience without dragging the player through 40+ hours of content. The unique visuals and environments set Transistor apart from almost any other game currently on the market. Backed with an outstanding soundtrack, Transistor is currently one of the best titles of 2014.

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