Transistor Review

Supergiant’s successor to Bastion blends smart action RPG gameplay, a gorgeous atmosphere, and a touching narrative.

Release Date: May 20, 2014Platform: PS4, PC (reviewed)Developer: Supergiant GamesPublisher: Supergiant GamesGenre: Action RPG

There are definitely a few similarities between Transistor and Supergiant’s breakout 2011 hit Bastion, like the overall layout, the level design, and the explosive, customizable combat. But a few enemy encounters in, and the familiarities quickly fall away as this successor opens up into something that’s just so much more. Transistor is an incredibly stylish game, and the gloomy city environments are offset perfectly by a jazz-infused soundtrack that absolutely bursts and swells with heart. It’s not often that I pay such acute attention to a game’s music, but the sights and sounds that flowed through these desolate streets left me totally floored. And then, of course, there is the equally stylish action RPG gameplay itself.

The combat in the game manages to toe the line between careful tactics and frantic action, and it works wonders the more you start to experiment with different strategies. This is thanks in no small part to the ingenious planning stage, which allows you to pause the action in the middle of the game and input your next several commands, whether its repositioning your silent heroine Red or setting up a full-scale attack, and then watching her perform them all in lightning-fast succession. Taking advantage of the planning stage will certainly make the battles a whole lot easier, but you can still move through the entire game by fighting in real-time as well.

Things will get really interesting once you start building up the Transistor’s repertoire of different attacks, known as Functions in the game. Every function has its own unique strengths and attributes, from close-range slashes and cluster bombs, to slower but devastating area attacks and one that turns a Process monster into a friendly for a short period of time. Each time you level up Red by clearing out rooms of the Process, you’ll get to select a new Function to use at your leisure, as well as other perks like additional upgrade slots or increased memory units that let you outfit the Transistor weapon with even more power at any one time.

Ad – content continues below

You can have up to four different Functions attached to the Transistor at any one time, in addition to their own specific upgrades, and if your health bar gets depleted during battle, then you’ll start to lose your equipped Functions one by one until you visit the next access point and reassign them. One aspect that I really enjoyed about Transistor is that the enemies themselves are capable of being upgraded with new attacks or attack patterns as well, much like Red and the Transistor. While there aren’t a whole lot of different enemy types to find along your adventure, these different and increasingly powerful versions will always keep you on your toes, and the rare but totally epic boss fights will truly put your quick thinking and micromanaging skills to the ultimate test.

Either way, the difficulty in Transistor isn’t all that brisk, but much like with Bastion, you’ll also have the option to add several Limiters to the action, which adjust the game’s parameters to make the battles even harder: one decreases the time it takes for fallen cells to turn into reinvigorated Process foes, while another doubles the power of your adversaries entirely. And if you’re looking for an even deeper challenge, the game also packs in a handful of special challenge rooms called Tests, which task you with doing everything from defeating a room full of enemies under a strict time limit, or taking out your foes in a single planning stage.

Now you may have noticed that I’ve held off on discussing the story here in Transistor, and that’s because I’m not quite sure how to put into words how truly captivating this game’s narrative presentation is, and how it wholly latches onto you from beginning to end. The story of Transistor is positively sublime, and the way it gets told is an even bigger trip: a dark narrative that’s shrouded in mystery at every turn, with the sultry narration of the soul that’s attached to the Transistor serving as your only guiding light along the hazardous journey. I was even surprised to find the kinds of emotions that were interlaced in Red’s story and the glimpses of who she was before obtaining the Transistor, and without giving too much away (Transistor is at its absolute best in these moments of mystery), you’ll want to strap yourselves in for one powerful ride.

In fact, the game’s presentation is so rich and enthralling that I was almost caught off guard when I reached its abrupt, though incredibly satisfying conclusion. Transistor is a very short game: I finished my first playthrough in only four hours, and that includes exploring large chunks of the linear world, reading through the many text-based terminals, and completing a handful of the optional Tests. I really do wish there had been a few more areas to traverse through, as the small handful that make up the bulk of the game can start to feel a bit repetitive before long, despite the spot-on graphics. Luckily, the game employs a much welcomed New Game+ mode called Recursion Mode, which I would say is almost a necessity to the overall experience.

That is because there are so many more secrets to find, so many more levels to achieve, and so many different Function combinations to try that any single playthrough of Transistor just won’t be enough. For Supergiant Games, it seems that lightning has certainly struck twice: and this time it has struck with the force of a complex, emotional story, a vibrant presentation with a deeply moving soundtrack, and a smart combat system that will always keep you thinking and engaged, right down to the game’s last, vibrant breath.


Ad – content continues below





Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!


4.5 out of 5