Transistor Review: Everything Changes
From start to finish, Supergiant Games’s latest adventure Transistor is pure gold. Its like slowly eating a rich, delicious piece of chocolate in that its quality makes you aware right away that you should savor the fleeting feeling of being truly taken aback by something you consume so often.
Transistor stars Red, a red-haired singer whose voice has been taken by the evil group the Camerata, an affluent group with sinister intentions for the beautiful city of Cloudbank. Not only that, her friend (its hinted that he’s her lover but I don’t recall this being confirmed) has been murdered and his spirit is imprisoned in the Transistor, a gigantic and powerful sword that can create whatever the wielder wants. The Camerata lost control of their vicious army of intelligent robots, The Process, and now everyone including them and Red are searching for a way to stop The Process from destroying Cloudbank.
Combat stands out from other top-down action RPGs due to the Turn() system. This is sort of a planning mode where the player can plot out their attacks and movements while consuming power from the action meter. This system adds a layer of strategy that makes combat a calculated blast. You’ll have to weigh your options as to whether you want to get in close for to backstab an enemy or fire at them from afar.
Red can also learn several abilities called functions which add even more depth to the combat. Some functions let Players turn their enemies into allies temporarily, launch an energy ball from enemy to enemy, or dash past enemies and objects to create distance when running out of health. There are dozens of functions and players will have to experiment to find the set that they want to play with.
Transistor has a good penalty for failure. Players don’t die right away but they lose one of their four or more functions and can’t use them for a set period of time after that battle. This forces you to mix up your play style from time to time as Transistor isn’t an easy game though it isn’t overly difficult either. Some might consider this penalty a bad thing but I enjoyed it since it kept the gameplay fresh due to being forced to try new powers.
Overall Transistor plays like a dream and the Turn() system is genuinely unique, innovative and refreshing. The game would be pretty good with just its solid combat system but Transistor has so much more going for it.
The art direction is easily the best I’ve seen in any game this year. Sorry Child of Light, Transistor’s art style is an absolute joy for the eyes. Bastion was already a visually pleasing title and Supergiant has topped themselves in the graphics department. Its as if Supergiant re-created the jaw dropping world of Blade Runner in 2D. Cloudbank is overflowing with elegance with several stunning locations that blow you away.
The soundtrack is damn near flawless. If you had told me before that the game dedicated an entire button to Red humming along with the music I’d have said that was stupid. But doing so in between battles was a nice touch. Transistor isn’t just a treat for the eyes, it comes with one of the best soundtracks in recent video game history.
Narrative-wise Transistor is very strong. The Camerata aren’t the stereotypical villains you see in video games. There are several vague sayings in the game that are left open to player’s interpretations like “When everything changes, nothing changes”. As a whole Transistor is filled with one of a kind characters and superb plot development that doesn’t hold your hand and telegraph what’s going to happen.
Without spoiling anything, the ending of Transistor is beautiful. You could consider its ending as a statement for feminism as Red spends the entire gaming being told what to do by both the man in the Transistor and the Camerata. In the end she makes a unique, surprising decision that is unlike any game you’ve ever played before.
Transistor is one of the best games this year. It excels in pure beauty and artistry without being preachy or over-the-top. It does several little things with great detail that make the overall package near perfect. Transistor has a succinct and subtle elegance that is very rare in today’s game industry.
Everything comes together to craft a remarkably concise and superb package. The fantastic soundtrack, jaw dropping art, engaging combat and extraordinary story make Transistor an easy game to recommend and one that will surely remain in top ten lists of best games of this generation years from now.
Transistor is an elegant, highly detailed adventure that avoids video game tropes that takes players on a fantastic journey through Cloudbank. Review copy of PS4 version provided by Supergiant Games. Story mode completed in roughly 6 hours.