Transistor review

“Together again. Heh. Sort of…”

Ever since Transistor was revealed at E3 last year I’ve been dying to play it, the glorious art style practically made my eyes pop out of their sockets, the soundtrack making my heart skip a beat. Thus, it would be somewhat unsurprising for me to now say that I adored Supergiant Games’ first title ‘Bastion’, indeed Transistor has a few things in common with it. Namely, the return of Logan Cunningham as a narrator, audibly charting your every action and development in the story; well if it ain’t broke don’t fix it and it certainly remains the case here. It defines Supergiant’s development style and when the template is as outstanding as this, it remains utterly captivating.

You play as Red, a famous singer who narrowly avoids assassination from the Illumnati-esque group the ‘Camerata’, her voice however has remained ‘stolen’. The game’s opening moments showing her pulling the ‘Transistor’ some big-ass blade out of the chest of her lover who took the blow instead. He however has had his consciousness transferred into the Transistor, so the gravelly tones of Cunningham fills your ears as the two of you set off to figure out what the hell is going on.

And how delightful it is journey through this world. The setting of Cloudbank is absolutely mesmerising, the art style is a hypnotic mix of cyber-noir haze and vintage-tech. There are so many moments in this game where my jaw just fell to the floor, this may be from an artistic perspective the best-looking game I’ve EVER seen, it’s salivating stuff.

Like the world, the narrative is slickly constructed, Logan’s commentary fills you in on the Camerata conspiracy while the mix of terminals provides succinct details about the fallen society of Cloudbank. The silence of Red beautifully ties into the plot, the city’s population has vanished; making the vast structures of Cloudbank even more alien by the absence of anything. The supreme confidence of the developer is displayed throughout the game with regards to its style and story; it balances intrigue against revelation expertly, while the narration gives it a richly personal identity.

Although it shares a lot of elements with Bastion, Transistor mixes things up with regards to its combat, you see this time it revolves on a more turn-based combat method. With a squeeze of R2, Red can activate ‘turn mode’ which freezes time allowing you to plan out the most effective course of action. So instead of flailing apart chaotically, you are heavily encouraged to adopt this mechanic in order to take out your enemies efficiently. Be it, teleporting behind them in succession and taking them out one-by-one or sucking them all into the area of a planned explosive. This mechanic has a real depth to it, the game introduces a vast array of functions for you to play around with and to figure out which fits into your play-style the most.

There are other tricky choices too, levelling up gives you the opportunity to unlock new Passive upgrades (for permanent effects), an increase in Memory (so you can use more stuff at once) or Limiters (for faster levelling-up). It’s a delicately intricate system that’s a little blunted by how confusing the menus are, for the first few hours you’ll have little to no clue what to do with all these functions, but you eventually figure out what goes where and so on, really though it should be made a little more streamlined.

The sound meanwhile is stunning, I’ve already mentioned the narration upon which Cunningham did another sterling job, but the actual score is so astonishingly beautiful. Ashley Barrett’s vocals, complete with futuristic synth are alluring without it being overwhelming. Transistor is intrinsically linked with its sound; Red is after all a singer and she may have lost her voice, but at any time you can press a button and she’ll hum in tune with the beautiful track in the background. Perfect.

Note: You can change the settings so the narrator comes through on the Dualshock speaker, it really does add to the immersion. Cool stuff

The journey isn’t a long one, about 6 hours or so but you will definitely take up the option to use the new game + to check out all the stuff and abilities you missed out beforehand. In addition, there are a multitude of challenge rooms to face, enabling you to reach those higher levels and also to simply teach you new methods to take down trickier enemies. Oh and you also unlock a new track every time you complete one and that’s a pretty sweet incentive to say the least.

As I orchestrated Red to line up a perfect attack run, I meticulously planned every move, it had to be efficient, it had to be quick. I clicked to proceed; this wasn’t a battlefield, rather her stage. Effortlessly, she hummed along the chosen path, the transistor blade scraping behind her in tune as she danced through her enemies with a pronounced fluidity, before finally cutting them apart in a gleeful crescendo.

A sharp performance indeed.

9/10

+ Exceptional art direction

+ Brilliant, reactive narration

+ Spectacular audio

+ Evolving combat

Confusing menus