Transistor is the latest game from the decidedly not so one-hit-wonder studio ‘Supergiant Games’, a short action adventure game with incredible soundtrack and art style, and an interesting isometric perspective.
Transistor attempts to tell the story of ‘Red’ a singer who has come into posession of the Transistor, a sort of half sword half microchip device which is capable of manipulating the world around it, the game is essentially a completely linear pathway interspersed with set battles with ‘the process’, the game lingo for enemies, this description on it’s own probably isn’t selling the game very well, and it is fact that you literally fight-walk-fight-walk over and over until you beat the game, and yet when both the walking and the fighting is done so well, you’ll find little to actually complain about while playing.
The linear path you walk is a beautifully crafted world brought to life by some amazing art direction and more subtle graphical effects which put many larger studios to shame, the whole game is backed by a great soundtrack which while not immediately recognizable or memorable, serves very well to fill in the quiet and immerse you into the game’s world.
Transistor’s story unfolds primarily through the transistor itself – which houses a soul, the transistor behaves similarly to the narrator in Bastion, almost constantly chattering away about the environment, the story, your actions or otherwise, it is, I suppose, their tried and tested formula, and again similar to Bastion, it works very well here. For the most part, the story in the game isn’t actually told very well (in my opinion), players will be expected to put in some effort of their own to listen to the audio logs and messages left for you in the world, and even then you may find yourself having to fill in the blanks on your own.
As mentioned earlier, combat is the other major component of the game, your path constantly being barred by set encounters and enemy layouts. This set encounter system has a few benefits to the developer, being able to properly design each fight almost like an arena battle for one, as well as setting the pacing for leveling and difficulty in the game. Beating a fight provides XP and subsequently levels, these levels however do not affect your character in a convention RPG sense but rather provides a choice of new skills and perks, these skills are impressively deep and so each level is akin to gaining a whole new power, a comparison perhaps understating how much of a new experience a single skill can provide.
Before I elaborate on that, let me talk about the fight system – an interesting mix between active hack and slash (where you can attack and use skills similar to in Bastion), and command based fighting. Hitting a button will freeze time and allow you to move and queue skills on enemies, hitting the button again will unfreeze time and cause your Red to speed around the battlefield executing all the commands before becoming fatigued and needing to recharge (where you can only move and no longer use skills). It’s a novel system which I disliked at the start of the game but came to appreciate towards the end of my playthrough, it allows the player to switch between action and carefully planned actions at the press of a button, and allows the game to also introduce concepts like stagger, backstabs and collateral (line AoE) attacks which further add depth to the fighting. As a side note, the battles in the game can be fairly hard, particularly at the start of the game when you are still working out the combat system, this is offset by it being hard to fully die, being reduced to 0 health will throw you into command mode, and being hit while at 0 health and command mode on cooldown will make you temporarily lose one of your skills (making for an effective 3 lives before a game over screen, which will throw you right back at the last checkpoint anyway.). If you do want to give yourself a harder time, the game also has the halo style skulls system which will trade extra XP for harder enemies or conditions.
Right, now that’s out of the way, the skill system – You get 4 passive slots, 4 active slots, 2 augment slots per active slot and then a ‘memory limit’ which essentially acts as your equip power limiter. Each skill then has different effects depending on what type of slot it’s put into, for example, lets take the cluster bomb skill: on it’s own it will shoot cluster bombs, but augment it onto the ‘summon friend’ skill and it’ll make 2 smaller allies instead of the one big one you normally get, if you fancy it as a passive skill instead, you will now make decoy clones when you get hit. It’s this depth to the skill system and relatively large skill pool that allows the combat in transistor to remain fresh through the game, and into new game+.
That last point brings us nicely into my primary complaint about the game, it’s depressingly short, running at a mere 4 hours for first playthrough. I can appreicate a game trying not to overstay it’s welcome, but I feel like Transistor could have been longer without having to rely on new game+ to satisfy. It also seems very strange that the game isn’t long enough in one playthrough to even allow you to level up to anywhere near max level, and following on from this, if the game is designed to be played through at least twice, why can I not skip cutscenes on my second playthrough?
Sidenote: I didn’t really care much for the PC control scheme, the game was definitely designed with a gamepad in mind.
Transistor is a joy to play, and has a surprisingly deep combat system. It’s primary shortcomings are in it’s length and overly linear game design.
Approximate Game Length : ~4 Hours main story
Actual Worth / Online Price: £8 / £15 = 0.533
Should you play it : Yes, especially if you enjoyed Bastion