May 20, 2014 by Ryan Ward
Much of today’s gaming high-marks are dominated by triple-A games with huge budgets and 20+ hour storyline campaigns. Is there room in this market for a tightly-woven, but impactful experience that cuts off the fluff and delivers a rewarding, albeit short, gaming experience? The developers at Supergiant seem to think so, and I have to agree.
Transistor opens up in the city of CloudBank, a futuristic and digitized world filled with robots and technology. The protagonist, Red, is on a rooftop pulling a stylized computer-chip sword out of the chest of an unknown man. This sword will serve as the story’s narrator while cleverly causing the DualShock 4 to flash as it provides most of the background and insight into the environments and people that are soon to follow. With sword-in-hand, Red marches forward ready to begin her journey. However, the cold city comes alive and begins working against her.
The player is quickly introduced to Transistor’s combat system which consists of both real-time action combat and “planning mode” that feels a lot like Frozen Synapse or XCOM: Enemy Unknown. This planning mode lets the player pause combat entirely and enter a set of commands like moving to an area or executing an attack. Each of these commands drains a little of Red’s energy resource, so the player needs to be decisive in what is the best course of action for the enemies they are facing.
After the commands have been entered the player submits their orders and Red will rush forward to action. It’s important to know that the enemies unpause as well at this moment and can execute their own actions, but Red moves at an accelerated pace and will usually finish all commands before the enemies can counter-attack.
The margin for error is quite large at the beginning of the game and most enemies can be killed in real-time mode. But soon enough you will find yourself mulling over whether you’ve made the right choices. The real penalty for choosing poorly is the time period where your energy meter refreshes. During this time Red cannot enter planning mode again and must survive the onslaught in real time without the use of many of her abilities.
One of the best features of Transistor’s combat is that there are a plethora of abilities that all interact with each other in different and interesting ways. Each ability has an active skill which is usable when slotted into a primary attack button, but it also has a passive skill that can be used to alter different abilities. So, if you want your dash ability to also cause you to spawn clones you can!
This interaction of abilities was one of my favorite parts of Transistor. I would often find myself trying new combinations to see what I liked best. Shaping your character’s abilities to fit your play style is easy and fun. Best of all, everything feels fair and powerful. You aren’t stuck using only one ability because it’s obviously the highest damage or most over-powered.
Transistor’s musical score is haunting and beautiful and many times during cutscenes it serves as our primary identifying attribute to an otherwise mute Red. While the narrator will point out much of Red’s past and her primary goals throughout the game, the music drives our empathy and helps us connect with Red on a deeper level. I frequently caught myself humming these songs out of game and wanting to come back and play just to hear more.
Transistor is equal parts strategy and execution. It tests your ability to think ahead and act with purpose, but it also tests your physical skills. Much like Transistor’s setting, the gameplay is methodical and calculating, but when you add the human element the true beauty of the experience begins to take shape. It’s this interaction that makes the game a true must-play. Supergiant has another hit on their hands and I look forward to seeing what this studio has up their sleeves for the future. Transistor gets 4.5 out of 5 stars (Amazing).
- Beautiful art style and musical score
- Fluid combat system
- Rich abilities and ability interactions
- New Game Plus mode for added replayability
- Short overall play time