A girl without a voice carrying a sword with a soul. Welcome to the world of Transistor, an isometric adventure from Supergiant Games, the studio behind Bastion. If you thought Bastion was a pretty looking game then brace yourselves; Transistor is a pure treat.
Designed with the same minimalist approach to Bastion, Transistor is a purely story driven game building on a plot whose foundations are riddled with mystery. The game opens with Red, the protagonist, killing someone with a sword that talks. What ensues later is a sci-fi story of the highest caliber that simply grabs you by the throat and demands you to unravel every last tidbit of information regarding Red and her sword.
As a fan of these games, the first thing that struck me was the narrative which progresses the story, much like in Bastion, but with a much bigger and important role in the story this time. Rather than have the narrator explain the events as they happen, the sword tells us the story of how Red got robbed of her voice and what happens during their epic journey in Cloudbank, the city in which the majority of Transistor takes place.
“Hey Red. We’re not going to get away with this – are we?”
That is the first thing you will hear in this game as you see Red pulling out a huge buster sword-like computer chip out of a dead man’s chest. This moment, or rather this particular scene, will sum up almost the entire game. Transistor is an epic tale of tragedy and loss, brought together by the struggle to regain what was taken and inflicting vengeance upon those who caused harm upon Red and her mysterious sword. To be clear, the narrative genius behind the voice is strong enough to make Morgan Freeman green with envy.
The music deserves an honorable mention of its own: Imagine the sound that accompanied the movie ‘Blade Runner’ and you will be right at home. The soundtrack will leave your ears in a state of bliss, populated by post rock and heavy hitting electronic beats.
As numerous as their similarities are, Transistor is not like Bastion. In this game, your only weapon is the huge sword that you seem to drag behind you and it can be used in many ways to inflict damage upon enemies via specific commands that are freely customizable. Throughout the game, you will encounter dead people whose spirits you will collect to unlock new ‘functions’. These functions introduce new combat mechanics that can be utilized as active skills or passive bonuses.
While it may seem like an action game, it is advisable to treat Transistor like a strategy one. The game’s combat is meant to be approached with a turn-based mentality: with a press of a button the combat will pause for you to input specific commands to deal with onscreen enemies, choosing to dispatch or evade them. Once accomplished, you will have to wait a few seconds of cooldown before you can perform a new set of commands.
Don’t think this is simple or boring, the combat is actually intuitive and refreshing–easy to get in to and hard to master. These fights are made even more dynamic thanks to the amazing enemy AI that seems to be able to plan according to their numbers and think as a group. You won’t see enemies rushing at you like fodder, but rather plan and try to either flank or outmaneuver you. Things get even more hectic when you realize that you have to pick up the small pods left behind fallen victims or else they will respawn.
While Red can equip a limited number of combat abilities at a time, you can easily re-spec your strategies at any checkpoint. If you get badly damaged during a fight, some of your abilities may be lost and can only be retrieved by accessing checkpoints, which adds an extra layer of strategy to the game. Also, if you are combat hardened and want a bigger challenge, the game offers you ‘Limiters’ that you unlock during the game and work in the same fashion as Idols did in Bastion–they basically crank up the difficulty in exchange for extra XP.
Added to great graphics, the wonderful and amazing level design with multiple branches will make sure you will come back again just to see or explore what you missed the first time, it is just a shame that on some few occasion that some building in the foreground can block certain parts of the playing field, but other than that, the game doesn’t suffer from any maze like syndrome nor of the ”where the heck should i go now?” type of irritations.
Transistor was released horribly buggy on PC, but thankfully the issue was quickly resolved with a patch rendering the game flawless, save for some questionable design choices that have you disappear behind set pieces due to the stoic isometric viewpoint.
Some games are too good to be summed up in mere words and must be experienced to be truly appreciated. While most other reviewers went into great length to explain the lore and the environment in this game, I opted to leave it up to you gamers to dive into the painted neon utopia of Cloudbank, meet Red and listen to her sad tale through the voice of her sword. I simply can’t express how unique this modern masterpiece is.