Review done for PS4, also available for PC
Developer: Supergiant Games
Warning: Contains Mild Spoilers
I’ll be honest; Transistor was not even on my radar until I saw it for free on the PSN store for PlayStation Plus members. I downloaded it on a whim and thought, “why not?” The game only takes maybe 6 hours to finish (not including new game +) but in that time I came to realise that this game is a great example and showcases rather brilliantly that video games are truly works of art, even if it is flawed in places.
The overall style/setting of the game is a little hard to pick. It is basically a mash up of sci-fi, anime and noir and this blend is in almost every element of the game.
The story is about a young woman named Red; a singer and high profile member of society, who one night after one of her shows a group known as ‘The Camerata’ attempt to kill her. She escaped and finds herself alone, scared and unable to speak in the middle of the city, with only the Transistor for company; an object that looks like a cross between a sword, a key and an electronics board. The Transistor is seemingly possessed by an A.I who communicates with Red during the course of the game as she fights the ‘Process’ which is slowly taking over the city (think the ‘Flood’ from Halo but non-organic and affects everything, organic or not). The main story thread of the game is a bit weak to be honest, it gets a bit confusing, does not make a ton of sense and a lot is left up to the reader to figure out or decide on their own.
The main themes of the story are that of love, loss and revenge; however it’s the supporting writing for the rest of the game that is done really well. Characters in the game have bio’s that are unlocked throughout the course of the game which explain more about them, the Camerata, the Process and the world as a whole. The relationship between Red and the Transistor is also well done and has a real depth to it, even if communication between them is mostly one way.
Gameplay is broken up between travelling through the city exploring and combat done as arena style combat against the process, only able to proceed to the next area until all enemies are defeated. You defeat enemies using the Transistor. Functions are collected or unlocked by levelling throughout the game and are installed into the Transistor at certain points in the world. These are your attacks, augments and passive skills all rolled into one. They are mapped to the four main face buttons and can be interchanged and combined allowing for a huge level of customization and options for the player.
Function roles change depending on how they’re used. They have an Active use (assigned to a face button), an Upgrade use (added to active function to augment it), and a Passive function (provides passive boosts to Red). One interesting function separate from the rest is one that allows Red to freeze time to map out and plan a series of attacks. This becomes invaluable but must be used cautiously, as it has a cool down rate that varies depending on what you do in this planning phase. Be warned, the cool down applies to ALL abilities so you’re basically a sitting duck for several seconds after you use it. If your health bar depletes in combat, you will not immediately die. Instead one of your Active functions will ‘overload’ making it useless for a short while. This will continue in that battle until all of them have overloaded. Only then will you die and have to start that fight from the start.
The artistic style is really well done, and covers almost the entire colour pallet. Cut scenes have an almost rustic hand drawn feel to them that highlights the noir part of the game. The world itself changes dramatically as the game progresses. At the start it kind of makes me think of Paris at night, but the further in you get the more it feels like a sci-fi game as the world becomes edgier, more digital and less inviting as the Process takes over. The game basically is a 2D/3D piece. The gameplay is done in a 2D style essentially but the graphics are caught between 2D and 3D which for this game just seems to work. This style has also allowed a range of different technics and styles to be used by the graphic artists and their creativity shines through in the work.
As nice as the graphics are, they pale in comparison to the soundtrack. This is the crowning glory of the game. Going back to what I said earlier, that the style is a mash up, this especially rings true for the soundtrack. It’s like a cross between Electronica and Jazz, but features a bit of everything in-between. More than once I found myself staring at the screen listening to the soundtrack, not doing anything, just letting Red stand there while I listened. As good as the music is it takes on a whole new element through a small function in the game. Holding the L1 button in non- combat areas will cause Red to sing (more like hum really) along with the song and the whole song becomes that much better. This doesn’t seem to just add vocals either but to me, (and I may be wrong), it sounds like when you do this, it changes the whole song, using effects that give the music more emotion, more feeling.
I could do a whole review just on the soundtrack but I’ll leave that to the more musically minded.
This game may not suit everyone, and it does have a couple of flaws. Still, I would recommend giving it a go, especially if you can snag it cheap, or even free like I did. For those of you who believe, like I do, that games are a great format for artistic expression and can be considered works of art, then do yourself a favour and add Transistor to your ‘to play’ list.