Developer: Supergiant Games
Release Date: May 20th, 2014
Available on: PC, Playstation 4
Reviewer’s note: I played this game on the Playstation 4. There may be differences between versions.
Back in 2011 Supergiant Games released their first game: a now well known indie darling called Bastion. One of my personal favorite games, I can say I was extremely hyped up for Transistor since its first announcement trailer. There was always that ping of worry that the game just wouldn’t be able to live up to Bastion. Thankfully after finishing the game I discovered I had little to worry about.
In Transistor you’ll be playing as Red, a singer who has just survived an assassination attempt that has stolen her voice and killed a man who jumped in the way. It has, however, left her with a sword called the Transistor that can communicate with her. Just in time too, as a robotic army known as the Process has begun to wreck havoc on the city. The story is smart, telling both what led up to the assassination while still continuing with the story of a dying city being attacked by a threat it can’t beat. I found myself captivated by Transistor’s cyberpunk setting and happily reading every log and database entry I could find myself with. Similar to Bastion there’s a form of constant narration going on from the man who occupies the Transistor. It may not be as unique back when they did it with Bastion, but it’s still a great way to flesh out the world and connect you with the setting even more.
Transistor also scores high marks in gameplay. You have fifteen different abilities that can be placed into one of three different slots. For example, one ability is called Help. If placed in the active slot then using it causes it to summon a dog that assists you in combat. Put it in the upgrade slot and the ability it’s attached to will cause enemies to have a lower chance to spawn cells when they die. Put it in passive, and you get a chance to switch into an overpowered ultimate form when you go into a Turn phase. Of course you can put things in the upgrade slot when it’s an active ability, which means it may spawn multiple dogs, or that the dog slows enemies down. Each of the fifteen abilities are useful in some way, even if it’s not for direct active combat.
I mentioned the Turn phase earlier, and that’s also an important part to Transistor’s combat. You have a bar that, when filled, can be activated to start your “turn”. During this time you can plan out a few moves in advance to get an edge on an enemy, but after you initialize and pull off your turn then you can’t act until the bar refills. Turns are useful for groups of difficult enemies, and best saved for when you’re up against them. Similar to Bastion, Transistor has a modifiable difficulty in the form of Limiters. Limiters give enemies unique buffs like hitting harder, spawning in greater numbers, or spawning new kinds of enemies upon death. In return, you get more XP every time you win a fight.
I only really have two complains about Transistor. The first is the length. My first play through only took me about 6 to 8 hours to finish. The game does feature a New Game+ that allows you to start at your current level and randomizes enemies. It’ll at least make future runs through the game more interesting. The second comes from the game’s boss fights. There’s only three of them, and two of them are just really strong enemies with large health bars. It’s not until the last boss that the game switches things up in a big way, but the last boss ends up being on the really easy side and it feels like a missed opportunity that we didn’t get more weird bosses.
Still, Transistor’s cyberpunk setting, interesting story, and uniquely fun gameplay kept me hooked. Supergiant Games did it again, and I’ll be remembering Transistor for a long time. These guys have easily become one of my favorite indie studios and I think I’ll be keeping up with whatever they make next.