Ever since I first saw footage from Transistor, it was a game that was instantly at the top of my Most Anticipated List for the PS4. With its striking visual style, melodic soundtrack, and its blend of RPG, strategy, and action elements in its gameplay, I was enthralled with Transistor before I even had the chance to play it for myself.
As time went on, however, and news for the game started to fade away and it sadly missed the launch window for the PS4, Transistor sort of slipped off my radar. And then the release date was announced, with a new trailer attached to it, and all of a sudden my excitement was very much alive again. Now that I’ve finally had the chance to play it all the way through, I am extremely happy to say that Transistor does not disappoint, not in the least.
It absolutely delivers on the intrigue and mystery promised to us, and it not only succeeds with its extraordinarily detailed and satisfying gameplay, but also with the intimate and personal story that acts as the game’s momentum. Rather than begin the story with a typical beginning, however, developer Supergiant Games throws us right in the middle of a complicated maze of conspiracies and political intrigue and allows us to piece the story together as we go along.
This could’ve easily backfired on them, as the story is so intricately weaved into the overall experience that it’s almost a guarantee that you start the game with an initial sense of confusion. However, this ends up being one of the game’s most mesmerizing features, as the player is continually teased with tidbits of backstory that motivate them to dig even deeper into the futuristic world of Cloudbank.
While it took me a bit to really connect to the story, simply because it begins on such a sudden note, in less than an hour I was absolutely entranced. The story primarily follows famed singer Red, who, after a failed attempt on her life leaves her without a voice, is forced to pick up a magical sword and take the fight to those who seem to so desperately want her dead.
However, there’s much more to Transistor than a simple revenge tale, and in fact, you’ll discover that the story actually has very little to do with revenge at all. What we get instead is an intimate tale of love, companionship, and the ever looming threat of conformity that deftly manages to avoid cliches and will surely to surprise you at nearly every step of the way.
At the center of the story is Red and the powerful sword known as Transistor, which, through a twist of fate I won’t spoil here, becomes imbued with the spirit of someone who may or may not have had a close relationship with Red in the past. He’s the only real speaking character in the game outside of a couple pre-recorded messages found throughout Cloudbank, and he acts as the narrator for the entirety of the game.
His dialogue is beautifully written and acted, and his somber, almost wishful tone provided a sense of comfort and friendship in a world that’s slowly falling apart. Unearthing just who, or what, the sword is was one of the most rewarding aspects of the game for me, and the way the story concludes itself in the end left a lasting impression on me that I can’t seem to stop thinking about.
If there’s anything the story could’ve done better, it would be context. Since the game throws you into the fray so quickly, you never really get the chance to see what Cloudbank was like before it began falling apart. As a result, I didn’t feel the sense of loss the characters did as their home fell to pieces, and I couldn’t help but wish I had been given the chance to see why the city meant so much to them.
However, this is is far from a crippling flaw, and even though the player may lack an in-depth connection to the world of Cloudbank, they do form a very close, very real relationship with our two main protagonists. Red is a character you truly want to see succeed, and the Transistor’s comforting voice is like a light in the dark, and also highly recommend going into the options and opting to have his voice come through the controller’s speaker. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.
The real selling point of Transistor, however, is the brilliant gameplay. By imbuing classic RPG elements with an action-focused approach to combat centered around strategy and timing, each and every encounter becomes a unique experience that never plays out the same way twice.
I won’t go into the many intricacies of the combat here, as learning to master the initial complexity of the combat system was an extremely satisfying part of my experience, but suffice to say this is one of the most rewarding and original action games I have ever played. Even now, I can’t wait to get back into it and play it all over again just to see what kind of combos and scenarios I may have missed out on.
Supergiant Games have created something unlike anything else on the market, and while there’s an obvious lack of a tutorial, the combat system is so well put together that it will quickly become instinct, which is a good thing, as the steadily increasing difficulty will hold nothing back in the later sections of the game.
Even if there are a couple trying confrontations, especially in the lead-up to the game’s final climax, I never once felt like I had been cheated, and every mistake I made just became another lesson to learn from. If anything, I wish there was just more for me to do and see, as by the time the credits began to roll all I wanted was more.
The combat can get slightly repetitive from time to time, as you’ll likely find yourself falling into a rhythm that you’ll repeat over and over, but the cleverly designed boss fights and always evolving upgrade system almost demand that you experiment with different play styles every so often. This helps to ensure you never get stuck doing the same thing for too long, and is a strong incentive to come back and play it again just to do it all differently.
I beat Transistor’s campaign in about six-hours, and while it is a little on the short side, there’s so much content to experiment with both during and after your first playthrough that there’s little reason to complain. Not only are there a handful of difficult challenge rooms to play around with, there’s also a New Game+ mode that allows you to restart the story over again with all your upgrades intact, which is something I jumped at the chance to do.
Every good thing Transistor does is heightened even further by the phenomenal soundtrack, which consists of both melodic jazz beats and actual songs sung by Red herself. The music enlivens the gameplay in a very special way, and its symphonic melodies and the occasional inclusion of Ashley Barrett’s fantastic vocals give both the world and characters even more depth than they ever could’ve had before.
There’s an incredible amount of depth to Transistor, and every strand of both its story and environment is filled with an emotional edge that makes it a memorable and powerful experience from start to finish.
Even the enemies themselves are more than walking punching bags, as the story actually finds a way to turn them into tragic figures meant to be mourned. Even when they continued to kick my butt in combat, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt every time I destroyed one of them.
While the combat is occasionally held back by some obstructive structures in the background that can obscure your view of the battlefield, the game’s few minor flaws are nothing when compared to everything else the game does right. I loved almost everything about this game, from beginning to end, and it might just be my favorite game of the year so far.