Welcome to Late to the Party, a series in which I discuss video games that I’ve finally gotten around to playing. Today I’m going to talk about Transistor, an action RPG. I played Transistor on a PlayStation 4 Pro and today’s post will be spoiler free.
Originally released in 2014, Transistor is the second game from developer Supergiant Games. I had played Supergiant’s first game, Bastion, and liked it quite a bit so when Transistor was on sale several months ago I decided it was finally time to make the purchase. Last week I finally got around to playing Transistor, thus clearing another game from my backlog.
In Transistor you play Red, a singer in the city of Cloudbank. As the game opens you are dropped right into the thick of things with Red acquiring the titular Transistor, a futuristic-looking sword indwelled by the spirit of the man it killed just moments earlier. Unfortunately for Red, a shadowy group called the Camerata is trying to take the Transistor from her and have unleashed an army of machines known as the Process to take her down. With the Transistor in hand, Red must fight her way across Cloudbank through waves of Process to learn the secrets of the Transistor and the Camerata who are hunting her.
With her voice having been taking from her, all narration in the game is done by voice of the man whose consciousness is trapped inside the Transistor. While this storytelling mechanic isn’t as novel as when I first experience it playing Supergiant’s previous game Bastion, it’s still an uncommon thing in video games and makes for an interesting experience. For further immersion you can even set the Transistor’s voice to come out of the controller on PlayStation 4, though I personally chose not to do this. I should note, however, that there were times early on in the game where I wasn’t totally sure what the Transistor was saying. It could be just me, but I would suggest either turning the volume up to make sure you don’t miss any important plot details or turning on the subtitles.
As for the story itself, I liked it overall and all the voice actors in the game delivered good performances, but the story seemed a little too vague at times, one of the plot twists fell flat for me, and most notably the pacing could have used some work. Transistor’s story builds slowly for several hours but then everything suddenly comes together real fast and you find yourself close to the end of the game. It feels like there should have been one or two more hours of plot development before Red heads off for the final act of the game.
The visuals and audio of Transistor, on the other hand, are excellent. Cloudbank is a beautifully realized city full of color and designs that remind me a bit of the futuristic Art Deco style of the 1920s. The character art for Red and all the other characters are likewise expertly drawn and expressive. A strong musical score compliments the game’s graphics and the sound effects are also good, particularly in battle where you can feel the power behind the Transistor as Red wields it to strike down the various types of Process machines she encounters.
Gameplay in Transistor utilizes an isometric camera and is broken into two main elements with one being Red running around and interacting with the environment and the other being combat against the Process. Combat in Transistor is done both in real time and in a pseudo turn-based system that feels like a cross between XCOM and the ATB system of more recent Final Fantasy games. When Red goes into battle you can activate a turn that stops time and allows you to reposition Red and use the functions she has equipped to the Transistor. A gauge at the top of the screen dictates how many actions Red can take, with different Transistor functions consuming different amounts of the gauge. Once Red’s moves are plotted out she will execute them at high speed and then you have to play in real time until the gauge refills, so when planning your turn it’s important to make sure your final action doesn’t leave Red in a bad spot. If you want, you can theoretically play Transistor entirely in real time, but not using the turn-based combat puts you at a major disadvantage, particularly once you start running into upgraded Process. You’ll also be missing out on the sheer depth of Transistor’s battle system. Transistor only teaches you the very basics of combat, so it’s up to you to figure out how to excel, but with a bit of thought and some experimentation with the Transistor’s various functions you can turn Red into a master of the battlefield. As a nice bonus, each Transistor function has lore to it, telling the story of another denizen of Cloudbank. To unlock each part of the story of these characters you have to equip their corresponding function in different ways, which encourages players to mix things up and try different combinations of functions.
All that said, as deep and novel as Transistor’s combat is, I do have to state that I was starting to get tired of it towards the end of the game, which for most players will take about 6 to 8 hours to reach. I don’t know what it was, but as I was closing in on the final section I just wanted the combat encounters to stop, even though I had gotten really good at fighting and had a powerful Transistor setup. This of course was just my personal experience and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m the minority opinion in this regard.
On a more positive note I can say that Transistors runs very smoothly and I encountered no technical issues aside from two crashes that might have been just a problem with my PlayStation 4 and not the game itself. Both of the crashes happened within an hour of each other but after I restarted my PlayStation 4 the game worked superbly through to the end.
Transistor also has a bunch of small but nice touches that improve the overall experience. Though she can no longer speak or sing, Red can stop and hum a soothing tune and I like the way she drags the Transistor on the ground behind her, creating a trail of sparks wherever she roams. At several points in the game you can also visit a training area where you can test your skills and practice combat without fear of death.
Though I had some scattered issues with Transistor and didn’t like it quite as much as Supergiant’s previous game Bastion, Transistor is still a good game and a worthy member of the Supergiant family. Overall, I’m going to score Transistor at an 8.0 out of 10. If you like action RPGs and want to play one with an interesting story, great visuals, and novel combat mechanics then Transistor should be right up your alley.
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