I have to admit I was a little sceptical regarding Transistor beforehand. I was intrigued sure and coming from Supergiant games, the creators of bastion I was all hyped up for another awesome game with an interesting narrative but I was worried that it would either be a far lesser game or worse, that it would be a rehash of the same experience. After hearing a few positive reports though I just had to pick it up, and I’m so glad I did.
If you’ve played Bastion before many things within Transistor will feel familiar. The world itself has that trademark style. The structure of the space has that corridor feel yet being open to the elements, while being designed of harder edges and a structured look. It has that fragile look, like the world is far more ephemeral than it should be with parts falling and melting away, changing and morphing to the situation. It’s also something that leaves you feeling exposed, someone alone and in danger from unknown forces.
The colours used create some wonderful spaces too and it’s amazing, as it was in Bastion. A range of colours from across the spectrum is used but in a more nuanced way that supports the overall design and blends together perfectly. It’s also the how the colours of the world at a particular point seem to mesh well with the underlying theme and emotional elements of a particular scene. Brazen and Bold colours when moving towards actions, muted and calm for moments of sadness and a huge range in between. To add to this is the music, that ranges as well depending on the mood of the scene which, incorporated with these other elements creates the entire experience
All this feels very familiar once more. It’s something they do so well with incorporating many different elements in design to create a unique and enthralling world. More than this though, the element that makes me envision their previous game is that feeling of mystique Its a world that exudes mystery. There are many elements that are completely unknown, wherein information regarding them is hidden or sprinkled up you in small amounts to reveal small parts that reveal yet more questions. It’s a world that feels familiar yet at times so very alien, and it’s amazing.
The similarities continue throughout in many other elements but there is always a new twist to them that creates a game and experience that stands apart in its own right, equal in many respects but also extending on the boundaries of what they already created.
The combat seems similar in the first instance, it is very action driven but is extended with many new strategic elements. It’s no longer about defeating hordes of enemies but a select few more complex scenarios. Each combat moment is designed more as a puzzle to overcome; to use the right skills and movement in order to beat it. An addition to this is the ability to queue turns together in a special attack phase letting you attack and move quicker but having a cooldown from skills afterwards. It creates this mixed feeling in combat wherein you are taking care of the basics in real-time and then executing more focused attacks on key targets in between. It feels like a mix between an action combat system and a JRPG.
You have an incredible amount of options within the combat as well and there is probably a style there for everyone to enjoy. Throughout the game you continually gain access to new skills, absorbed from the fallen citizens that each have an active, morph or passive ability to choose from. You can slot any skill on which will serve as the foundation and then add skills onto it to make it more powerful or change how it functions. There is an incredible range here from someone focused on pets, to huge explosive effects, stealth based play and many more.
It added an interesting element as you are constantly improving skills in unique ways, creating a stronger focus in a particular direction. There is a consequence to play here though: whenever you are defeated in combat you are locked out of a random main skill on your bar for a few turns. This leads you to be more experimental in your play as you are encouraged to switch around abilities to fill in deficiencies and through this experimentation may find more powerful combinations.
To add to this is what called Limiters a function that enables the player to alter the level of difficulty in order to gain more rewards. These add an incredible amount of flexibility to the experience, and with the ability to replay after the first go, with the same skills and even more customisation I see the combat having great replayability.
The last part that keeps me transfixed is the characters and story. The fact that I could feel so connected and emotionally moved by a mute protagonist and a talking sword is a testament to their story telling ability. The Transistor, a technical marvel that takes on the consciousness of others take on the place of the narrator for this escapade but it feels far more personal. The way in which he talks, whispers and unveils the world around denotes a strong connection there. It is some truly brilliant voice work; a tone that waxes and wanes depending on the situation and that exudes warmth towards Red but also deep concern for her safety. In times, where the processes were disrupting this connection I would honestly feel concerned for them both, they provided safety and comfort towards each other.
Even with minimal knowledge and information about the main character red, you get a sense of who she is. Someone devoted, dealing with loss and a deep sense of perseverance. Just the way she carries the transistor, that sword throughout the levels as it drags along behind her shows incredible determination. There are so many simple moments here too, a painted backdrop and a simple monologue from another, or even just a lilting tune in a quiet moment and you almost understand her personality, who she is and the what drives her onwards.
The dynamic between Red and the Camerata group, a group wanting to change the world in some fundamental ways continues to grow and evolve throughout your explorations. At first they form the main enemy group, your anger focused on them but as the situation changes and you begin to understand their own particular motivations as well. They each have their own reasons behind it, in part products of naivety and betrayal.It something that leaves no clear enemy behind it, just people who have their own motives and that of an ai program just following orders. It is an interesting tale in itself that keeps you wanting to learn more and unveil the many hidden motives beyond it all.
Overall it’s an excellent game with each individual element near being perfect, integrating well into the game in order to improve and enhance on a wonderful theme all with an enjoyable, and strategic combat system. And wow is it pretty.