Transistor, Supergiant Games’ second effort, pits players as Red, a singer who has lost her voice in what is referred to as “The Process”. Gameplay implores a chess-like style of planning and strategizing in a time-frozen field where actions require energy that depletes as you work your way through the enemies. Transistor’s story, like Supergiant’s first game, Bastion, is revealed through a combination of vocal narration and environmental info-dumps.
It has been difficult to reflect upon Transistor without considering Bastion. Both have voiceless protagonists (although Red, hero of Transistor, is more literally voiceless than Bastion’s The Kid), each use the same voice actor to move an otherwise mysterious narrative along and both focus on isometric perspective action. Transistor’s combat plays like a more patient Bastion, forcing the players to think about their actions before execution. While this can be satisfying and innovative, I enjoyed the immediacy of Bastion’s combat more so than the chess-like strategy of Transistor. You can attack with one-to-one combat in Transistor, but frustration will overwhelm you, forcing you to use the time-freezing mechanics.
Upgrading and switching abilities in-and-out adds an interesting level of depth. I quickly found the “right” set that felt comfortable for me. Whenever I lost an ability (the game’s way of delaying death), I felt properly disadvantaged, meaning that there isn’t one ability that breaks the game’s difficulty curve. Players will need to utilize and mix several abilities, and most of them feel worthwhile, if not necessary.
At any point in the game, Red can hum to the main melody with a push of a button. To me, this encourages players to take a moment and reflect upon the lush environment design. While the game took me about 6 hours to complete, I tried to let the world consume me for a while. This might be my main problem with the game: I tried to find a level of depth where there might not be any. The story is essentially a love narrative (between Red and whoever’s stuck within the Transistor), but I was a little disappointed by how little they revealed about the world.
Frequent terminals show up in each area, and the information they give range from popularity polls to direct communication from the villains. These terminals essentially act as audiologs featured in other games: Secondary information that, if chosen to be uncovered, reveal a lot about the universe. They end up being the most revealing feature of the game, and this for me was simply weak storytelling. I wanted to know as much as possible about Transistor’s world, but the game kept hiding its hand from me. The balance of effective storytelling doesn’t matter when what they force you to focus on (i.e. a love story) isn’t all that interesting.
However, Transistor is slick. It has the finest art style I’ve seen in sometime, a fantastic soundtrack, and playing it is really fun and engaging. I just wish I could care more about the story as much as I hoped to. Fans of Bastion probably already know of Transistor’s existence and how it functions so similarly, but I still do recommend playing it, if not merely for its great artwork.
drowning in droplets of sound
Happy birthday, Ryan.
I still miss this son of a bitch
Giant Bomb - Terms of Service
Finally got around to watching the Giant Bomb PAX 2013 Royal Rumble, and while it is fantastic, I thought the actual best part was the signs the audience was holding up.