Transistor review: Breathtaking
Transistor is a process. Like the main character, Red, it gets stronger the further into the game you go. Supergiant's follow-up to Bastion has a Matrix / Blade Runner vibe to it. It's the perfect combinations of strategy, depth, action, aesthetics, voice acting, story, and music. Also, like Red, the game is breathtaking.
Transistor appears to have a straightforward story, but it's anything but. You could trivialize it by saying Red is getting revenge on a secret group attacking the city that stole her voice and killed her lover, who's now inside a sword-like weapon / key to everything called the Transistor. But there's so much more to it, and you can debate almost every little thing in there. The story is delivered through the narrator -- Red's unnamed lover. Voiced by Logan Cunningham -- who also was the narrator in Bastion -- he talks to Red and is like a slow drip of information and emotion to the player. Other information comes via consoles where you learn about the city you're in and the people running it. Through questionnaires and responses, this is also how Red can communicate with her lover inside the Transistor.
While you learn more and more about the story, you'll be captivated by the visuals, soundtrack and voice acting. Let me start by saying that all three are phenomenal. The visuals are vibrant and feel water-colored. The city of Cloudbank is a digital dystopia of paint that comes to life, looking like a more jazzy shoot-off of Blade Runner -- without all the rain and cigarettes. The soundtrack is the best I've ever heard in a game. It's one that can be listened to on its own, and I've had it playing throughout most of my work day. Ashley Barrett's vocals are captivating; even her humming draws you in. While Darren Korb's music is worthy of awards. Then there's the voice acting. Cunningham is top-notch, again, but it's the other characters that you talk to briefly that really stand out. Royce, a member of the Camerata, particularly stands out. He's creepy and has a J.S. Sebastian-like quality to him.
Then there's the combat, which on the surface might not look like much, but has a surprising amount of strategy and depth. You'll equip four functions -- abilities that you acquire from other deceased citizens of Cloudbank. Each function can serve one of three roles though: it can be a main function ability, like an attack; it can add a bonus effect onto an equipped function; or it can give you a passive effect. Mix and match to your heart's delight, as you'll discover new combinations that'll suit your style. But be careful: each function costs a certain amount of energy, and you only have a certain allotment. You can use these function on their own, aiming them and hacking away, but you won't last long that way. You'll need to utilize a planning mode called Turn.
Turn pauses time and lets you plot out your movements and attacks. Each function takes an amount of your turn phase, so you'll have to be strategic when planning what you need to do. Keep in mind that after a turn, there's like a five second delay before you can use your functions again. Turns are what make combat so enjoyable. Enemies are really tough, and if they defeat you, you'll lose a function for a couple of battles, and adjustment will be forced on you. So a stun and breach, and then running to cover might be the best choice for a certain turn.
The combat saves its best for the last fight of the game. It's a completely different tactic at play, and it caught me off-guard, but boy, was it a blast. The only problem was that it was so good that it made me wish there were other battles like that in the game. It made the luster on all those prior battles dull a bit. I don't know if that means it's just a really awesome boss fight, or that they should've included fights like that throughout the game. I'm torn a bit.
Once you beat the game, and experience the ending that had my arms covered in goosebumps, you'll have the option of playing New Game Plus. You take all of your progress and functions that you've already earned into New Game Plus. The difference is that the fights are different and tougher. The game is kept interesting because you really don't know what combination of enemies and abilities to expect. Want things to be even tougher for both playthroughs? Equip Limiters, which you'll unlock throughout the game. They hamper your strength or make enemies tougher in exchange for bonus experience.
Transistor only took me about five hours to beat the first go-around, but it was one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences I've ever had. It's an artful take on a sci-fi RPG that's hard to match. When all is said and done, it's a perfect combination of gaming elements done right that you'll want to play again, all the while debating the realities of Cloudbank, its citizens and the Transistor.