I did not enjoy this game. I was so looking forward to it, but it was a disappointment. Even if I cannot convince you that you should not buy this game, at least this review may lower your expectations in a good way.
First off, I must concede that the art is lovely and I enjoyed the music in the game. Everything else was problematic.
The plot moves very slowly, keeping the mystery until pretty much at the end, but the final reveal does not explain or justify the events of the game.
The in-game UI is overwhelming when you first get to use it. The attack and moding system is not obvious, and the UI does nothing to help explain how abilities works or how to configure them. Even worse, they use a lot of contemporary computer terms but with different meanings, so their terminology can be disorienting. There are a couple of times early in the game that force the UI open and require you to fiddle with stuff before you can continue, but they don't explain what you have to do.
I need to explain a core combat feature before my critique will make sense. The main character has two modes of fighting: real-time and pre-planned. In the real-time combat, your character is at an extreme disadvantage. Enemies move faster than you, have greater reach than you, and they definitely overwhelm you with numbers. Most of your attacks have a short range. In the pre-planned combat system, you pause the action and plan out one or a series of attacks. After the plan is activated, it is carried out automatically in real-time, but your character moves much faster to let you accomplish things that you couldn't in real-time. Also, all of your attacks do more damage in pre-planned combat and/or activate new combined effects.
Pre-planned combat is clearly superior to real-time, so the game limits it. Each action or movement in the pre-planned system uses up resources on a special meter that refills over time when you are back to the real-time. If you don't have enough of the special meter, then you cannot pause time or use the pre-planned combat. This is where you get into trouble.
Planning combat attacks when combat is paused gives you feedback about how much damage each attack will do and whether it will be enough to eliminate an enemy, yet it is often wrong. Enemies that choose to teleport themselves after being hit, bounce a random direction, or activate a defense are not reflected in the combat planning phase, so it is very easy to commit yourself to a big attack that uses up all of your special meter (leaving you defenseless for a period of time) which would have been OK if the enemies that you had planned to be defeated were defeated, but instead you end up dangerously close to enemies who punish you for believing the UI feedback.
One of the main features of the game is a large selection of acquired abilities that can be used as either attacks or as modifiers for other attacks. A big part of the user experience is mixing and matching of these abilities to find combinations you enjoy.
When fighting, if your health bar goes down to 0, instead of ending the fight, the game randomly removes one of your abilities and resets your health bar. If it goes down to 0 again, then you lose another ability, and so on until you lose your last ability and are forced to reset the fight from the beginning with all of your abilities restored.
If you survive a fight with abilities lost, then they stay lost until you can explore your way to the next single-use restore terminal. The game is extremely linear, so usually you can't backtrack and use a previously-skipped restore terminal. It may require you to limp along with fewer (or less preferable) abilities for several fights before you can get your abilities back.
At first, I thought this was an innovative way to force you to mix and match your abilities after fights, but very quickly I realized that this is just the game devs trolling you. Although every ability can be either an attack or a modifier to an attack, I found that many of them were useful only in a carefully balanced loadout of attacks and mods. The removal of a single random ability often cripples an entire loadout, and after combat there may not be a way to rearrange the remaining abilities into a useful combination.
The better option in most fights where you lose even a single ability is to let the game completely kill you. If you lose all of your abilities, then the fight resets to your previous state. So you either finish a fight with abilities missing and hate your new restrictions, or you just stand still and let the enemies hit you over and over again until you can restart the fight fresh. Neither option is fun.
An alternative would be to never allow yourself to lose an ability in the first place, but the game loves to give new enemies traits that you have never seen before and old enemies traits that they didn't have before, so I found myself constantly confused why my attacks didn't work and how enemies were doing things I had never seen before. These changes are made without any feedback or forewarning, resulting in lots of cheap deaths (or ability loss in this case). Variety is a good thing, but in a game where your character is so vulnerable unless you use your limited, time-stopping special ability, it is critical that you can accurately plan your attacks, and yet the planning system is inaccurate and intentionally hides information to misguide you.
Another way that I was tricked into overcommitting myself was when the game started adding multiple health bars to bosses. Normal enemies only have a single health bar, so after hours of re-enforcing that system, the game started adding multiple health bars to certain bosses. There's no tell that I could discover to know how many health bars an enemy has. This led me to commit all of my special meter into an attack that the planning system told me would defeat them, but instead left me standing right next to the very-much-not-defeated boss and unable to do anything for a period of time (long enough for me to lose another ability from the barrage of boss attacks).
I already mentioned the bad plot pacing above, but there are other pacing issues with the game.
This game has a narrator, like in the developer's previous game, Bastion. In Bastion, the narrator comments on what the main character does in present tense. It was a fresh idea, and got lots of praise. The developers must have felt that their next game needed to have a narrator too, but they really didn't know what to do with him.
In Transistor, the narrator really has nothing useful to say. The narrator doesn't comment on what's going on, but rather fills in a little history. If any of that history was entertaining, then it might have been worth having, but I did not enjoy it. The devs even created multiple, un-skippable sequences that show the main character riding a motorcycle for long periods of time with no gameplay just so that they could have a situation where the narrator could talk, and yet he had nothing interesting to say.
There are puzzles in the game, which could have been a great way to change the pace from the extremely linear exploration and frequent combat, but there were not enough of them to help the pacing much, and the mechanics of the puzzles blended into the environment art so well that I found them more confusing than anything else.
At least a couple of times I got my character stuck outside the playable space and had to reload the game.
Great art and music. Everything else is a mess.