Uniting both action RPG mechanics and an engrossing world, Transistor isn’t just a spiritual successor to Bastion, it’s a full blown messianic triumph of beautiful art and sublime game design. Supergiant Games have exceeded their previous work with a game that marries fluent action RPG combat with sublime tactical planning & customisation. Yet that would be just half of Transistor's charm as the world, characters and narrative unfolds like an origami swan, leaving you to marvel at its gorgeous art design, intricate architecture and unique atmosphere.
The story begins with you, Red, claiming the Transistor from the body of a dead man. From there you begin to uncover the city of Cloudbank, why everyone has gone and what The Process is - sentient machine aggressors within this fallen Rapture. That reference is deliberate as there’s a little touch of Bioshock within Transistor - a fallen city, the mystery of its unravelling and tragedy yours to discover if you’re willing to put in the work to unlock its true secrets. This is made all the more acute by how Transistor welcomes you into its world with no fanfare, no menu screen. Just a fade from black opening up on your journey with the Transistor, voiced by the rich tones of Logan Cunningham, against The Process and their mysterious overlords - The Camarata.
To say any more would spoil the joy of discovering the details for yourself. Supergiant ames had deliberately kept details of Transistor to a minimum until release and it’s thanks to this blackout that’s made discovering the games systems, people and places a genuine joy.
It’s difficult to review Transistor without referencing Supergiant Games previous work - Bastion. That’s because its influences are plain to see with the same isometric-style viewpoint, similar art-style and even the same narrator. While those similarities may appear as merely iterative steps on paper for Transistor, they are in practice the opposite. The art style has evolved to be not just gorgeous, moody and atmospheric, it now conveys the spirit of Cloudbank without ever explicitly showing it in such a way that you feel part of that city, not just an observer with a controller.
Combat is real time action-RPG based with four main skills available at one time. You can freeze the action once your Turn() bar has filled at any time and then plan out your attacks methodically. Once done you can unfreeze the game and Red will perform her balletic combat attacks with the Transistor. This appears at first to just be a cool looking feature to break up combat scenarios but very soon it becomes essential to besting The Process.
In this frozen state you can see the damage you are likely to cause, the effect different attacks can have in combination with each other and use it to quickly get behind enemies to deliver backstab moves. There’s nothing quite like positioning yourself correctly, freezing time and then delivering a quick series of moves to destroy everything. I’m not especially clever but by Jove, Transistor made me feel like a combat genius.
As the story progresses you’ll acquire more skills and this is where the combat evolves from those mechanics set down originally by Bastion. Instead of just swapping out skills when you want a change, every skill can be slotted into a secondary or tertiary upgrade slot to augment an already installed ability.
For instance, the basic attack move you start with is Crash(). You can then modify it with a skill like Bounce() which will chain attacks to multiple targets. Or with Cull() that sends enemies into the air. Or you could use either of those modifiers as one of the four main abilities. Cull(), a basic uppercut move and Bounce(), a skill that sends out pulses of energy.
This enables you to define the combat system in any way you want it. Like aggressive frontal-assault tactics or stealthy concealment? Perhaps turning a few enemies on to your side floats your boat? Or maybe just a blend of different styles? Transistor allows you to do what you like with this combat system rather than force you down a particular road.
The only restriction is if your health is reduced to zero in combat. Instead of death, one of your abilities is overloaded and will require at least two trips to an access point in order to recover. Then there are the Limiters - status effects that reduce your capability in combat but with the rewards of increased experience. As you can tell, what appears as a simple combat system in the beginning soon evolves into a complex and involving way to deal with The Process.
The way that combat is combined with the narrative is just as intriguing. As you use these new abilities in different ways or combinations it unlocks more about the person you acquired them from in the first place. Slowly the pieces of this mysterious world start to come together as you become more adept at combat. It encourages creativity and a deeper understanding of the mechanics you're working with on order to unlock the secrets of Cloudbank.
But It’s not all dark alleyways and moody lighting as you’ll have access to a ‘backdoor’ - a safe haven separated from the unrelenting assimilation of the Process. This serves as a menu to access the different challenge rooms Transistor offers. Here you can test and refine your combat skills and increase your level. Or you can just kick back and listen to the ridiculously awesome soundtrack while lounging in a hammock.
This densely packed experience is made up of small touches like that. From the way Red drags around the weighty Transistor, to how she combs her hair with her fingertips when admiring a view, with the best of all being her ability, at the touch of a button, to hum along to the excellent soundtrack.
Before playing I didn’t expect to be fully enraptured by Transistor, thinking the spectre of Bastion would haunt the experience too much. But neither did I expect Transistor to take that formula and evolve it into something so sublime and handcrafted that tears would roll down my cheek as the credits rolled. From its combat mechanics and customisation, to the narrative and the visually appealing art-style, this is an experience to be savoured, to lock yourself away in the confines of your gaming boudoir and revel in its luxurious design and perfection.
Highly Recommended - MUST PLAY - 10/10
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