It’s been awhile since I put up a review, due to how I was preoccupied with Neptunia for far longer than I should have, was indecisive about what game I wanted to play next, and had work related shenanigans on top of trying to get a novella’s pre-production done, but that’s a story for another post. Transistor seemed the most appealing, even though I was pretty indifferent towards Bastion, to the point where I barely remember the title, but I don’t think that will be the case with Transistor.
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS4, Mac, Linux
Developer/Publisher: Supergiant Games
Well, I say that right before getting into the storyline, which I actually found a bit vague and hard to follow beyond the most basic of concepts. Yes, it is clear that you are playing as a famous singer by the name of Red, who was attacked by an organization named the Camerata, a group of individuals who desire to use something known as the Process to destroy the futuristic city of Cloudbank, and store the greatest minds of Cloudbank inside of the titular Transistor, which can be used to rebuild the already semi-utopian looking city into something better. However, my understanding of what exactly Cloudbank, the Process, and even the Transistor are was pretty minimal. It’s possible that I missed the details by going through unlockable bits of backstory, but it struck me as a critical component of the story that was never fully explained.
Granted, when looking at the proper story of Transistor, it is easy to say that it’s just two people running away from a city that is being rapidly destroyed while one of them offers commentary about what they are seeing, and the actions of his partner. As I would have expected from the studio, the writing is very natural and is the voice actor of the Transistor does a lovely job at bringing his character to life, but the writing itself for the dialog often came across as if the character were plainly speaking and was not following any sort of script. That could be viewed as a compliment, but it results in very few of his lines ever holding much weight, as the writing chops appear to have been kept in text form as shown by a series of terminals that Red may interact with, leaving comments that display her personality and are probably my favorite part of the game as she very often writes her comment three times per post.
Around the time of its release, I saw quite a bit of comparison to the scientifically misguided PS1 classic Parasite Eve, but after watching an, as of writing this, unfinished Let’s Play of the game, I could not help but feel that is something of a massive simplification. The mix of maneuvering and dodging enemy attacks before your turn gradually builds up are just about the only aspects that are shared between the two. Instead, Transistor mostly focuses on maneuvering around enemies in order to best organize them in order to form a combo out of four customizable attacks, defeating them, and trying to not be assaulted by the often very aggressive enemy forces.
Well, I say aggressive, but Transistor was actually about as hard as I could make it for a first-time run, as it includes a variety of experience boosting restrictions, enemy buffs, or character debuffs. However, I felt that these actually added quite a bit to the game, as there is so much more to manage when you must attack and pick up enemy residue in order to prevent them from respawning, and could lose one of your four attacks in a matter of three seconds because of the halved health bar. It did, however, put something of a damper on how much I was willing to experiment in combat, as once I found out how well using three debuffs on an enemy, backstabbing, and then using an electric area of effect move that had a slow and lingering damage based ability attached to it, I was more or less set for the last hour and a half of the game.
Not that the level of experimentation you can do with all of the abilities is anything but huge, helped by how you gradually learn new abilities with every level. Even then, you do have quite a bit to manage and maintain whenever new abilities are gained, as your slots and quantity are limited, and it’s easy to dismiss a new ability because it did not work well in one fight, or does not seem as useful as others. I also do assume that the fact that you lose abilities upon your health depleting is a way to encourage experimentation even more, but I viewed it more as encouragement to keep to what you know works, and if things don’t go well, the game kindly lets you load your last save, which is often thirty seconds before an enemy encounter.
While I am certain that somebody better versed in this sort of thing than myself could pinpoint the artistic influences of Transistor, it’s nothing short of a wonderful looking game. It’s slick well designed futuristic art style alone allows it to stand out in just about any crowd it’s placed in, and the level of detail placed in the painterly backgrounds only adds to the title’s beauty. Although, I must admit I was not too keen on the effects used for many attacks, as they often blurred the screen, which I am simply not a fan of in any form that I can think of. And for as much as I do enjoy having a wide camera, I really do wish that there was some way to zoom in on the game and get a closer look at Red and the enemies’ animations in addition to the world itself. Even though, given how clean and slick its UI is and how well it gels with the world, I can assume this is trying to represent a form of disruption in its reality as caused by the Transistor.
Transistor is the sort of game I really dislike writing reviews for, as while I do have some gripes to explain and areas I would like to praise, I ultimately feel as if I did a bad job at taking in its world and the experience as a whole. It’s certainly not bad by any means, and I found it to be quite enjoyable and would warrant a second playthrough if I happened to have more free time for games, but unfortunately my thoughts on the game are best summarized by “eh, it was pretty good”.
Not the best of its class, but ultimately a good game that may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but proves to be enjoyable despite some difficult to ignore issues.