“This game is going to win indie ‘Game of the Year’ on PS4.”
The above sentence is what I typed to Tashaun (the other writer on this site) when I finished Transistor. Back in May, I wrote about Transistor’s soundtrack and gushed about the awesomeness of the music. I actually downloaded a copy of the soundtrack so I could play it on my HTC One. After completion, I hold the game in an even higher estimation than I did the soundtrack. In so many words, if you like RPGs, you need to buy this game. If you like action-RPGs, you need to buy this game. If you like indie titles, you need to buy this game. If you like esoteric, artistic, bite-sized chunks of gameplay, you need to buy this game. Now that I’m done hyping it, let’s dig into why the game works so well.
Transistor stars Red, who through some events that will be explained throughout the playthrough, has lost her voice and is now dragging a Final Fantasy VII sized sword (called a transistor) across the beautiful city of Cloudbank. Her (and by proxy, your) objective? Find out what happened to Cloudbank, find out why she lost her voice, and more importantly, discover whose voice is constantly talking from the sword. Yes. There’s a talking sword. More on that in a minute.
Transistor starts Red off in the middle of all this mess and during the course of the next several hours, the player is introduced to numerous characters including the antagonists of the story, the Camerata. Much of the story is told via text terminals and narration from the transistor. Since the Supergiants’ creation is an indie one, you won’t find much by the way of cut-scenes, but this actually works to the benefit of the game itself. Transistor is RIFE with story elements that players have to seek out to discover.
Each power the transistor uses is based on a character from the game. The more you use the power and level up, the more of the story is revealed. There are 16 powers in all, which all come complete with backstories from the characters they’ve drawn their power from and each lends a bit more to the overall narrative. If it sounds tedious, trust me, it’s not. It ends up being a great way of putting a story in the game without it actually getting in the way of the action.
And the action? Beautifully done. Transistor is a hybrid of turn-based and real-time combat. You can feel free to engage the game fully in either one. If you opt for turn-based combat, you will have a short cooldown time between the next time you can use any available powers. This might sound like a downer, but again, it’s not. Using all real-time combat might seem like the move to make, until you figure out that during the turn-based actions you can actually make combos if used in the right sequence. I found that mixing up the two made the gameplay varied and enjoyable, and the system was very responsive no matter which action I chose.
Also, any power can be combined with another power and there are 16 powers in total. That makes for roughly 256 or so combinations of powers and with the ability to combine up to 3 powers at a time…per face button…well…let’s just say mixing powers like a mad scientist is wholly feasible. Additionally, other passive slots open up to give even MORE options on what to do with your powers, as well as the option to use limiters, which make the game harder, but also increase rewards if used successfully during the game.
The graphics of Transistor make it one of the prettiest titles around, whether you’re discussing indie or AAA titles. But that’s not the draw. The music is the draw and it makes an already fantastic LOOKING game a pleasure to LISTEN to. Supergiant Games clearly knows the music is it’s strength, as you can press L1 to stop Red and let her hum along with the music. I’d be ashamed if I said how many times I just let my finger rest on L1 to hear Red hum along with the music. It cannot be overstated. Music is an integral part of this game and it shines through time and again. Everything from the story, to the graphics, to the gameplay works in conjunction with one another, making this the closest thing to gaming nirvana I’ve experienced since I bought my PS4 on launch day. The story is emotional and engrossing and the ending was so good, I might’ve let out a few tears (but my girlfriend was cutting onions at the time. So…)
The drawbacks here are minimal. I couldn’t find much to complain about, but I did see where players could have problems. For starters, a game with this much experimentation can leave room for mistakes. Because you’re given so much control over how to combine your powers, it’s entirely possible to create functions that do nothing and not be sure how that came to pass. Also, because much of the story is out of the way and based on the use of powers, there’s a chance players could miss out on things that will fill in the blanks, story wise. It isn’t a hard game to follow, but the story isn’t exactly a straight line, so to speak. There are multiple ways to interpret some of the actions of the characters, but a diligent player who checks of all the boxes will still come away satisfied at what’s there. The problem is, everyone isn’t a diligent player. That’s not a knock against it though, that’s just something to be mindful of.
In conclusion, I fully expect Transistor to be near the top of indie gaming’s best by the end of the year and would be shocked if it didn’t win any awards. It’s beautiful, the soundtrack is awesome, the gameplay is magnificent and it’s just an overall great game. For kickers, there’s even a “New Game+” mode, called “Recursion,” which lets you start the game all over with all your powers and levels intact. I’m currently on my second playthrough and it’s, amazingly, more enjoyable than the first. I fully recommend this title if you’re into this genre. You will not be disappointed.