(PlayStation 4)

Transistor (PlayStation 4)

Game Review

Transistor Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Kell Andersen

Bastion of brilliance

Supergiant Games' first effort Bastion is the quintessential indie: a relatively niche game that won over hearts and minds with its good looks and slick shooting. Now along comes Transistor, the studio's sophomore effort, and a game that, upon first glance, seems remarkably similar to its popular progenitor. However, this cyberpunk odyssey does a lot to differentiate itself from its forebear. But does it manage to live up to its impressive pedigree, or should it be relegated to the trash heap?

The city of Cloudbank may be beautiful, but it’s definitely not a place that you’d actually want to live. Polls and surveys dominate every decision that takes place in this futuristic utopia, with everything from the colour of the sky to the weather being determined by popular consensus. That is until the Camerata, a group of stalwart revolutionaries, decide to take a jackbooted approach to bringing about change.

Red, a famous singer, steals this violent organisation’s secret weapon, a mysterious blade known as the Transistor. Obviously, the Camerata don’t take too kindly to her actions, and swiftly thwart her plans. What’s more, the insurgents steal her voice and murder her accomplice, sealing him for eternity in the nebulous weapon. This leaves her with but one option: confront this deadly group of social subversives and find a way to save her enigmatic companion.

All the while, the city around her is literally and ideologically crumbling, as its perfectly pedicured streets begin to buckle under the pressure of their populist pretence. However, amid the rambling histrionics and destructive bluster lies a truly poignant love story. And it’s this delicate thread that will remain with you long after you complete the game.

Perhaps most impressive of all, though, is the way in which this narrative is delivered; Supergiant opts for a subtle approach that favours ambiguity and world-building over needless exposition. Information is drip-fed to you through civilian computers, scant audio logs, and the developer’s signature style of narration.

From a gameplay perspective, this cyberpunk outing initially looks an awful lot like a standard isometric brawler. You’re faced with increasingly volatile hordes of enemies which you must conquer using a progressively stronger set of powers. Each of these abilities can either be used in an active, upgrade, or passive slot. Active abilities allow you to perform attacks and buffs during battle, upgrades enhance your active abilities, and passives give you permanent stat increases.

Crucially, though, you can only have access to four active powers at once, forcing you to prudently select your loadout for each scenario. Furthermore, if you find that the title isn’t challenging enough, it features a neat little mechanic that allows you to ramp up the difficulty in exchange for experience bonuses and extra flavour text.

However, layered atop these classic tropes is the game’s most interesting and important mechanic: the titular blade’s time stopping capabilities. Among other things, your trusty weapon allows you to pause the action indefinitely, in order to plan out a series of commands. These orders will then quickly play out in rapid succession, hopefully waylaying your opponents and giving you enough time to survive the ensuing cool-down.

This unique system gives the combat a satisfying ebb and flow. It also means that battles play out in a manner more comparable to a puzzle game than a brawler. Quick reflexes and a steady hand are definitely important, but a carefully calculated strategy will always be more successful.

Despite this, the title never feels needlessly complex or obtuse. Each individual concept is relatively simple, but the depth of gameplay comes from the clever ways in which they interact. You might use an attack that pulls an enemy towards you, and then take advantage of their new position to line up a long range blow that destroys several other foes at the same time. Or, you might distract your enemies, allowing a summoned companion to quickly dart round and backstab them. The possibilities may not actually be endless, but they certainly feel like it.

Perhaps the only complaint here is that the game doesn’t always give you enough feedback when you’re taking damage, which can get a little confusing in the more cluttered battles. It’s a minor gripe, but something that stands out in an otherwise well polished experience.

Nowhere is this polish more evident than in the game’s visuals, which demonstrate a staggering attention to detail. Every stark city vista, every lavishly furnished penthouse, and every majestic and mechanical street is filled to bursting point with exquisite colour and life. This is a truly beautiful game, with a hand drawn aesthetic that is at turns spellbinding and utterly chilling.

And as if the title’s painterly and picturesque panoramas weren’t enough, they’re also backed by an absolutely astonishing score. Deftly switching between heart wrenching electronic ballads and disconcerting elevator muzak, the soundtrack strikes a flawless balance between melancholy and moving, and works in perfect harmony with the onscreen action. What’s more, at the press of a button, you can have Red hum along to the music, providing even more texture to the haunting melodies.

Conclusion

Transistor is an absolute triumph: a stunning sensory experience that buoys its lofty ambitions on a rock solid strategic core. It spins a tale of love, technology, and political and social unrest that speeds confidently towards a magnificent crescendo. What’s more, the razor sharp combat remains thrilling throughout, and the visuals and music display an almost superhuman level of polish. While niggling complaints can certainly be levelled at the gorgeous indie, a trip to Cloudbank comes highly recommended.

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User Comments (25)

Davros79

#1

Davros79 said:

Good read!! One question though, I personally cannot stand "turn based" combat!! Does the combat in transistor have that turn based feel to it?

get2sammybAdmin

#2

get2sammyb said:

Fantastic review, Kell. I've been listening to the music in the launch trailer on loop all day. Tomorrow can't come soon enough.

k_andersenStaff

#3

k_andersen said:

@Davros79 Thank you! In terms of the combat, it's a little difficult to describe. It feels a lot more fluid than a standard tactical RPG like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics, but it's certainly not as fast paced as Bastion. I would say watch a gameplay video from early in the game, and that should give you a fairly good idea of wether or not it'll appeal to you.

Gamer83

#5

Gamer83 said:

Have a couple purchases over the next week that I need to make first but this one is on my list. The setting seems awesome and I'm fan of these cyberpunk kind of games.

adf86

#7

adf86 said:

This is must buy for me, I just wish Bastion was ported over to playstation as well.

banacheck

#8

banacheck said:

@Davros79
It's not a turn-based game it's a real time ARPG with a planning mode that gives you a slight edge over your opponents, you can fight in real time or with the planning mode that freezes the enemies then you can plan out your moves to take out the enemies obviously at a cost, being vulnerable for a few seconds.

Reverend_Skeeve

#9

Reverend_Skeeve said:

@k_andersen In danger of sounding like the others: fantastic review, Dude. I absolutely love that art style and the music from the trailers...this review only confirms a day-1 purchase for me, if only to support the developers. :)

Tomorrow can't indeed come soon enough.

SecondServing

#10

SecondServing said:

Damn, this game's soundtrack sounds sssoooo good. Always a plus. If I had a PS4, I'd buy this game day one.

gbanas92Staff

#11

gbanas92 said:

Whew, I'm glad my excitement for this game seems to have been justified! Great review Kell!

BL_Donth

#12

BL_Donth said:

It's either this or Wolfenstein but I plan on waiting for this site's review of the latter before I decide. Leaning towards Transistor at the moment thanks to this awesome review.

KALofKRYPTON

#13

KALofKRYPTON said:

That second to last paragraph sold me. Love a good score.
I'll give this a look after I'm done with Wolfenstein.

Bad-MuthaAdebisi

#16

Bad-MuthaAdebisi said:

I may give it a go. Its intrigued me but Ill probably wait and see if it gets a vita port like child of light.

Gemuarto

#18

Gemuarto said:

Humans, don't buy this. This is the most awful ARPG I've ever played. It's like super ultra s*** created by Doctor Evil. I bought it and want my money back. Because it's absolute mindless crap. It's like everything in Transistor was made by super stupid idiot hipster. I play games to have fun. And not to listen to stupid never shut up sword. And look at monotonus boring levels and enemies, And battle system is absolute s***, if you compare it to anything that we can call ARPG. Only music is decent, but not always. Even NES version of Ys 1 is better than this.

TasukiStaff

#20

Tasuki said:

Lol I agree with @JaxonH. Sadly I am low on money this month so I am going to have to wait to pick this one up.

Davros79

#21

Davros79 said:

@Gemuarto Hmmmmm . Was on the brink of downloading it today...But I've heard a few people (on various forums) less than impressed with the game. Might give it a miss.

Gemuarto

#22

Gemuarto said:

@Reverend_Skeeve Yeah... But really. It is pretty amature game with a lot of flaws. Boring storytelling, bland uninteractive backgrounds and dumb battle system =). And that always talking sword, who comments everything. Meh... And it feels like he is sexually obsessed with Red and commands her at the same time. And like he is very fond of his own voice. Why not make him speak less, but tell more meaningful things?

ztpayne7

#23

ztpayne7 said:

@Gemuarto I think he means it's hard to take you as a credible source when you're always just bashing everything. I looked back at your most recent comments and it's like "far cry 3 was broken, buy far cry 4 and you're stupid", "ps3 was the worst system ever", and "if you like persona 4, you're a noob". I understand it's your opinion, but it doesn't sound like anything pleases you.

Myself, the game looks different, and I'm not sure if it's a good different. But with how many people love this and bastion, I'm sure I'll give it a try at some point!

Reverend_Skeeve

#24

Reverend_Skeeve said:

@ztpayne7 Ayup, ye got me.

@Gemuarto Just feedback, but I'm a daily reader on this site and sorry, but most of your comments are you complaining about stuff in a mostly not very constructive way. It seems that every time I read a comment of yours, it's negative. I know that not all of your comments are negative and/or complaining, but the negative ones are so plenty that by now when I read "Gemuarto" in the comment section, I think to myself: "Oh well, here we go again. Another rant by Gemuarto." and most of the time that's what indeed follows.

So yes, I have problems to see you as a credible source/critic of anything.

I respect your opinion, but maybe you should consider your attitude, because judging by your comments, you come across as a quite negative person.

I got Transistor and I find the backgrounds beautiful. Can't say much about the battle system because I haven't played it that long, but from what I glimpsed so far, I find it interesting and it seems to have a lot of potential for deep tactics.

Gemuarto

#25

Gemuarto said:

@Davros79 @ztpayne7 @Reverend_Skeeve Hey, guys, I beat da game. And must tell, that I was wrong. It is pretty good. Not as good as Thomas was Alone. imo, but somewhere near. I was irritated by it, because I was waiting for cool ARPG. But this game is pure TRPG wihere you need defence yourself in real time. And not exactly TRPG, but another virtual trip, as I call them. I mean, I beat it using only 2 attacks combining with very simple tactics. But as virtual trip Transistor is really good and enjoyable and have pretty cute narrative.

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