I’m making progress in my attempt to get through my game backlog, and hopefully will be done or almost done before Steam’s summer sale arrives. The latest finished game is Transistor, developed and published by Supergiant Games and released on May 20, 2014. It is available on Playstation 4 and PC. It has garnered a lot of critical acclaim, and it is absolutely well deserved.
Transistor is an action RPG in which you play as Red, a singer in the cyberpunk city of Cloudbank. Red is attacked by the Camerata, a shadowy group who infects Cloudbank with a viral robotic army known as The Process. Red’s friend (or boyfriend, it isn’t made clear what their relationship was before his death) is killed defending her, impaled by a sword called the Transistor. Red’s voice is absorbed by the Transistor in the attack, and so is the dead man’s consciousness, who serves as the game’s narrator. He is never named, but I’ve seen fans refer to him as Mr. Nobody. Red and Nobody use the Transistor to fight The Process and to seek out the Camerata leaders.
Transistor earned a lot of praise for the sheer beauty of the game, and rightly so. It is GORGEOUS. Many games in the cyberpunk genre often depict a gritty, bleak future, often a dark city with the only colour coming from neon signs and ads. Cloudbank is a colourful city that draws on art deco inspiration. As the Process spreads, of course, Cloudbank becomes assimilated into a blank whiteness. I actually really love that design choice, often whiteness is presented as a modern, sleek choice, think 2009’s Star Trek, Space Odyssey, or even modern Mac products. Colour is often eschewed as tacky in decor, only meant to compliment whiteness. Even in Moby Dick, Melville felt it necessary to explain to the read why white can be a creepy colour even when it isn’t normally considered so in our culture. No, Transistor just goes with it, and seeing the colour of Cloudbank drained into bright whiteness is heartbreaking.
The soundtrack is beautiful as well, and if you’re picking up the game I’d also consider paying for the soundtrack, especially if there’s a deal on Steam. There’s an area in the game where you can play songs, and Supergiant Games have uploaded them on Youtube, but it’s a great way to support the devs and really, it’s quality music.
Now for the gameplay itself, at first, I found the combat system unintuitive and frustrating. One problem I had was pressing the space bar to plan a turn, and then the turn would start before I was finished planning it. I switched from keyboard to controller and never had that problem again, and combat seemed to flow better in general. I eventually looked up a few tutorials for combat, and things went much more smoothly after that.
I really started enjoying the gameplay once I found the Back Door practice areas. In the game, you pick up several attack programs that you can use on their own, or use them to modify other attacks. It wasn’t clear to me right away the best way to do this, but some of the trial runs force you to use certain attacks and combinations that I would not necessarily have thought to use in the actual game. The trial runs are absolutely optional, but I really recommend going through them. I had a blast experimenting and frequently changed up my tactics. Sometimes I get really bored with combat systems; sometimes I even forget that I can enjoy combat and just say that I enjoy games for the stories rather than gameplay, but Transistor’s combat was really fun and creative for me, and it was a little hard going back to more standard combat systems after playing it.
My only criticism was that the plot was hard to follow. I’m still not exactly clear as to why the Camerata used The Process or why they tried to kill Red. Slight spoiler, but they seemed to believe The Process was going to be a good thing and it backfired on them, but where the assassinations fit into that I’m really not sure. There are of course lots of things I liked about the story. The relationship between Red and Mr. Nobody was really well done. The voice acting and narration was top notch, and the ending was so emotional I think it may work as a replicant test.
Transistor is $19.99 on Steam, $29.98 if you buy it with the soundtrack. It will probably take you 7-10 hours to finish. Given that it is now over a year old, likely it will be featured in the summer sale or even a weekly deal, so if the full price is a bit much for a short game, just keep your eye on it.