Transistor ReviewGuest_Jim_* - June 4, 2014
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The simplest way I can think to put it, is that the gameplay of Transistor is funky. Controls, combat, and progression are all lacking in design, in one way or another. Let us start with the controls.
Transistor is available for both the PC and the Playstation 4, and honestly, I could tell from the controls that it was developed for at least one console. The motion feels like that of twin-stick games, especially during the time-pausing Turn() ability. After activating Turn() you are able to lay out your actions, including walking around the area, just as you do normally. You can click and go to where you clicked, but not always if something was in front of spot, like an enemy. Alternatively you can use the WASD keys to move around, but this is not a very smooth motion and tricky to control as you do not stop on a dime. If you mess up, you can clear the action, but for movement, it is the entire action that is cleared; not just the part you want gone.
Another give away to the controller influence is the ability to only equip four functions, which no doubt map very nicely to the standard four buttons on controllers. On a keyboard, the 1, 2, 3, and 4 keys are a little more cumbersome to use, unless you have a well-developed pinky for quick movement. (I do not as normally my pinky is pushing and holding buttons, or does not have to be quick about doing it.) This combined with the movement controls made the combat feel messy to me.
The combat has some interesting mechanics to it from the beginning, but at first it is nothing too unusual. Defeated enemies drop Cells, and if you do not pick them up in time, they will morph into Bad Cells that will actually attack you. Sometimes the countdown is long enough to be able to get them all, but other times you may as well just run off and prepare to kill the Bad Cells. Combat will not end until the Cells are dealt with, one way or another.
If the enemies bring you down to low enough health, one of two things will happen. Either you will enter an Emergency Turn() to escape the situation, or, if you have no Turn() power, one of your functions will overload. This will fully restore your health, but you will lose that function. A fair trade off really, and you can exploit the Emergency Turn() mechanic by hiding until it regenerates, leaving your health low. One of the functions you will eventually receive allows you to summon a pet, which can be controlled with Turn(), if its AI is not doing what you want.
I guess I should explain functions better. These are your abilities and your attacks. You can equip up to four of them as attack and up to four as passive buffs. The effects they offer you are given to you when you select them. This is something else that felt like a console influence, as mouse-over would make more sense on a PC, but you do not really have that on consoles, without possibly bring up an annoying window. You can also place them in slots to buff your attacks, but those slots, and the passive slots, must be unlocked as you level up.
You are limited in the number of functions you can have slotted, not only by the number of slots, but also by the amount of memory you have. Each function costs so much memory, and you only get more memory when you are given the option after leveling up.
Progression in Transistor definitely felt weak to me with it eventually feeling like all of the advantages were given to the enemies, and it was only by exploiting the Emergency Turn() mechanic that I managed to survive. Truly, many of the battles I won at minimal health.
As one normally will with any game, I developed the combat strategies that best fit my play style and what I felt best fit what I had available. Initially that was fine, but over time this actually started limiting me in what I could do, largely because of the memory system. I may get a new and powerful function, but if I do not have enough memory to slot it, I cannot use it, or using it would require removing another function, which may itself be critical to my combat style. Yes you can unlock more memory, but the first time that is an option is when you reach level 7. You collect a lot of functions by then, and the four memory blocks you get are not as big as you may think, especially with the cost of passives.
Basically, many of the functions are useful and effective tools that can greatly help you succeed, but the memory mechanic just feels very restricting. This feeling is only amplified by the rate at which the enemies level up, becoming very powerful and lethal. Some actually get very powerful health regeneration and the ability to mask themselves, preventing any attacks. This forced me to play very aggressive, as that was the only way I found that I could overcome both abilities.
By the way, your ability to regenerate health is practically non-existent. Health is fully regenerated when you complete a battle and when a function overloads. There is a function that does allow you to siphon health or grants regeneration, but I only unlocked this when I leveled up in the Recursion mode, which is the New Game+ mode. I slotted it for the regeneration and if it was doing anything, it was not doing much. I watched my health bar and saw no movement at all.
Like I said, the progression feels very weak as your enemies out pace you, and what you gain, rarely seems all that effective without compromising what you already have.
It may be the case that completing the different test-challenges in the Backdoor would have helped, as an additional source of experience, but after doing a few, I left them alone. The experience was not that much and the music they unlocked were not rewarding enough to continue. The only place you can hear the music (if you do not purchase the soundtrack) is on the record player in the Backdoor, so you have to effectively sit out of the game to enjoy any of it.
It took me 4 hours and 28 minutes to complete one playthrough of the campaign. With the Recursion mode/New Game+ option, that could be doubled for those who choose to play through it.
Over all the gameplay failed to impress me and left me wanting. That is not to say it was not enjoyable at times, but it did later feel quite confining and almost punishing. Those are two words you never want to describe a game with.