Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: June 4, 2014
In 2011 the world received Bastion from independent game development company Supergiant Games. It was an immediate success, and it would not surprise me if it is still selling well for a three year old game right now. Everyone knew another game had to come from these developers, and waited patiently until Transistor was announced. From that point on, people were less patient in their waiting.
Transistor shares the action RPG genre of Bastion, but is otherwise not related with its new story, setting, and many new mechanics. You play as Red, a very popular singer who had her voice stolen and who now wields the Transistor as her weapon. With it, she must explore the city to uncover what is happening and stop the Process from destroying her technological world.
A central mechanic to the game is the ability to pause time and plan out your actions, to attack, or escape threats. Sadly, I was not able to capture any video of the process, which would have been the best way to show it off. All I have to offer are screenshots.
With all of that covered, is Transistor worth playing, or could it use some ECC?
The graphics of Transistor are hand painted and very good looking, giving the game a strong artistic feel in many places. Some areas, such as the menus, are "harder", for lack of a better word, and show off the game's technological aspects. Of course this makes sense and is completely appropriate. They simply are in contrast to each other.
It is not uncommon for certain colors to dominate frames and scenes, as to use a minimalistic approach to identify objects and characters. With the detail of the artwork, I would not describe the game as minimalistic. Although eventually, a lot of the color is lost as the Process spreads.
As you run around, the Transistor drags behind you leaving a trail of digital sparks and lines. Definitely a nice touch, considering it is being dragged, but the effect is tied to the character and not the ground. What I mean is that if you make a sudden turn, the sparks will actually turn with you, instead of staying where they are on the ground. A small thing, but I do have an eye for small things.
Different attacks will produce different effects, but many include a satisfying number of particles, either along the path or as part of an explosion. This is true for your attacks and your enemies.
One thing about the graphics that can be annoying is that some environmental objects, like pillars, will actually cover part of the screen. This means that enemies may be inadvertently hiding behind them, making it somewhat difficult to avoid what damage they may deal.
I am not going to bother giving my computer's specs because this game should run perfectly on most computer hardware out there, provided it is not many years old or intentionally underpowered. Graphics options are somewhat limited for Transistor with only a fullscreen toggle and a whitelist of resolutions to pick from.
I wish I could say more, but there really is not much more to say about the graphics. They are good, and very pleasant to look at, and have only those two issues I noted.
The story of Transistor is fairly straightforward. You have been wronged, have the tool to exact revenge, are faced with a bigger problem, and must now deal with it. Of course it is more filled out than that, but that is the basic premise.
Your name is Red and you are a very popular singer, but now your voice has been stolen and your life was nearly taken as well. The only reason you are alive is because someone else jumped in front of the Transistor and took the hit. That person, instead of just dying, has been absorbed by the Transistor, and is its voice now.
Knowing it was the Camerata, the leaders of this world who did this, you are on a mission to find them and try to undo what they have done. Along the way, you come across enemies from the Process and people who have been killed by it. In this digital, technological world, traces of the people remain and can be taken into the Transistor. This process also unlocks functions, which I will cover more in gameplay.
You will eventually find the Backdoor, which is like a weird vacation spot on a beach, where you can think something over and run test-challenges, unlock music, and gain some experience. No explanation for its existence was ever given, or at least I never found one.
As you continue playing you will eventually learn the truth about the source of the Process, but unfortunately that is the only part of the plot that feels completely explained to me. Why your voice was stolen; why they tried to kill you or absorb you into the Transistor; why and how the Transistor exists; and what the world is, are all questions left unanswered, to one degree or another. You may be able to guess the answers, but really that should not be required.
It definitely should not be required considering the amount of minutiae the game does provide in a tedious manner for backstory. You can learn more about the people whose traces you have collected by decrypting them. This requires slotting the associated functions in different places. Considering that one could just spend the time to shift everything in and out of the different slots, I do not know why this gate exists.
Truly I do not understand why a lot of the story is even present, considering how much is lacking. You can delve deep into this place or that place, but not necessarily in the areas that directly pertain to the story and you. It simply lacks the focus I believe it needs, and that results in me really having no connection to it. And then there is the ending, which felt wrong to me. It works for the story, definitely, but it almost felt like a plot twist for the sake of having a plot twist.
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.
Transistor Review: Additional Game play Images:
Should we work to stop the Process, or let the world of Transistor meet that fate? I cannot say. The best you will get from me is that I fail to recommend the game. Please understand that a lack of a positive is not a negative. I would still describe Transistor over all as being enjoyable, but it just has too many issues for me to comfortably say it is worth playing.
At best, I find the game to be mediocre or average, with some highs and some lows. It never succeeded in grabbing me and I cannot say that I believe it will grab anyone else. You can have fun playing it, but for me to recommend a game, I should be able to say "You will have fun playing it." That is one guarantee I cannot give for this.