- Platform PS4, PC
- Publisher Supergiant Games
- Developer Supergiant Games
- Release Date 20/05/2014
Transistor Review – Seductive Silence
Amplify and switch.
Supergiant Games have a special place in my personal “Who’s Who” of indie game developers. It was back when I reviewed their masterpiece action-RPG Bastion that I became an instant indie game advocate, enthralled with Logan Cunningham’s gruff narration and Darren Korb’s hypnotising soundtrack. It’s one of the only games I’ve given a perfect score here on Awesome Games and I’ve been anticipating Supergiant’s follow up title ever since.
They call it the “sophomore blues” in the music industry, when a new artist has unbelievable success on their first album and struggles to make their follow up album stand on it own two feet. Supergiant may have suffered from this condition during development of Transistor, but the end product shows absolutely zero sign of living in its predecessor’s formidable shadow.
A Dish Best Served Cold
There are of course borrowed elements from Bastion; the isometric battleground, the mute protagonist, the comforting narration of a friendly voice. Transistor has the unmistakable Supergiant style; Jen Zee’s hand drawn art and a sublime soundtrack once again composed by Korb. But the journey of Red and her translucent green great-sword stands alone in every way.
The stretching metropolis of Cloudbank provides the resplendent backdrop throughout the game, beginning with the opening scene in the halls of an auditorium. The protagonist, a diva named Red, awakes next to a man slumped over and impaled by a glowing sword of mysterious power known as the Transistor. The attack has left Red without her renowned singing voice and her companion’s soul is now trapped inside this strange weapon.
‘Red. Hey Red. We’re not going to get away with this, are we?’
Red proceeds to pull the Transistor from her fallen friend’s torso like King Arthur drawing his sword from the stone. The familiar male voice emanates from the Transistor, and he is quick to point the finger at those responsible, a corrupt group of officials known as the Camerata. The Process, a robotic force under the control of the Camerata, is assaulting Cloudbank’s citizens. Red, driven by rage of losing her friend and her voice, is out for revenge.
With Our Forces Combined
The combat system of Transistor combines one of typical Diablo-esque hack and slash with an action bar that allows turn-based movements and attacks. With a full meter you can pause time and plan Red’s moves, which when executed she carries out at lightning speed. After laying down the destruction, however, Red is unable to attack and is vulnerable to retaliation from the Process until the action meter recharges.
As you level up and gain experience you gain access to different powers, called “Functions,” all which have an origin from one of Cloudbank’s citizens that have fallen victim to the Process. You eventually have access to four Functions at once – one for each of the four gamepad buttons – but each one can also be equipped as an upgrade to another Function or as a passive ability. While equipping all these may sound simple, there are thousands of different combinations of Functions that you can experiment with, allowing an incredible customisation of your abilities. You quickly learn which configurations suit which play styles and if your life meter runs out you experience “overload,” which takes away your most-used functions for a set period of time. This encourages you to keep experimenting with the Functions and not just smashing through the game with the same attacks over and over.
Hum It Softly
It’s rare that I’ll resist exiting a game just so I can listen to it for a little longer.
By far the most alluring element about Transistor is its soundtrack. The story begins with Cloudbank’s most beautiful voice being silenced forever, but Red can still hum along to Darren Korb’s “Old-world Electric Post-Rock” (extra points for genre mashing) soundtrack. The cutscenes feature vocalist Ashley Barrett (also the female voice in Bastion) as the voice of Red, but during the game the only singing you hear is Red’s muffled hum in melody with the background soundtrack. You can hear this beautiful composition at any time during the game by pressing the left bumper or whenever you enter concentration mode. But my favourite was kicking back in Red’s hammock at her sanctuary, watching colours on some planar landscape and listening to her hum along to the tunes. It’s rare that I’ll resist exiting a game just so I can listen to it for a little longer.
Transistor is everything you would expect from Supergiant games, and more. With scalable difficulty and a fully customisable combat interface, you can replay through Cloudbank’s level many times over. But I’ll also be loading it up to hear Red’s eloquent humming through my new headphones.
A review code of Transistor was provided courtesy of Supergiant Games. The game was reviewed on PC.
An original sci-fi audio-visual journey of RPG action you will not soon forget. Supergiant Games have made every note of music and graphic brush stroke a valuable and rewarding piece of entertainment, proving themselves once again as a tour-de-force in the indie development space.