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Transistor (PC) artwork

Transistor (PC) review

"This a love story, because that is the one true battlefield."

Trust me, you donít know what youíre in for. Transistorís savory reality and lavish everything is a warm, incandescent honeyed trap in the style of art deco beauty. Supergiant Games can do no wrong, even when they layer a preposterously complex ability system and purposely leave out the tutorials.

Oh, I know they did that deliberately, because good design is well understood - and professionally executed - by the developers. I could ramble on about that, and fans have delved deeply into the discussion of lore, which is meticulously written, but also quite sketchy. The characters in Cloudbank live as we do, so there is no exposition, we, as players are meant to draw our own conclusions. So we shall.

Having just come from Bastion, I trusted that Supergiant knew how to weave story, action, and mechanics into a good play, but Iíll be honest: As with any good love story, this is about a girl. In the introduction, a gorgeous painting of Red kneeling in front of a slumped male figure run through by a glowing sword ... that there is the mystery.

Letís not be singular about Redís beauty; she is, and so is everyone else. Itís significant that ďpinnacleĒ describes every attribute of Cloudbank and its inhabitants. Take your cue, player, because this is a game you play with brain switched on.

We are acquainted with current events quickly, but mostly through osmosis Ė what we now call environmental storytelling. Life, and the lack of it, is all around us, and we discern important information as we play. We learn quickly that the dead fellow is now trapped in the sword, the Transistor. He guides us by responding to the world, just as we might.

Combat is going to set you on your psychological heels as you choose between real time and pre-planned actions. Confident enough to react with your reflexes and customized abilities, or will you lean on time-pausing system that quickly executes your attacks? Beware, as each has its vulnerabilities. Naturally, playing realtime means youíre only as good as your reaction time; pre-planning has a cool down after activation during which you cannot retaliate against attacks.

Combat is as deep as its lore, and this rabbit hole can be confounding for any player. As you obtain new abilities, an act of mercy itself, youíre left to decide how best to use them. You have four slots into which they may fit as primary abilities, or as augments to other abilities. You learn more about the cast of characters as you do this; a subtle yet notable reward.

Supergiant implements what I call a ďsoft classĒ system here by allowing you to choose how you play and create the bonuses you want as your needs change. Play stealth or go toe to toe if that suits you; the choice is yours. The price for this, of course, comes in the form of the cost of death. Red never says die, but each time you run out of health, an ability is disabled until you can regain it by restoring the experience you lost.

Most of the writing was too much for me, most of the time. I recognized it was brilliant, eloquent and detailed. Verbose when required, curt when not. Reflective of the personalities and of its reality. If Transistor is about one thing, it is the sanctity of love. Play through, tell me Iím wrong. Disagree, thatís perfectly fine, but Iím right.

I was at first shocked by the ending of Transistor, but as I pondered it made sense and I was profoundly grateful. Still am, in fact. When your needs are met and stand in need of nothing, only the needs of another can raise you above your own comfort level to face the opponents of all you cherish. What does it say of Red that she is content to hum when she has lost her voice, her greatest asset?

Sheís doing what she can to comfort the one she loves in their time of solitude and melancholy. The game got me in a way that few rarely have: I cried at the end. There is a very short list of games that can do that, and Iím glad this game is on it. Hereís me raising a controller to the games that take real risks instead of tossing played out mechanics into a compiler.

The vocal and music performances in Transistor are top of the industry, and deserve the accolades they have received. At first enrapt by the detailed artistry, I was then swept up in the curious 1950s themed musical score. Red - voiceless throughout the game - does not sing, but her luscious vocal performance sent chills through me. The soundtrack is a worthy purchase as a standalone without a doubt.

There is a New Game+ mode that allows you keep all previously acquired abilities. If you werenít satisfied with your options on the last play through, youíll get new copies of the same abilities to mix and match with your inventory. How does hundreds of configuration possibilities sound?

If it wasnít hard enough the first time, enemy difficulty is also ramped up, too. Which, I should mention, is a side note to the existing difficulty adjustment system which grants permanent bonuses that increase mob toughness. Supergiant knows how to scale difficulty, too, as it happens.

Transistor is a traditional love story in unconventional setting. Everything about the game is gorgeous; it is a work of art, and it is supported by a carefully interspersed story throughout. Such is its presentation that discussion is warranted, and thatís what art does best: communicate. On the technical side, it has relatively low system requirements; an award winning soundtrack and challenging combat mechanics. All this and itís not overpriced.

Complexity is also the main drawback of Transistor. I would have liked a guide of some kind to help me understand exactly what I was doing with all those abilities, but I donít regret having to figure it out myself. It harkens back to old school gaming, but softens the blow of defeat, too. There are skill based challenges to test your skills, but these donít reward you with more the satisfaction of improving them and access to world class music.

The soundtrack sells copies of the game arguably better than any review can, so you might start there if youíre not sure how you feel about it. Hint: Itís a free listen on YouTube. This game is worth every bit the price of admission, and if you pick up on sale, be sure to use the change to pick up the soundtrack, because thatís probably on sale too. Enjoy.

hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (December 28, 2016)

At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.

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Zydrate posted January 02, 2017:

I went in expecting something like Bastion but was instead given rapidfire tutorials that I didn't have time to comprehend and was too intimidated to continue playing. Kind of wish I refunded it but I don't mind supporting the studio and the soundtrack was worth it alone.
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hastypixels posted January 02, 2017:

I don't see a way that an easy mode could have improved its situation, but I'd have loved the abilities to be simpler, overall. I adore Transistor, it's just an overload. In fact, I put it down for several months after my first play because of that.

I felt more comfortable with the mechanics when I picked it up again, but I don't feel like I could master it. I've come away from my experience with Transistor is like a meal you only have once a year because it's just too rich, or expensive, to consume regularly.

You might give it another shot. It takes time to adjust to an unfamiliar setting. Culture shock is natural, and it happens in games all the time. I wasn't disappointed with my hard work when I beat it.

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