Transistor Review

In addition to books and movies, I really enjoy video games. I’ve played them since I was a child and enjoy a good variety of them. I started school this month so my ability to read books quickly has been somewhat impaired. To pick up that slack I’ve decided to also write about the video games I play. There is no 2015 goal here, just the games I decide to play, both old and new. Thanks for the support and for reading my essays.

Transistor is the second game from developer Supergiant, the people who made Bastion, a game I loved. I had been looking forward to this game for a while and I finally picked it up for my PS4 and was not disappointed. Set in a futuristic megacity of seemingly limitless size and scope named Cloudbank, Transistor tells the story of a woman named Red, who when we first meet her yanks a giant, Buster sword sized blade out of a man in an alleyway. The sword starts talking to her and leads her on a mad dash across town to stop a secret cabal of powerful and wealthy city aristocrats from destroying the city via an army of robots called the Process.

The game uses an isometric POV as Red travels and fights throughout Cloudbank. The gameplay is smooth and deceptively complex. Red wields the Transistor sword, which you can augment with different abilities called Functions. Modifying weapons is not a new concept in video games, but what sets this game apart is how you modify your weapon. Each Function can be used in one of three ways: Active Effect, Passive Effect and Upgrade Effect. Active Effect is used overtly for combat, Passive Effect is exactly what it sounds like and Upgrade Effect adds some bonus effect to other Active Effects. So for example, the first Function you get is Crash. Crash as an Active Effect is a very basic melee attack that debuffs the enemy’s armor. As a Passive Effect it grants Red an armor bonus and immunity to any slow status and when used as an Upgrade Effect, it grants most Functions an armor debuff. That last example is especially interesting because if you upgrade a Function that has a large AOE attack, you can debuff dozens of enemies at one time. The modifying system is simple, effective and endlessly complicated if you want it to be. The game actually encourages you to experiment because as you use Functions in different ways and combinations, more story and background information is unlocked. I’m not one to endlessly experiment in a game, I have a habit of finding something that works for me and sticks with that but in this game I played around with the Transistor quite a bit. The story tidbits and different experiences were very rewarding.

Combat is quasi turn-based and relies on an action bar and your ability to freeze time to plan out a sequence of moves. Moving around the battlefield and using different Functions costs a certain amount of the action bar so you have a wide scope of abilities and moves to make. For example, you can use most of your action bar to run up to an enemy and wallop them with Functions that cost a lot of time but do massive amounts of damage or you could use another Function that sends out weak laser shots but allows you to fire off three or four times the amount as the first Function. During the game you will end up using both types of strategy because the combat and enemies are about as varied as the Function system is. Enemies range from small little garbage can sized robots that die with barely a hit to giant, city-block sized dragon looking things that take quite a while to whittle down and kill. Facing so much variety further encouraged me to monkey around with my sword and find different combinations to best defeat my foes.

Transistor shares the art style of Bastion; it has a remarkably refined hand drawn look that evokes the very best of anime (think something like Cowboy Bebop but richer). Whereas Bastion had a rugged and post apocalyptic look to it, where everything is destroyed or half warn away from neglect, Transistor captures the metropolitan and urban magic of a future city that has no limits on it’s size or scope. The city is better integrated than the different areas of Bastion, which always felt closed off from each other and fully separate. When Red moves down an alley into a courtyard and then takes an elevator up a skyrise, it all feels organic and true, like the whole city is fully mapped out and has a logical build to it. You really feel like you are running around a fully functional city. The look and feel of the world is truly remarkable and a real joy to look at. I found myself standing still several times in the game as I just looked all around the screen at the world around Red. The art and animation created a strong bond between Red and me. Everything about her is so well done and unique that it’s easy to develop a strong attachment with her; from having her voice stolen to dragging the Transistor behind her as she runs, kicking up sparks and the effort she exerts wielding it, she comes off so human and way over her head but still brave and driven.

The music and voice acting take that feeling of emersion and elevate everything to the next level. There is a strong sense of warmth and emotion in the soundtrack; it ebbs and flows with action and the quite scenes between. I’m no musician so it’s hard for me to go into detail, but the music is some of the best I’ve heard in a game in quite sometime; it has strong components of jazz and soulfulness that complement the ever changing story and combat really well. It fits the look and feel of the game so perfectly it’s simply remarkable.

From the very beginning of the game, the Transistor sword is conscious. A man who clearly knows who Red is has been absorbed into the sword and acts as both navigator and narrator for the game. Voiced by Logan Cunningham, the Transistor’s words and expressions are great and add so much to the game. It’s constant worrying for her and concern is genuine and heart felt and adds so much power to the end of the game. The rest of the voice cast is excellent as well; I actually felt a little bad as I vanquished some of my foes after hearing them explain what they were trying to do and what went wrong.

This game has no real weakness. Every aspect of it is strong; combat, gameplay, presentation, art, music, and even the menu system, its all kind of perfect. Even the ways it encourages me to experiment is so subtle and rewarding that I hardly noticed it. When you factor in the price, the game becomes a must buy in many ways. The six or so hours I spent in this world are some of the best I’ve experienced as a gamer in some time.

Next Movie: Ben-Hur

Next Book: Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown

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