Amongst the swarm of Indie titles released on Steam every week, sometimes it can be hard to find some truly stand-out games. In 2011, Supergiant Games brought us Bastion which was met with a heavy appraisal for its unique style and beautiful art direction. The game breathed life into a broken world with its emotive soundtrack and crisp narration. It’s now 2014, and Supergiant have done it again. Transistor follows a similar style of gameplay to its predecessor, despite not being linked to it in any way canonically. The game is currently available for PS4 and PC.
You play as a Red, a young woman with a history performing as a vocal musician. The game opens with you pulling a large sword, known as the Transistor, out of a deceased man. You’re instantly drawn into the story when the sword starts talking to you, especially as it appears to know you quite well! The Transistor absorbs people into itself when they die, storing their consciousness and allowing the wielder of the weapon to hear the voices of those inside. We’re not given a name for the man we hear speaking throughout the game, but we can assume he is or was close to Red. He also does an incredible job of narrating the various actions you perform in game and the choices you make while doing so.
Complimenting the hand-drawn art of the game is a fluid, yet simple combat system. Unlocking various abilities as you advance through the game, Red is able to equip abilities as active moves, attach those abilities to others to change them or even enhance herself with said abilities in a passive slot. For example, the Spark function when used actively launches a cluster bomb attack that splits and explodes. When attached to another function it gives the move an area of effect attack. So when it is attached to Jaunt, an ability that functions as a swift dash in a direction, you spawn exploding shells along the path you are dashing. Slotted into one of Red’s passive slots, Spark automatically summons a decoy that enemies are forced to attack whenever Red takes damage.
With over 15 functions, there are thousands of different ways to change up your playstyle. I started by using some classic hack & slash gameplay, but after observing a friend play, I noticed a very interesting style that seemed unconventional. His entire battle plan revolved around dropping mines around the combat zone with the Load function and the using Jaunt to dash through them in his planning phase to set off a chain reaction of explosions that annihilated enemies. Whichever way you play you are certainly encouraged to try new things and see how different abilities work into your own style.
Besides the art style, the soundtrack, and the innovative gameplay, Transistor has a lot going for it on the story side of things. The short version is the the city, known as Cloudbank, is being overwhelmed by a computer process that seems to seek only to multiply and overrun everything in its path. You start out by tracking down members of the Camerata, the group responsible for unleashing it. The relationship between Red and her companion inside the Transistor is truly heart-melting. Games rarely give me a lump in my throat, but it was well and truly stuck in there for at least the entire second half of this game. Unfortunately, that was only for about two hours at most. Transistor suffers from being too short, but I guess with a £14.99 opening price tag it is to be expected of the title. The story doesn’t ever feel like it drags on, nor does it feel like it’s cut short. It’s exactly as long as it needs to be and credit should be given to Supergiant Games for their ability to tell a beautiful story within their own short parameters.
To conclude, Transistor had me fixated on it from start to finish. In the long-standing debate of whether or not video games are art or not, Transistor is definitely a point in its favor. Of all games released this year, this is my favorite so far. I’m crossing my fingers that I’m lucky enough to play a better game before the year is up but I’d certainly love to give my game of the year recommendation to this game already.