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Transistor review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £15
inc VAT

A gorgeous game that suffers from repetitive combat and a wafer-thin narrative that borrows too many tricks from its predecessor

Transistor begins with you pulling a talking sword from the body of a dead man. Something’s gone awry in this strange cyberpunk world of Cloudbank, and Red, a flame-haired songstress who’s lost her voice, is at the heart of the city’s central conspiracy.


As with Supergiant’s first game Bastion, Transistor drops you into the middle of things and lets the developer’s trademark narrative techniques gradually fill you in on the rest of the story. In Bastion, you had the mysterious omniscient narrator Rucks remarking on your every move; here, it’s your sword Transistor that does all the talking, flashing neon blue as his voice rattles through Cloudbank’s empty streets.

Unlike its predecessor, though, Transistor plays its cards much closer to its chest, revealing little about the wider plot beyond vague scraps of information gleaned from a multitude of interactive console machines scattered around the city and the odd deduction made by Transistor himself. For the most part, it’s an intriguing tale that’s inspired as much by The Matrix as it is by computer viruses and concerns eerily realised in the recent NSA scandal, even though the latter must have only occurred during the later stages of the game’s development.


Set against a backdrop of Klimt-esque visuals, Transistor’s distinct look certainly stays with you long after the game is over, but sadly there are signs that perhaps Supergiant has been a little too ambitious in its story-telling this time round, as any explanation regarding the game’s fundamental mechanics and terminology is sorely lacking.

For reasons unknown, Red has the ability to stop time whenever she runs into an enemy encounter. Once you’ve initiated her “Turn” with a tap of the trigger button, you’re free to move and plan your attack without any fear of repercussions. You can stack your attacks until the action bar at the top of the screen has run out, and then you tap the opposite trigger button to end your turn and watch as Red unleashes hell on her opponents in lightning fast time. Once her turn is over, she’s completely vulnerable until Transistor has recharged, making each battle a strange yet compelling mix of real-time strategy and turn-based battling.


Once you’ve got your head round the fussy menu system and how Transistor’s various “Functions” (attacks), “Memory” (how much storage each attack uses), “Limiters” (conditions which make the game harder but reward you with more experience points) and “Installation” slots all intertwine, it’s a fascinating system to get to grips with. Functions have a variety of uses and each one’s effect will vary depending on whether you’ve installed it in one of your four main attack slots, an upgrade to those attacks, or as a passive ability, leading to a whole range of different combinations to suit your particular play style.

Lose too much life in combat, though, and one of your functions (usually those with the most memory) will “overload”, rendering it unusable until you’ve visited a certain number of “access points” or save stations. This helps keep the game feeling a little more fluid, as it not only means you’re constantly adapting your move set, but using different functions in different ways also unlocks more information about the game’s back story, letting you piece together what might have happened to some of Cloudbank’s other high-profile citizens.


However, once you’ve established a rhythm to your fighting style, Transistor falls dangerously close on a number of occasions to getting stuck in a repetitive rut. This is partly due to the game’s single setting of Cloudbank, a beautifully-realised but ultimately homogenous place that fails to recapture the ever-changing landscapes of Bastion’s Caelondia.

Transistor also suffers by confining each skirmish to a sealed-off arena, effectively slamming on the narrative brakes every time you encounter an enemy. Moreover, with such a smoke-and-mirrors plot to begin with, there’s very little holding the game together over its five-to-six hour run time except the constant stream of combat – which is something that Bastion never suffered from thanks to its more tangible narrative goals and engaging hack-and-slash fighting style.

Transistor is a good second game from Supergiant, but its efforts to become more sophisticated than its brawling predecessor are ultimately its undoing. While the game’s gorgeous art style and evocative soundtrack help hide the cracks in the paint, a lot of what’s left underneath feels too much like a lazy imitation of Bastion to really have a voice of its own. The game’s interesting take on real-time and turn-based combat has plenty of potential, especially with a New Game + waiting in the wings after the credits roll, but we felt little need to take the plunge a second time once it was all over.



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