Thoughts On – Transistor 2014 (SuperGiant Games)

Transistor is the newest game that SuperGiant Games (developer) has put out. Their first game “Bastion” was met with critical success, selling many copies and being highly rated. Notable features of Bastion were gorgeous hand-drawn art, absolutely stunning music, and the famous narrator voiced by Logan Cunningham. But does Transistor meet up to the high bar set by it’s predecessor? I’ve just completed the game and I will honestly have to say, “ehhh, not really?”. I will start with a disclaimer that there may be spoilers, so if you plan to play the game, be warned.

Of course, that’s not really a satisfactory answer so let me expand on that. Supergiant’s new game is very good. There’s no doubt about that. The first thing that you notice upon starting up the game is the absolutely impeccable art. It has a very distinct art style thanks to it’s artist Jen Zee (You can find other works of her art here or at her deviantart page ). It has a very original oil painted look that is very consistent throughout the gameĀ  and not only is it beautiful but it lends itself very well the game world. The world is dark but peppered with cold neon and led lighting. There’s a lack of nature or really any organic. The world is very lonely and to a certain degree dystopian.

And to compliment the art, the music is expectedly fantastic. It isn’t as forward as the music in Bastion and is much more ambient. But when the vocals do kick in, oh boy. The vocalist, Ashley Barrett (who also sang in Bastion), has a stunning voice. It is amazing how much emotion and impact she has, which just has to show how far video games have come as a medium. But I can’t leave out Darren Korb, the composer of the music in both game. The music completely immerses the player into the game world. I have to say, bravo. The music is a combination of multiple styles, from almost retro synth, to relaxing guitar progressions. An interesting thing you can do while in game is that if you press the “tab” key (I’m unsure about the PS4 version), the main character, Red, will hum along to what song is playing. My particularly favorite piece is “We All Become”, which was used in the original reveal trailer when Supergiant announced Transistor. The entire soundtrack is available on Supergiant’s Youtube channel or available for purchase in their store. Darren Korb is quickly becoming, if not already is, one of my favorite video game music composers.

And if there wasn’t enough buzz words to be said, the gameplay itself is very well done. Borrowing the isometric third person style from Bastion and taking inspiration from turn based strategy games, Transistor has formed a pseudo-turn-based gameplay with lots of action and a surprising amount of depth to its combat (almost reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII’s). The main element of gameplay lies with your sword, the Transistor. The sword has many abilities and picks up abilities as the game progresses. The abilities that you collect are seemingly the “souls”/personalities of people who have passed. And the detailed descriptions of the abilities also contain descriptions of these people. These abilties are all relatively unique. During combat you will not swing the Transistor as a sword, instead the abilities emanate from the sword as a projectile. Your abilties (named similarly to methods in programming ie. spark() ) all have unique properties from long or short ranged projectiles, bombs, seduction, and a plethora of other effects. And these abilities can be equipped on a bar with four available slots. But the interesting thing that can be done, is to upgrade your abilities with any other abilities. And the further you level up, you unlock the ability to upgrade skill with two upgrades and use your abilities with passive effects. Don’t fret though, the skills are freely interchangeable so any decision you make isn’t set in stone.

Thanks to this system, you can have varied play-styles to suit however you want to approach a give situation. And you will have to master how you play because some of the enemies can be quite difficult to dispatch of. There is also a “test” room that appears periodically in the game where you can test your skills in multiple rooms (such as endurance, strategy, or efficiency).

When combat begins, your character is confined to a certain area but she has the ability to stop time and make decisions. Moving around the battlefield or using a skill will use up a bar at the top of the screen, so you have to be wary of what you do during this period. But you’re not restricted to acting in that phase, you can still move around and perform actions not in this mode. But certain actions will be unavailable for you depending on what mode you’re in; for example, the ability to summon help is only available when out of the planning mode. Other than that, it would seem like it’s a no brainer to just use the planning mode. But when you hit enemies, they will recoil, move, and react to a certain degree. So even if you’ve constructed a fantastic plan to wipe everything off in one move, it may not fare very well. You have to consider how your attacks might effect the enemies and their abilities. Although you can blindly attack everything in sight, it’s not recommended.

I found the game to be very fun and enjoyable with a very well realized world. But it’s not perfect, at least, it doesn’t meet the bar of Supergiant’s previous game.

If you’ve played Bastion and didn’t enjoy it, you probably won’t enjoy Transistor very much. It is essentially Bastion with alternate art/music and improved combat. There is very little that really sets it apart from Bastion. The art style is very similar, music is a little depreciated, gameplay very reminiscent of Bastion, and the story is sort of… unsatisfactory. The game felt unsatisfying. There are some complaints that I’ve read that the game is short, I don’t feel that way. It’s a good 5-8 hours, depending on how you play, and it is a very nice experience. But the game just feels unsatisfying. It feels almost shallow. I didn’t feel as emotionally invested into the game as with Bastion. In Bastion, there is a segment of the game [SPOILERS] in which you carry the main villain, from death. It is a magnificent culmination of emotion into this one moment. And when you’ve set him down, you are given a immense choice. That experience was just an incredible moment, one of the greatest I’ve had ever playing a game. But Transistor lacked that. I didn’t care as much for the characters, or even Red (main character).[SPOILER] I didn’t particularly care when someone died, I didn’t even really care when Red died either. There was a moment when I felt something tug at the back of my throat but I just didn’t feel invested into the game. Which is unfortunate when this game is seemingly made for someone like me. Science fiction, strategical and deep combat, beautiful art and music, interesting story. And yet, it was shallow. Bastion was also a relatively short game but it didn’t feel short since you were so invested into the experience, when it was over, everything felt good. When Transistor was finished, I had a mixed feeling of indifference and dissatisfaction.

To address the story directly, it does it’s job. And not much more unfortunately.

Some more minor grievances I had with the game was firstly with the narrator, the voice of Transistor. Supergiant games brought back Logan Cunningham, the voice of Rucks in the Bastion, of which he does a fantastic job. But I can’t help but feel his voice is inappropriate for this particular role. Again, he does a fantastic job voicing what is essentially the second main character. Other minor complaints about the game are just nitpicking, path finding can be weird, there are random performance issues, sometimes dying can feel cheap. But no game is perfect.

So to conclude this relatively large essay, the game is pretty good and certainly has it’s flaws. Would I recommend picking it up, to a certain degree. If you are a fan of Supergiant games, go ahead and get it, you probably have already. For those that aren’t, unless there is some reason compelling you to purchase this game, maybe it would be better to wait for a sale for a slight discount. I want to reiterate that Transistor is a good game. It may not live up to people’s expectations after Bastion but it doesn’t have to. The game is a beautiful work of art but it’s flaws come from a moderately poor execution of it’s ideas.


If you have any questions or ideas about what I should address, just post a comment below. The next post will probably be about Rick and Morty. Have a good day.

About MrCythos

I'm a physicist, learning to code, playing music. I think I've done my young self well.
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