Transistor Review - Red Red Fine

Jim Sterling | 20 May 2014 12:00
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Transistor is not quite the brawler-oriented adventure Bastion was. Based on the idea that the Transistor is more computing device than sword, Red can use "Functions" to perform attacks with it, programming the blade with up to four active commands. These Functions are collected during story points and as Red levels up, and may be mapped to each of the four main face buttons, provided the Transistor has enough Memory (which can be upgraded with levels too) to activate them. Functions have a wide variety of effects, from simple slam and projectile attacks, to abilities allowing Red to summon her own Process ally, or perform an evasive dash move.

Each Function has room for at least one upgrade slot (which can be expanded as Red levels up), into which other Functions might be slotted. On its own, the Spark ability sends out a projectile that explodes into other projectiles when it detonates. If Spark is used as an upgrade instead, it can give a sense of its power to a different Function, allowing other attacks to split themselves into multiple projectiles. Mixing and matching Functions is a core part of the game, and there's enough flexibility to where players will likely spend a long time finding the set that's right for them. This is all before Red gets to equip Functions as passive items, allowing her to use stealth, regenerate health, or whatever other wacky ability she could access. There's a ton of potential to play with.

Combat is split between real-time and quasi-turn-based actions. For the most part, players get to run freely around the environment, performing attacks as and when they're available, while trying to avoid the wall of death that Processes can throw her way. However, in a system similar to Fallout's V.A.T.S feature, time can be stopped in order for players to program in a sequence of attacks, that then play themselves out. This system, known as "Turn()", is downright essential, not least when the amount of projectiles and near-unavoidable attacks coming Red's way starts to border on the ridiculous.

Whether or not you enjoy Transistor's combat comes down to when - or if - you find the combination of Functions that works for you. Without having the right set of attacks, the game can be incredibly frustrating, especially once Red's health gets depleted and Functions become "overloaded" - unable to be used again until she activates the next two save points. When you start to feel your mojo working, Transistor can be immensely satisfying. While you're experimenting, however, it can be anything but.

That said, the scope of what can be done with what is ultimately a fairly simple system is impressive. Like with most things Supergiant does, the whole world of Functions and Turn()s is way less complicated than it appears to be, but it's certainly got some depth to it.

Visuals and sound are the bread and butter of a Supergiant game, and Transistor really does knock it out of the park with a gorgeous art style, fantastic use of color, and highly evocative soundtrack. I maintain that the style is positioned way above any actual substance, but I also cannot deny just how damn great such an elegant style truly is. From environments, to enemy design, to every distinct attack animation, everything is gorgeous, flowing, and colorful. Transistor is one of those games that prove you don't need bleeding-edge game engines and 500 million dollar budgets to get a beautiful looking title.

Really, it's hard not to fall for Supergiant's trap when the trap is this damn pretty.

Bottom Line: Sometimes frustrating in terms of both gameplay and narrative, Transistor manages to be a redolent title with a ton of imagination. While not quite as clever as its presentation suggests, it's a pretty little title that ends on a beautifully bittersweet note.

Recommendation: If you enjoyed Bastion, this is a far better attempt at what that last effort tried to do. If you're one of the few who didn't care for it, you may still want to check this out, should you get an opportunity.

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