The team behind Indie smash Bastion haven’t rested on their laurels since the game’s release and have been busy at work with Transistor, a Sci-Fi RPG with one hell of a story to tell.
However, we at Gamestyle believe it i best to go into this game blind, without knowing one little aspect of how it even begins to unfold. What we will tell you though, is that a similar story-telling mechanic as used in Bastion is also used here, with more and more being unveiled as you progress, told by a narrator (of sorts) based on what you do and where you go.
It is a fantastic mechanic that drip feeds you clues as to what the story is and where it may go next, whilst also giving you hints as to what may be around the corner. From the very first steps you take in Transistor, you find yourself hanging off every word.
The narrator can be listened to via the normal methods by using the TV Speakers, headphones, etc or can be isolated to the Dual Shock 4’s own built in speaker, separating it from the main audio of the game. This works amazingly well and does a wonderful job of drawing you in and creating a stunning atmosphere.
And that is something Transistor has in spades, it is dripping in atmosphere, from the excellent soundtrack (more on that in a bit) to the outstanding art direction, this is a game that has been lovingly created from the ground up. The visual design is something that really does stand out and shows what the extra power of the latest consoles can allow.
The futuristic city designs are beautiful and it is clear that no compromise has been made, with the art team allowed to bring their vision to the final game, something that may not have been possible just a few short years ago. Whilst the city as a whole is quiet, it still feels alive with every building, every small bit of scenery, looking like it has come from the mind of a real creative, rather than something that has been toned down to accommodate any restrictions imposed by system power to allow certain gameplay mechanics.
However, it is the soundtrack that really brings everything to life, it feels like it is just as much a part of the game, as the gameplay itself, rather than something that has been added in to create a certain atmosphere, or just for the sake of good music. There are moments in the game, where you just want to stop and listen, the vocal work done by Ashley Barrett is easily some of the best you will hear in a game, that girl has an amazing voice…How good is it though? Well, we are all in for the Official Soundtrack, which isn’t something we often do.
But, a game can have all the amazing sound and visuals it wants, but it still needs to be a solid game to make any of that worthwhile and thankfully Transistor hits the sweet spot here too. Much like Bastion you will walk around a wonderfully crafted game wold, often running into various events as you go, which mainly leads into having some kind of battle with the game’s enemies.
Transistor is a mix of real time action, mixed with a strategy element. At any time you can press the R2 button which pauses the action and activates Turn(), allowing you to use you sword’s various abilities to plan attacks on the enemies. There is a limit of what you can do in any planning phase, based on various upgrades and settings of you unlocked attacks. This though makes you have to think properly about which enemy to expend your energy on, where you will end up after carrying out the plan and which enemies may be left.
Once Turn() is activated you can choose to maybe move, then use CRASH() as an attack on one enemy, which may be activated to turn them friendly, before moving again to use BREACH() on another, before finally moving to a safe area. The beauty of this is, that certain functions do use varying amounts of available Turn(). With BREACH() using more than CRASH().
So deciding what to do and how to best approach each situation isn’t a case of just spamming set functions all the time. This isn’t all set in stone though, as you upgrade, so does the amount of turn() each function takes up. Meaning all encounter evolve over time, both in how much stronger you become and how enemies are engaged. What this means for you, is that every encounter continues to be a challenge and at no point do you ever feel over powered and that you are simply going through the motions.
If anything, early on, you feel you are under powered and that what you think is a good attack plan, can often leave you exposed to enemy attacks. It is the variation of the enemies that keep things interesting, from smaller easy to take out enemies that attack in numbers, to singular larger enemies that see you needing to enter a planning mode a fair few times before they are taken out.
The balancing here is very clever, once you have finished a planned out attack, your weapons are dead until such a time they have been recharged, meaning you have to act defensively until they are ready again. Now this is only a few seconds, but you can find yourself in danger during those few seconds, as you panic and try to avoid any incoming attacks.
This gives you some interesting options, as once recharged, you can use attacks in real-time without them draining, allowing you to go on the offensive yourself, but by attacking without using the planning phase, you are a lot more exposed to enemy attacks than if you were using the planned attack strategy. The fact that neither option is right or wrong in themselves makes for very interesting and challenging encounters every single time.
As you progress through the game and level up, you can new abilities, which can then be chained with other abilities allowing you to create more powerful attacks, or allow you to regenerate you own health, turn enemies against enemies and more. But the way this is implemented works really well too.
You have four main functions, using the four face buttons on the controller. When you start to chain abilities you have to decide which upgrades best fit which function, then during the planning phase it depends on which combos you choose to use in which situation.
For example, you have an attack set with the X button with a chain that turns enemies into allies when a second X attack is used, but you might also have an option on another button that when combined with something else allows a secondary attack. It is finding the best combinations for the right situations that works well. Most functions can also be used as primary, upgrades, or passive options. Again how you choose to use each will have a different effect on other functions and attacks that can be pulled off. The options can feel almost endless.
When we first put Transistor on, just to have a quick look, it was meant to be just that, a quick look before bed to see how the graphics looked, what the basic controls were, that sort of thing. Next thing we knew, five hours has passed and we had been in a hypnotic state as the game drew us in further and further.
It just has that special something, that perfect storm of wonderful visuals, music to die for and gameplay that keeps you engaged. It also has nigh on perfect pacing, with a few lessons learned from Bastion, a game that had good pacing, but at times had areas you felt dragged on, here though that isn’t the case. As you progress through each area, you arrive in another and instead of wanting to stop and rest, you want to go further, hear more of the story that is unfolding and just play more and more. With upgrades and unlocks coming at just the right time, each and every time.
But how you use the new abilities and upgrades will change over the course of the game also. Unlike some games that have a skill tree, that you pretty much decide on following, Transistor will see you making changes as you go, finding the best combinations that will give you the most effective battle strategy. Again something that worked early in the game may not work later.
This is a game that knows how to tease, that flirts with you using its looks and charm, but then makes you fall in love with just how clever it is. You want to stay in its company for longer and longer, getting to know it uncovering more of its mysteries. For a game to get that balance just right is a rare feat, but SuperGiant Games have it.
Transistor was somewhat of a showpiece game for Sony in 2013 and upon its release it isn’t hard to see why. Everything about the game shows it has been made with love and affection, it has the visuals to impress anyone that lays eyes on it, but also some really well balanced gameplay to dig its claws in and keep you hooked. If you ever needed a reason to own a PS4, then this could well be it.