December 8, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 39°F


Review: Good looks and memorable plot propel indie title


Developed by Supergiant Games

Indie developer Supergiant Games released its first game, “Bastion,” in the summer of 2011, attaining critical acclaim for the title’s creative storytelling, mesmerizing hand-drawn visuals and beautiful soundtrack. Its second title, “Transistor,” lives up to the standard “Bastion” set and creates a memorable experience through its tactical gameplay, lovely visuals and powerful soundtrack.

“Transistor” has the player control Red, a scarlet-haired singer whose voice is stolen from her after an assault by a sinister group called the Camerata. After the attack, Red finds the Transistor, a sword whose blade resembles a USB drive and hosts the consciousness of the corpse in whom she found the blade embedded. Red journeys through the blocks of the futuristic utopia Cloudbank to seek vengeance against the Camerata.

The game’s narrative is explored through the voice of the Transistor, which speaks to Red throughout the game, alerting her to the enemies around her and providing commentary and context to each of the new environments they explore. With her voice stolen, Red is unable to respond, but she occasionally communicates by typing messages into various electronic polls and forums across the city, allowing her to show her emotions and train of thought. The growing relationship between Red and the Transistor adds personality to the characters and manages to cleverly incorporate the “silent hero” that many games implement.

To augment the experience that the narrative crafts, sound elements in “Transistor” are marvelously performed and may be the highlight of the entire game. Logan Cunningham, voice of the titular Transistor, makes the game feel rich with character and gives Cloudbank life, as the way he talks about the city and his protectiveness of Red comes across as startlingly human. Darren Korb crafts a stellar soundtrack that transcends genres and forms what he calls “Old-world Electronic Post-rock.” Tying the soundtrack together are the vocal performances by Ashley Barrett, who sings songs as if performed by Red, which may deliver chills to the player whenever they come on.

The gameplay itself largely consists of navigating the terrain and battling enemies known as the Process. The player fights with functions that each perform a specific action. Functions can be integrated into other functions, providing benefits at the cost of taking additional points from the player’s point pool. For instance, “Get()” is a function that pulls enemies toward the player and deals more damage the farther the enemy is from Red. The player can use this function or add it to another to give its pull effect. With many functions to use, all of which can apply their effects to one another and set up combos, combat mostly consists of finding and experimenting with new sets of functions.

The game also offers the ability to use “Turn(),” which allows the player to stop time, plan the assault and execute it at breakneck speeds. While “Turn()” does allow players to perform feats otherwise impossible, it leaves them without many of their functions, unable to attack for a bit afterwards. While the players can find a balance between real-time combat and the execution of “Turn(),” they can face enemies however they like.

While there are not many different types of enemies in the game, the foes upgrade over the course of the game, adding some variability. Though enemy diversity is limited, the wide range of customization in combat gives power to the player and makes combat feel engaging and adaptable.

The title is around six-to-eight hours long, but it also boasts “recursion mode,” which offers players the chance to replay the story at a higher difficulty with all their unlocked upgrades, adding time to the experience.

“Transistor” has many things going for it that help create a lasting impression for the game. That said, the game has some bugs that can cause it to crash once or twice throughout the playthrough, though these may be patched at a later time. Additionally, while the narrative by the Transistor and his relation to Red are well done, the overall plot seems to have holes that could be filled. Combat is entertaining if you let it be, as you can easily use the same functions for almost the entire game if you create a good set-up.

Nonetheless, “Transistor” is a beautiful game, supported by both its cunning narrative devices, its engaging audio tracks and its beautiful, hand-drawn visuals. The game lives up to the reputation of “Bastion” and marks another indie title that shouldn’t be missed.