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A world in turmoil, a woman with a lost voice, and the transistor. From the very beginning the threads of Supergiant Games’ second title lay far apart and create a place of terror and beauty. Things never fully swell together into the ultimate payoff you truly hope to see when the credits roll but there is enough to like in Transistor that makes it a game not only worth playing but worth marveling at.
From the beginning the world of Transistor is cloaked in mystery, doubt and distaste. Everyone is gone and soon everything will be gone unless Red can make haste to uncover exactly what is happening in Cloudbank. Cloudbank is an apt name for the city as the story of the game is pretty cloudy from the start. Red, a musical artist wakes up only to find a mysterious piece of technology known as the transistor which was recently used in an attempt to take her very life. What does the transistor and Red have in common and why was the shadowy group known as “The Camarata” after her?
You’ll have to be consistently patient as the story of Transistor takes its sweet time reveling any of the cards in its hand. The story is certainly interesting and all the pegs do line up with all the slots it sets up, but it is done at such a slow pace that it doesn’t have the impact I expected it too. Keeping everything shrew and quiet is all well and good but to keep pretty much all the pieces scattered until the last hour or so really just left me distraught and trying to put things together based on very few facts. It doesn’t help that the bios you receive during the game need to be unlocked using specific actions; it suffers the same inherited fate as games that hide story in scattered notes or audio files within the environment. Since these do contain relevant info to the story, it really bums me out I didn’t get to see them all. Still, there is merit to upholding a decent story and while I did not like how barren it begins, I did appreciate that everything came together in a conceivable manner.
One of the more notable characters in Transistor is in fact the transistor itself, which marks a striking resemblance to the narrator from Supergiant’s last game, Bastion. This is your main voice into the world, as Red as figuratively and literally lost her voice; the transistor is all that is left to fill in the very small bits of info about exactly what is going on. The connection between Red and the transistor is a unique one, something I constantly admired but was never outright said to work again with that tone of mystery. There are subtle ways these two communicate and it made the bond between them much stronger than I could have anticipated. Sadly, the foes of Transistor never had the same bond, at least for the most part. While the very last sequence expands greatly about the story and main villain, everyone else in between seemed to show no real motivation to their actions. They just sort of seem to be mindless soldiers with hardly any agenda of their one. There are always hints of other ideas and prospects but its never expanded in the game, a real shame.
Perhaps the most surprising thing in Transistor however was just how intricate and expansive the combat is. On the surface, it seems like a standard RPG format, but once you dig deeper it truly opens up into one of the deepest and engrossing combat systems around. Instead of assigning specific abilities to be used as a standard attack, passive or modifier, each one can be used however you wish. For example, take the crash ability for instance. It is the first ability and is placed into your first attack slot; it is a downward thrust which causes damage and creates a brief stun. However, when your arsenal expands you could possibly place that in the modifier slot, giving a different attack the stun effect or even toss it in a passive slot for damage resistance. I am no mathematics whiz but out of the ten or so abilities there must be hundreds of combinations you can create, all with vastly different effects and outcomes. One of my favorites turned out to be the dash ability paired with turn ability, causing enemies I dashed through to switch to my side for a few brief moments.
The planning mode lets you get the most of these abilities, pausing and scheme for the absolute best results. It’s fun for most of the game but slowly starts to wear thin as the combat begins to dilute into a plan, run away, repeat scenario. Even the mass array of powers at your disposal, there is a good chance you will find a decent pairing that will solve all your troubles. That’s not to overshadow the fact that the large array of options is really great and all, just there was a point in my game where I found the one-two punch that worked for me and I stuck with it more most of the game.
Despite the few shortcomings Transistor falls into, it is never enough to ruin the entire experience. The story is there just enough to keep you interested but the combat is the real star here. You can spend hours just creating new combinations and techniques, perfecting your fighting potential. It doesn’t hurt either that the atmosphere is breathtaking. Everything from the alluring visuals to the musical score is top notch really just sucking you into the calamity of what is going on in Cloudbank, a true sight to behold. Despite the few shortcomings that Transistor suffers from, it is certainly an experience worth having and a visual trip worth taking.