Transistor is a gorgeous and evocative adventure through one of the most beautiful virtual landscapes ever conceived, where constant narration guides and compels you to explore and soak in every incidental detail. This is coupled with a brilliantly executed and novel story that is filled with interesting ideas, as well as an addictive combat system that has you planning strings of attacks before executing. Alone these elements are wonderful but combined they are exemplary.
You play as Red, a lounge singer who has had her voice snatched. Upon stumbling upon the Transistor, a talking futuristic gizmo that doubles as a sword, she goes on a quest through the beautiful city of Cloudbank to retrieve it. Things quickly turn ugly, and the virulent robotic presence called the Process impedes your travel with murderous intent.
Whimsically, the Transistor narrates your entire journey, and, with Red’s inability to speak, his voice fills your ears for the majority of the game. He’ll comment on the enemies you fight, vistas that you stop and absorb, and every other feature of the game’s vibrant environment. His endearing voice felt personal, as if he was talking directly to myself – in fact he was, I opted to have his voice project out of the Dualshock 4’s built-in speaker – as well as Red, and this provided me with a surprisingly large amount of comfort and empathy.
Dealing with the Process is the core of Transistor. Throughout, you can find and attach functions, such as Crash() and Help(), to the Transistor – think equipping Materia in Final Fantasy VII – which allows for up to four attacks, for example a close range slash or firing a beam that bounces between enemies. These in turn can be buffed with additional functions, such as extra backstab damage or adding an AoE explosion. Each function can also be used to provide passive buffs to Red. Experience is gained upon completing fights, with levelling adding new functions to Red’s arsenal.
While combat can be handled by simply mashing the Dualshock 4’s face buttons to haphazardly attack, the real beauty of this system begins by activating Turn(). This freezes all enemies and allows you to string together attacks and movement to create a chain of devastating force, which then executes in real time. Using Turn() triggers a cooldown period where no functions can be used, creating a careful nuance to effectively utilising it – many times I found myself running in a panic waiting for it to recharge, chased by a slew of surviving enemies.
Each fight is a blast. Being able to strategically plan your course of attack is heaps of fun and, with the ridiculously large combination of functions to play around with, never grows tiresome. This is in part due to the death, or the lack of, mechanics. Upon losing all of her HP, Red will simply overload one of her primary functions, rendering it useless until reaching a terminal two fights away. This cleverly meant I was forced to mix up my functions to fight as effectively as possible until I could recover any lost functions. For an extra challenge, limiters can be equipped; these power up different Processes – for example, the Jerk Process deals double damage – in exchange for a percentile boost to experience.
The city of Cloudbank itself is picturesque. Transistor takes place in a hand-painted, isometric world and it is absolutely stunning. A true thing of beauty and a pleasure to look at. The attention to detail is astonishing; as Red drags the Transistor along the ground, sparks scurry across the floor, branching out in an awe-inspiring computer chip-inspired pattern. The entire world of Cloudbank and each and every organism inside it is brought to life with great credit to Transistor’s amazing sense of style.
Not content in being just a pretty face, Transistor uses sound phenomenally. The utterly brilliant narration aside, Transistor’s soundtrack is a treat. There’s a delightful mix of tracks and they all fit the tone of the world perfectly. In a stroke of genius, there’s a ‘hum’ button that allows you to take a step away from the game and let Red hum along to the soundtrack. There’s something melancholic yet uplifting about hearing Red enjoy music without her voice, and I felt compelled to use it multiple times in order to just sit back and enjoy the tranquillity.
- + The Transistor narrates your entire experience
- + Addictive strategic combat
- + The flexibility of functions
- + Undeniably beautiful