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Transistor offers a short, but lovely experience

Red has been silenced by the Camerata
Red has been silenced by the Camerata
Photo courtesy of SuperGiant Games, used with permission

Transistor (PS4)

Rating:
Star5
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It's been a few years since we were first wowed by Bastion, the premiere title by SuperGiant Games, and have been eagerly awaiting the developer's second project ever since. Announced only a few months ago, Transistor aims to give PS4 and PC owners a dynamic mix of action and turn-based RPG gameplay, complete with gorgeous graphics and a rich new world for players to explore.

Transistor stars a young woman named Red, a renowned singer who is left silent after being attacked by a group known as the Camerata. Together with the Transistor, a sword-like device that houses the voice and consciousness of a man that she seems to know well, Red will have to track down the four members of the group before they destroy the city of Cloudbank with their mysterious Process. While the game throws players directly into the center of an on-going conflict, the game does a great job at conveying the characters and central themes without ever diverging into unnatural exposition.

The young man that accompanies Red in her journey speaks frequently about his personal feelings for her and their strange predicament, giving the player an even deeper understanding of Transistor's universe. As an added bonus for PS4 players, his voice can be set to the DualShock 4's speakers, and the controller's light bar changes in brightness and color to match his speech. It's small details like these that can really add a lot to the experience. Unfortunately, his tangents occasionally didn't mesh well with our desire to progress at a steady pace. We found ourselves accidentally cutting off dialogue when initiating our turn in battle, or when moving on quickly to another area.

The game itself is rather linear. The few instances that do allow the player to take an alternative route always lead to an extra computer terminal or other object to be examined. Players will spend their time making their way between battles, grabbing bits of plot and background information along the way. These may sound like negative points, but the game manages to flesh out the world of Cloudbank rather nicely, without the need to open its environment up completely. Keeping things linear also allows for a more focused experience that keeps the game's style and combat at its core. For those that do want to take time away from the main story, the game also features several practice challenges that can be accessed throughout the city.

Players have the ability to approach combat situations in a number of ways. Red is able to equip four of her skills at a given time, each of which is assigned to one of the controller's four face buttons. The player can either use these skills actively during hectic firefights, or opt to slow things down by taking a turn. This brings the battle to a halt, allowing players to more easily plan their next move. Red only has a limited amount of energy in which to move and attack during this mode, though players can easily undo actions to better optimize their turn. Once everything is planned out, Red will zip across the slow motion battlefield, easily dispatching even the fastest opponents before they can react. However, this leaves Red incredibly vulnerable, as she won't be able to attack again until her meter has recharged. Finding the perfect balance between active combat and turn-based gameplay is key while trying to adapt to some of the game's more difficult enemies.

While only four abilities can be assigned at one time, Transistor's combat is quite a bit deeper than that. Players can use their other abilities as passive upgrades that empower their attacks in a number of ways. These enhancements may include anything from increased fire power to a larger blast radius. We found ourselves continuing to experiment throughout the game as more powers became available with each passing level. Making yourself comfortable with a variety of attacks and strategies is important, as abilities will become temporarily unavailable once Red's health meter is depleted. This meant that we not only had to switch up our moveset, but our entire strategy from time to time.

Of course, most players won't have to worry too much about losing all of their best skills, as Transistor isn't an overly difficult game. That is, if players don't equip themselves with “limiters,” which will actually hinder their progress with self-imposed challenges. It's a nice addition, and can drastically change the course of what could otherwise be a rather straight-forward battle. There's also a great sense of accomplishment that comes from completing battles with an assortment of limiters equipped.

If we had one complaint about Transistor, it would be that the campaign is rather short, clocking in at a little under six hours. We found ourselves wanting more after the game's final moments, leading us to immediately start the campaign over from the beginning. Doing so will grant players with their abilities and skill level from their previous run. The Process will compensate by throwing out stronger enemies from the get-go, completely changing how the player will have to approach every one of their past battles. Playing through for a second time is absolutely essential in order to experience the game's full potential. Transistor is a rare example of a game that still feels fresh and exciting during an immediate second playthrough.

In the end, SuperGiant Games has succeeded in bringing fans another beautifully crafted world to enjoy. From its sensational game design to its dreamy soundtrack, Transistor in every way lives up to the expectations set by the developer's previous effort. We look forward to seeing what they will come up with next.

Pros:

+ Beautiful world full of rich colors and gorgeous backdrops

+ Streamlined gameplay without any filler or senseless detours

+ Rich combat system with plenty of customization

Cons:

- Framerate takes a beating during larger battles

- Easy to miss dialogue due to constant progression

- The game's lovely experience is over far too quickly

This review was made possible with a PSN code provided by SuperGiant Games