Supergiant Games emerged onto the video game landscape in 2009 and at the time, the team was made up of veterans from other notable developers like EA Los Angeles. In two short years, the team masterfully crafted Bastion. Winning many accolades and fans along the way, Supergiant’s success peaked many a gamers interest as to what they would be working on next. In early spring of 2013, they announced their next title would be Transistor. Fast forward to May of 2014, the team has now expanded to twelve and this time they’ve chosen to release their sophomore title on the PlayStation platform rather than Microsoft’s Xbox One.
On the surface, there are many similarities between Bastion and Transistor. Without anyone telling you who developed the game, you immediately would know it was Supergiant. The signature artwork by the masterful Jen Zee is as vibrant as ever. Her hand-painted 2D art is fun, cutting edge, and distinct to the worlds she brings to life. Cloudbank is her new canvas and with skilled precision, she treats us all to a futuristic sci-fi world mixed with steam-punk trappings and plentiful neon that would even make Perley Nutting, the father of Neon signs, proud.
Along with Zee, another returning entity is Darren Korb, who composed the music for both Bastion and Transistor. Korb describes the music of Transistor as “Old-world Electronic Post-rock”. There are many songs in the game, some of which can be unlocked by successfully completing side challenges located in the Sandbox. Challenges will involve hordes of enemies and at times, you will have to outlast them for ninety seconds or kill them all in 32 seconds. There are other various challenges as well that can be accessed through doors in the Sandbox. It should be noted that within the first week of sales, the soundtrack to Transistor sold 48,000 copies. The music is essential to Supergiant’s games and once again the accompaniment enhances the mood and atmosphere.
At the beginning of the game, we’re introduced to the main characters. Red, a talented singer, is crouched over a friend who has just been killed by a large glowing sword called the Transistor. The sword was an attempt on the life of Red by the Camerata, a group of three officials who had alternative plans for Cloudbank. During the attack, Red’s voice gets trapped in the Transistor and alternatively, the friend loses control of his body but his voice is now emitting from the sword. This voice now provides narration for the rest of the game, much like in Bastion and coincidentally, it is the voice actor who also narrated Bastion.
Red with the Transistor in tow, heads on out to find who tried to kill her but more importantly to solve who or what is causing harm to Cloudbank. The story, while simple enough, is slowly revealed as you play through the game. There is a persistent feeling that the writers have written the story in such a way where you’re always one or two steps behind in figuring out what is actually happening and whom is to blame. It’s an interesting twist that can make things tense at times. One would think with such detail already shown in other facets of the game, that this storytelling technique was premeditated and not stumbled upon.
As with any combat oriented game, there is a character upgrade system that allows Red to earn different abilities. There are four different slots to assign these newly acquired skills and each slot also has two upgrade slots where you can combine skills to craft a more devastating attack. Also, there are two passive slots where you can assign skills and the game will automatically do the work for you. For example, there is a Switch skill and when used in passive mode, it will launch a “bad cell” after every time you kill a cell. Then this “bad cell” will fight along side with you to assist with defeating the robotic enemies, known as the Progress.
In order to level up and earn these skills, Supergiant has provided a few ways to raise your character’s level. First, regular in-game combat kills will naturally level you up. One other way is to complete the challenges in Sandbox but the most interesting way is through the Limiter system. Here players, of their own free will, can decide to lower their character’s skill levels or enhance the difficulty of their foes by assigning a series of limiters. Each limiter usually comes with a 2-4% reward, which of course will raise your character’s level quicker than normal.
Another comparison to Bastion is Supergiant’s signature isometric view. Being able to see three dimensional objects in a two dimensional view never gets old. However, one change they have implemented this time around is the way in which a player can engage in combat. Similar to a turn-based strategy game, players can now use a turn counter to plan attacks. Levelling up your character and assigning the correct skills will increase your turn counter meter, which allows for greater strikes. The goal with the longer turns and more impressive skills is to optimize your attacks and create combos. Like most things in life, nothing is free and there is a cost for using a turn based attack. There will be a cool down period afterwards that will only allow Red to move around and she can’t go on the offensive again till the cool down is finished. Players can still engage in traditional combat, if they chose, but there really is no need to with this new combat method. It will be a futile effort trying to hack and slash your way through this game.
Transistor is a fantastic ride from beginning to end. Once again, Supergiant has crafted a work of art, not just a video game. It has all the trademarks of what the studio was known for once they released Bastion. A beautiful, unique world set to a atmospheric soundtrack. If there was a complaint to be had, the story is on the short side and repetitive at times but there is enough gameplay and strategy to keep players engaged than other titles with longer story lines. Supergiant hit the sweet spot in terms of content, collecting, and combat and at this price point, Transistor is a no-brainer of a purchase.