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Transistor (PS4) Review

/ May 20th, 2014 No Comments

transistor review

Since Bastion, fans have been waiting for another game from developer Supergiant Games. The wait is over now with Transistor. Video games are an experience. Unlike other forms of media, players are an active participant. The medium does nothing if not for your direct interaction. Video games aim to do more than simply tell a story. They give players the agency to create a unique reality.

Some games excel in a single element to excel, whether it be story telling, gameplay, aesthetics or music. Great games find a balance between most of these elements. The memorable ones find a way to make each aspect work seamlessly together to offer an incomparable encounter. Transistor manages to create one of those memorable, incomparable experiences.

Think About It. Standing Offer.

It ain’t like we used know it, Cloudbank. The Process slowly devours it. The Camerata unleashed hell onto Cloudbank while they slowly swallowed up its citizens. But, why? It doesn’t really matter, Red’s going to make them pay. She has the Transistor. It’s just a matter of reaching Cloudbank while the town dissolves under the voracious appetite of the Process. You better be fast because soon, nothing will be left. The answers do matter, in some respects–how do you stop the Process? How do you get him out of the Transistor and save Cloudbank? The Camerata has those answers. So go forth, use the Transistor and get them to fix this.
 

Transistor

Or you can turn left.

Writing in Transistor does an exemplary job of creating a sense of space and society. Cloudbank seems like a real place thanks to the fastidious attention to detail. Details on the backstory come in the form of Transistor recounting specific details from his and Red’s life and running commentary on the story events through OVC terminals. Mixed in with additional story details are the specific quirks and routine of living in Cloudbank society. These small details help make Red’s journey deeper.

The heavy lifting is done through brilliant narration from the Transistor that keeps the story progressing and doles out important details at relevant moments. Narration serves to elaborate on the relationship between the Transistor and Red. It also serves to build an intimate relationship between players and the game. Players are drawn in as they feel they are in the same boat as the Transistor. Unlike Rucks’ foreknowledge and omniscient narration in Bastion, the Transistor is along for the ride, just like you.

They Do Not Have a Sense of Humor

As an adversary, the Process is varied, relentless and powerful. It would be a problem if it weren’t for the Transistor. This powerful weapon gives you the power to take on the Process by yourself. Actually, players are not entirely alone throughout the journey. Some friends in the form of Traces help you along way.

When facing off against the multitudes of the Process, you have options on how best to take them out. One manner is using your Functions deliberately to put a dent in them. This works only for a short while before their strength overwhelms you. The other option is to use Turn, a powerful move that freezes the action, giving you time to carefully plan out how you will use your Functions. Learning how Function effects work together and how best to take out specific aspects of the Process becomes necessary to success.
 

Transistor

“Turn” gives you ample time to plot your actions.

At first, you only can use Functions as you gather Traces in the story. Eventually, you gain access to customizing your Functions and new ways to take out the Process. The Transistor has four active Function slots meaning you get four moves to use during a Turn (or out of Turn depending on how you use your Functions). These four active slots can be augmented as you level up by upgrading the Function with a secondary ability. This can make moves explode or split off into multiples depending on how you combine Functions. When you level up enough, you gain access to Passive skill slots, which means Functions can augment you in useful ways against the Process.

Different load-outs can lead to wildly unique results in combat. Figuring out the best combination awill only enhance a specific play style. Each Trace was a citizen of Cloudbank, but they now lend their memory and power to you. Every Function has a file giving details on the person in each Trace. Unlocking their full story as it relates to The Camerata’s plan requires using each Function in all the different slots. Not only does loadout customization have real gameplay benefits, but it helps enrich the story of Cloudbank.
 

Transistor

Tinkering with “Function” loadouts makes all the difference.

Since the game features a leveling system, there is a way to increase experience gained through battle after you level up. Limiters are active effects that make the Process stronger and require you to deal with them in different manners. When enemies are defeated they launch out Cells; if these cells are not recovered, the enemy respawns. One Limiter makes Cells shielded when an enemy is defeated. This means you have to attack the Cell before it respawns, usually as your turn recharges. The added difficulty nets additional experience, so you can level up quicker but there is an increased risk.

The Sky Looks Blue Because We Want It To…

Cloudbank is a beautiful, lush and tragic city. Walking through the streets, alleys and buildings of Cloudbank gives off an impression of a vague oppression pervading it. It is society based more around how to improve the expanse of the city rather than creating something more meaningful. Players get the sense that even before the Process wiped out most of the population, Cloudbank probably felt empty and hollow with people trying their best to connect to each other but failing.
 

Transistor

There is a sumptuous amount of detail to the look of Transistor.

Jen Zee’s art style helps give Cloudbank a sense of opulence and richness while the geometry of the city stinks of desolation. Character models and designs are incredible–Red and the Transistor looking iconic. There are moments in Transistor, where the perspective is breathtaking, fostering a sense of dread, but also a sense of abject fascination. Despite the ruinous feel of Cloudbank, there is always a constant sense of wonder about the city.

You Never Missed a Show…

From one perspective, Red’s story is about revenge, the act of perusing something, someone. Another perspective is she is being chased and hunted. The music helps foster the feeling of being chased. There is an underlying heaviness to the music that adds to the sense of pursuit in the game. At times, the music makes you feel distinctly hunted as the Process is always nipping at your heels. To give a sense of balance and contrast to the doggedness of pursuit, there are moments when the music is light and breezy, giving players some respite before jumping back into the fray.
 

Transistor

The music is amazing in Transistor.

More than anything, the score perfectly drops in haunting vocal charged songs to enhance important story moments. These vocal performances headed by Ashley Barrett serve as a way to hint at Red before she lost her voice. Darren Korb masterfully creates a soundtrack that adds atmosphere and depth to Cloudbank. Logan Cunningham gives a commanding performance as the Transistor. It is the narration provided by Cunningham that ties everything together.

Don’t Let Me Go.

Transistor is a mesmerizing, engrossing affair. On the PlayStation 4, there is care given to draw you deeply into the adventure though the smart use of the DualShock 4. When playing Transistor, the light bar pulsates in a calming blue hue to make it seem like you are holding the Transistor itself. An option to use the speaker on the DualShock 4 further creates the sense of wielding the Transistor, making playing as Red feel that much deeper.

Every aspect of Transistor works in concert together to make Cloudbank and Red’s journey real. It is a game that allows you to lose yourself in the journey.

 

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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TRANSISTOR (PS4) REVIEW

Gaming Illustrated RATING

Overall97%

GAMEPLAY9.7

The combat and strategy in Transistor has a ton of depth to it. Between the healthy amount of battles throughout the regular games and the challenges, gameplay never gets stale in the game. The reward of experimenting with loadouts and "Functions" makes planning out combat in Transistor always a dynamic opportunity.

GRAPHICS9.7

Jen Zee's art is stunning. The level of detail put into the various blocks and buildings making up Cloudbank is impressive.

SOUND9.7

Darren Korb masterfully creates a soundtrack that adds atmosphere and depth to the game. A huge testament to the quality of the music is the fact that purchasing the OST is essentially a must. Logan Cunningham deliver a tremendous performance as the Transistor.

STORY9.7

The writing is top notch in Transistor. It tells a beautiful story seemingly about revenge, but more than that. The depth unfolds as Red gets closer to her goal. Not only does it tell a great story, but it builds a believable society, culture and world in Cloudbank.