TL; DR(eview) - This 2014 PlayStation Network game from Supergiant Games features a vibrant art design, hauntingly beautiful sound design, and some great strategy gameplay mechanics.
Back in May 2014, we were still early enough in the PlayStation 4’s life cycle that there weren’t a ton of standout titles on the half-a-year-old console yet. So I was gladly dipping my toes into the PlayStation Network waters on an assortment of titles. Transistor came out to critical praise and it looked beautiful so I eagerly gave it a shot. I dove in and really enjoyed it back then, even going so far as to drop a few extra bucks for the PlayStation 4 Dynamic Theme based on the game. But life, and a backlog pulled me away from it after a couple hours. I still liked enough of what I played for the game to land on my top ten that year without ever having beaten it though.
I tried returning to it again once or twice over the last couple of years but for whatever reason I was just never in the right mindset for the game. So as I sat there, having finished a couple of Platinum Trophy runs for Dishonored Definitive Edition and Stories: The Path of Destinies, I was looking through my PlayStation 4 library and decided to revisit Transistor again. And this time I made it through!
Transistor has you playing as Red, a lounge singer robbed of her voice by the Camerata, who comprise your enemies throughout the duration of the story. Red’s lost voice actually came as a result of a botched assassination attempt but a mysterious man wound up taking the fatal blow by the Transistor sword, which absorbed his consciousness and voice. He/it winds up serving as the game’s narrator, with Red finding ways to communicate with him through looks, assorted computer terminals, or her melancholy humming. The duo set out to track down the leaders of the Camerata in order to find out what they’re doing to the city, as strange robotic enemies known as the Process begin transforming the city around them.
The minute-to-minute gameplay blends action and strategy. As you progress through the game, you will acquire a variety of Functions. Functions can be equipped as active, support, or passive abilities, with each function having a slightly different effect depending on the way in which it is equipped. Active abilities effectively serve as your attacks, support abilities can serve as modifiers of your active abilities, and passive abilities trade in attack and support for a passive buff.
With these functions in place, you can act in real time or (as I almost exclusively would), pause time and map out your plan of attack, with movement around the map and each attack taking up your “Turn()” Function. Once time resumes, your actions play out hopefully according to plan, but certain attacks might move enemies out of the range of your attacks or enemies might move away as you try to engage them. Your Turn() also takes some time to recharge leaving you somewhat vulnerable to enemy attacks. If the enemies manage to drain all of your health, one of your active function will temporarily become corrupted and you will be unable to use it until you come across a requisite number of terminals (where you can also re-configure your load-out). This makes for a great risk-reward balance in combat. Being overly reckless and aggressive (as I often was in my previous attempts with the game), can lead to you losing your main go-to attacks for a few battles. Additionally, the three-fold design of each Function’s...functionality...provides a lot of variety and customization to explore.
Outside of the main story, which can probably be played start to finish in about six hours, the game features an occasional respite where you can progress through a series of challenge rooms that will test different aspects of the game’s combat. One room will give you a pre-determined set of abilities and expect you to defeat all of the enemies allotted within one turn, while another will challenge you to survive by whatever means necessary for a set amount of time.
A final point worth mentioning is the game’s exquisite soundtrack. The music in the game features a number of beautiful electronic songs. And with the push of a button, the voiceless Red will hum along with the melody adding to the heartbreak inherent in a singer being robbed of her voice.
Transistor still stands out as a beautiful game on multiple fronts for the PlayStation 4 (or PC). I highly recommend picking it up if you haven’t. And it’s probably even frequently on sale in either location.