Red is not having a good week. Her boyfriend is dead, her voice has been stolen…
Oh yeah. And the world might be ending.
So opens Transistor, the second title from the makers of Bastion (one of many cool games you can play in Chrome). It’s a stylish action RPG that draws you in and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. Whether you’re picking it up for its haunting presentation, flexible combat system, or subtly delivered story, you’ll quickly discover that all of Transistor’s parts work in concert to deliver an unforgettable experience.
You play Transistor as Red, a wildly popular singer making waves in the city of Cloudbank. When an attempt on Red’s life by the Camerata, a group of enigmatic puppetmasters trying to control the city, goes awry, she finds herself in posession of the Transistor, a massive sword that can gain powers from memories or consciousnesses of the dead. She sets out for answers and vengeance, but the Process, an endlessly replicating horde of data-based predators, rampages out of control, and begins transforming everything in the city, leaving behind only inert, white blocks.
And beyond that, I don’t dare spoil anything for you. Transistor is a game that delights in your struggle to find the answers. The Camerata gives Red clues as to the nature of the Process without ever truly spelling anything out. You can discover more still from the dozens of info terminals scattered around the city that keep you updated on the state of the creeping apocalypse, or get bios of important cast members as you use the attacks that they supply to your Transistor. With Red mute, much of the narrative is delivered by one of the Transistor’s inhabitants. He keeps Red company on her otherwise lonely journey with a mixture of concern and witty banter. By the time you beat the game, you’ll have a lot to speculate about. If you’ve been looking for a game with an ending that begs for discussion and invites you to theorize about what’s really going on, you’ll love finishing Transistor.
Combat starts simply enough. You just have two moves: a stunning strike and a penetrating beam. Over time though, you’ll amass a diverse library of effects, each of which can be slotted as an active attack, a modifier for an attack, or a passive booster. Mixing and matching abilities for powerful effects becomes critical quickly, and anytime your health gets depleted, you’ll lose access to one of your currently equipped moves until you pass two checkpoints. It’s a system that refuses to let you rely on a single build for every encounter, and even if you could, you wouldn’t want to. The Process are a diverse bunch. Some drain health, some vanish and sneak up, and others bat you around the battlefield like a rag doll or toggle invulnerable shields on and off. Diverse mixes of enemy types keep combat fresh throughout the whole experience.
In many battles, the amount of mayhem on screen can get to be too much to handle in real time, but your Transistor has you covered. With it, you can stop time and plan out a series of attacks to go off virtually instantaneously. Jab with your blade to open a vulnerability in your target, then throw a ricocheting bolt that draws anyone it hits right over to you. Finish the combo with an explosive area blast and still have a little bit of juice left to dash out of reach of any retaliation. As you’re designing a combo with time frozen, you can back up any mistakes and do them over until you have the perfect salvo of damage and effects. You’re unable to attack for several seconds after using this powerful tool though, so it doesn’t just become a given in every situation. Sometimes you’ll be way more deadly just keeping things in real time and hacking away.
And the icing on the cake? If the game ever gets to easy for you, you can start activating Limiters to make the battles harder in exchange for faster character growth. It’s a system that’s way better than the set-and-forget difficulty of other games, because it lets you shape the game to your mood. Feeling ambitious? Lock out a third of your point pool that lets you install attacks, and double enemy damage. See how cocky you feel after that. If you burn out, you’re only a check point away from dialing back the limiters, or choosing different ones.
Transistor’s ability to immerse you in its world is a great argument for considering games as art. Cloudbank is a cosmopolitan city of towering skyscrapers, dark alleys, and manicured plazas, and every inch of it looks like a beautiful painting. A spectacular soundtrack delivers a wide variety of different tunes throughout the game, and it changes often enough that nothing overstays its welcome. Everything from pulse-pounding battle anthems to jazzy nightclub themes, from alien electronic soundscapes of the Process to tense, menacing guitar riffs evokes a city of mystery and danger. If that wasn’t enough, in just about any scene, you can hold a button to make Red close her eyes and meditatively hum along to the soundtrack while you soak it in.
I completed Transistor in one sitting at just over four hours of play, but I haven’t seen all the game has to offer. There are still structured combat challenges, and more levels and abilities to earn in the game’s Recursion mode that lets you play through the story again with all of your abilities and harder enemies. At $20, there’s an unforgettable story and a satisfying combat playground for you to enjoy. Consider Transistor highly recommended for your PS4 or your PC.
Have you played Transistor yet? What did you think? Add your perspective to the comments.
Like Red? Check out this list of other games with strong female leads.