Transistor for the Windows PC and Sony PlayStation 4 is a Action Strategy RPG the likes of which has never quite been seen before.
In a digital world called Cloudbank where digital souls, and digital people, exist as functions, and concepts are similar to programming language terms. A female protagonist named Red is presented at the center stage of all combat and cinematic aspects of the game. Red is a rebellious and righteous singer well known among the people of Cloudbank and has voice stolen.
In this game other characters included are the Camerata organization (possible Illuminata reference; i.e. Illuminati Corp), representing intriguing and shadowy top level organizations in general. In this game a series of events leads the entire Cloundbank citizenry to being held hostage in a digital manner with the Transistor linked to it all as well. There’s a process unexplained outbreak causing mass relocation efforts that causes a further chain of events to occur and generates the enemies Red faces along the way.
To prevent spoilers that’s all we’ll say about that, but further details can be uncovered through various ‘playthroughs’ of the title, which is another great boost in replay value for the game. Combat is discussed later in the Gameplay Section of this Review and is the core of this title alongside its unique look discussed below.
In Transistor, dialogue is like whispers in the wind. Noir themes are mixed with colorful graphics and a heartfelt, albeit unusual story line. Music is incredible and has a great variety of modern techno sound effects mixed into real live instruments; percussion and otherwise, with late-game levels even sounding something like Diablo mixed with an upbeat house flavor.
In the long run, the story ends up as twisting and turning as any plot that provokes the mind despite taking place in a fictional and new setting. Social topics of the futuristic society we live in today are addressed by the stories of Cloundbank and the events that unfold throughout the game. What starts out with questions eventually leads to a bigger picture understanding of the way life is in Cloundbank.
Levels are beautifully crafted with tricky camera angles that give pleasure to the mind while playing. While mostly linear, Transistor presents optional side passageways which lead to new paths and different challenges – making grinding essentially optional to some extent. There’s also an optional “backdoor” every once in a while that leads back to Red’s sanctuary. This is also a place where many ‘side-quest’ style content remains dormant and waiting for players such as Speed Trials.
Transistor is not an RPG in the way that random battles occur everywhere you turn but instead is an RPG in the fact that it has a very systematic battle, character, upgrade, and turn systems which players utilize in entire battles that must be survived. Every time a player dies, they don’t die. They lose one of their Functions and once a certain amount of Functions are lost, it sometimes becomes pretty clear that death is coming – so a player can either restart the battle or keep going until death, at either of which point the last save file is called upon.
A few times I managed to walk off the victor in battles I was losing and without some of my Functions until I reached one or more Access Points (the spots where you switch up functions and save the game). As players go from scene to scene, there is pretty much an Access Point after every battle. This is actually very nice in that every battle is treated as 1 room faced after another. Theoretically, there’s never going to be a point where you lost progress because you forgot to save thanks to a well thought-out level design like this. It allows the player to focus on the game’s intriguing story and best of all – the strategy and tactics of each battle or “room” at hand. Be careful losing those Functions though and allowing yourself imperfect battle completions, because facing off boss battles without the right Functions could be difficult.
Each function also tells players more about the characters and the world around you as they are derived from subjects. Battle system descriptions and highlights are presented as well as upgrade details. Battle becomes more and more strategic at a certain point after starting off more tactical and action-oriented.
Combining Functions through use of the game’s slots system provides better moves and custom attacks. Having these attacks and deciding which to bring into battle greatly expands Gameplay, but that’s just the beginning. Mastering which upgrades, passive, and active slots work best for any give play-style is a huge replay value extender and keeps the game feeling fresh throughout.
During Turn() (the turn-based part of the game initiated manually) players plan out moves while time is frozen and then watch Red perform them in real-time. players also have the ability to use moves in action while waiting for a gauge to recharge on this main ability.
Real time attacks are also important and each move can be used outside of the timeline planning as well such as to prevent cells from spawning new enemies after a cell just came out of an enemy you defeated (or in some cases, tons of cells from one mini-boss as seen in our Video Review below this section). Moves are custom mapped on the controller to the X, Square, Circle, and Triangle buttons.
Different enemies are stronger or weaker against various attacks – such as getting hit from behind or being shocked with electric moves. enemies are more and more leveled up as you go acquiring different attributes which means the player must switch up tactics in order to kill efficiently. The enemies also gain new abilities and sometimes level-specific scripted events that the player cannot reproduce. The challenge is always possible to overcome and although enemies team up together players who seek out weak points in these alliances will be able to destroy everything in their path. Some enemies are temporarily protected for a variety of reasons which require players to move intelligently or cloak themselves.
Remember, you’re in a digital world filled with operators that send packets which spawn cells, where enemies can sometimes become cells that respawn if not taken out keeping the player briskly moving from turn to turn, and backup comes in the form of Cheerleaders, Snapshots, and much more. Losing functions in battle and loading up backup ones becomes an issue when facing opponents that are new to the player due to the learning curve of each enemy unit. Earning more moves which themselves upgrade and expand on abilities is another mechanic in play.
Players must choose which upgrades to accept and pick above the rest each time they level up. Permissions and passive slots are earned through time are presented as upgrades. Each attack move can have up to 2 passive effects on it at a time generated by placing functions into secondary slots. This can produce various combinations on both attacks and also the experience of using Turn(). Taking each turn will allow players more time to do so, quicker, and more defensive / resistant attributes while in turn mode thanks to using passive slot abilities of functions like Crash().
Process limiters make the game harder in exchange for allowing players to receive a huge bonus in the power of their character. For example, players can control whether or not the shielded cells spawn after a kill and will receive less or more of a User Level bonus as they go forwards based on this. It’s recommended highly to use these limiters though, because the game is actually easier with them on since the player gets a huge boost in their abilities based on the Player Level Bonus granted. The action on-screen that becomes exponentially more intense is still easier dealt with using high level tools that the Limiters provide more ease of access too.
One thing about this game is that Transistor has more interactive environments than expected which helps add to the feel of something fresh always within grasp during gameplay and interim moments (for tweaking upgrades and doing trials).
Heavily based on Strategy with the bonus cinematic quality and gameplay experience of an Action title, Transistor has time to laugh at itself too. When players are planning out a Turn() they can sometimes achieve ‘Overkill’ status and are met with warning messages in the turn-based readouts such as “You’re mean.” and “Do you even read?”. Strategically using overkill planned moves can waste essential time per Turn(), however a few common enemies tend to shift and the position shifts are not always flawlessly predicted by design, to add to the dynamic aspect of battle.
Video Review w/ HD Gameplay:
*Click on the Gear, then Select 1080P HD for Optimal Viewing
REPLAY VALUE: EXCELLENT – Tests / Trials, Trophies, New Game Plus!!!! After beating Transistor and loading into the game at a later time, players are greeted with the following challenge – “You will restart the story, retaining your User Level and Functions. The Process will respond in kind. Begin Recursion?” informing an increased difficulty experience while players are also being given the opportunity to continue unlocking and mastering various Limiters, Processes, and otherwise ‘gear’.
While easily praised for its original graphics and rich strategic blend of action / turn based gameplay with heavy rpg elements, Transistor really takes players for a ride with its story-line. While at first a bit mysterious and strange to get used to, players spend time figuring out how all of these digital tech terms fit into the game’s world and at the same time a larger picture is beginning to unravel. Sort of like solving a mystery, bit by bit the reality of this world is fused together by the path of battle and reflection between the protagonist Red and her companion. With plenty of replay value and deep systematic design to master, there’s no shortage of reasons why this game is good.
Transistor could be seen as a metaphor for the changes the world has been seeing in regard to the Internet and how various groups in power feel it should be used. For that matter, Transistor’s plot could even expand beyond that and be used as a message about society’s changes overall and serves as a warning that there are those who would like to stop these changes dead in their tracks and replace our reality of a living, evolving society with their own images of what society should be like. Transistor gets a 10 out of 10 from RealGamerNewz and is rated an RGN Platinum Game.
Overall Score: 10 / 10
RGN Rating: Platinum Game
Publisher / Developer: Supergiant Games
Available On: PC | PS4
Played On: Sony PlayStation 4
Review Copy Info: A digital copy of this game was purchased by RealGamerNewz for the purpose of this Review.