Transistor is a stunning video game, the music is perfect, the combat is engaging and the art direction is magical. Supergiant have now made two of my favourite video games. Bastion is 'A New Hope' and Transistor is The Empire Strikes Back. Although that doesn't bode well for their third game Pyre. It starts with a murder and deals with love, loss and sacrifice. I have tried to avoid talking about the plot in the post but forewarning there may be spoilers.
I started wirting this in the last act as I enjoyed it so much I had to start writing. Transistor is gorgeous in a way video games shouldn't be. Games have often failed to blend design, sound and gameplay into a coherent whole. Transistor does that effortlessly. Very few games I've played do, one of the few is The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, the first Bioshock is another. I'm a huge fan of video games that don't bother with story, Doom is my favourite game ever and it's plot is "You are on Mars, there are demons. Shoot demons". Transistor is the opposite, it is plot driven from start to finish. Time will tell if Transistor has the same longevity, but for now I just pure straight love this game.
It's easily the best thing I've played in years.
It does pushes every, single, one of my cliché buttons. It's a Noir tragedy set in what feels like an Art Deco multi user operating system (is it a UNIX system?). It is 1940's Jazz Cyberpunk with Drum and Bass twist. You play Red a buster sword wielding Jazz singer who's had her voice stolen and her lover murdered.
The gameplay is the part of it I'm least enthusiastic about but it is engaging, and when you get in the groove it is fun. It's a weird mix of turn based combat and real time, it plays like a cross between Zelda and X-Com. The downside to this, at least how I played it means that you feel very weak outside your turns. You can evade attacks but the combat areas are so small that it can be very difficult to avoid damage. This does get frustrating but once I got to grip with some combos I was fairly confident of taking Red's enemies The Process.
The Process also let the game down, it gets better towards the end with ghostly apparitions that make for some spooky final encounters. But I never feared The Process. They very much felt like obstacles to overcome than the existential threat that the plot demanded. The design of the earlier enemies felt quite sterile. This could very well have been intentional to fit the role of a piece of out of control software but it fell flat for me.
This feels like nitpicking and it is, and this is not a review. More me gushing over a video game. The music is spell binding. This is the second video game soundtrack I've chosen to listen to when I'm not playing it. The first was Bastion. They are both by the same artist Darren Korb and I cannot praise them enough. The art direction is beyond gorgeous, it's cyberpunk Art Deco with hints of Art Nouveau. It is navy blue, and burnt orange. Nineteen eighties futurism with fleck of gold from the turn of the last century. I could frame some of the screenshots I've taken.
I've enthused enough, if you haven't played Transistor then I implore you. Go, buy it now. Play it until you finish it. It, is, brilliant.