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Transistor Review


Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: See Above
Released on May 20, 2014

Transistor is a fast-paced, sci-fi story brought to you by the creators of Bastion. In this action RPG, you are Red, a former singer who wields an extraordinary weapon called the Transistor, capable of storing functions and combining them in strategic ways. With responsive gameplay set in the futuristic city of Cloudbank, it’s up to you to piece together the mysteries surrounding this weapon.

Genre: An Action-Indie RPG

Transistor is a turn-based game of strategic planning and atmospheric storytelling, letting the player experiment with its real-time combat system. At the start, you see a cutscene of a man impaled on the Transistor and watching over him, is a grieving woman presumed to be his lover.

You will be playing as the woman and carrying this talking sword that narrates the events as they occur. It’s implied that something happened the night before and they are being pursued by the Process–a legion of malfunctioning robots that are taking over Cloudbank and eliminating its denizens.

The world feels empty when everyone has already evacuated.

The city appears to be deserted and it seems that you are one of the few survivors remaining. While Cloudbank is no safe haven, you aren’t completely defenseless either. You carry a sword called the Transistor which is equipped with two basic functions you can execute–which are Crash and Breach.

Crash is a combat ability for attacking close range enemies to weaken them. Breach is far more piercing and does heavy damage to targets but costs more turn planning. With this in mind, you will get more functions as you level up. You can unlock additional slots to support the main function with passive skills.

Red staring at a promo poster of her performance on that fateful night.

The Transistor is hinted to have trans-dimensional properties, suggesting that every process you defeat is absorbed into the sword itself as trace data. Fighting The Process will make you stronger though it can be dangerous if they keep respawning. As such, you have to collect the cells left behind in between your turns.

The heroine is Red, a female singer who has lost her voice after a disastrous run-in with the Camerata. This organization was rumored to have caused the disappearance of many famous and talented individuals. According to her profile, Red studied performance arts at Traverson and gained the spotlight for her exceptional singing.

You are invincible during this mode to map out actions at lightning speed.

The Process is becoming out of control and Red won’t be able to escape unless she takes care of them. They were supposed to be in charge of city maintenance–painting over the buildings and surveying the residents. But now, they’re trying to destroy Cloudbank, reducing the city back into blocks of rewritable code.

In combat, I highly recommend switching to planning mode as much as possible because this effectively stops time, freezing enemies in place. Here, you can execute functions to damage the robots or move across the field to take cover from incoming attacks. The top bar shows your movements and the cost of each function being used.

A cooldown period disables your functions until the action bar recharges.

There are many types of processes nicknamed by the Transistor. The most common are Creeps that fire an energy beam and can pull the player towards them. Jerks are large robots that set off shockwaves by striking the ground. Cheerleaders look like satellites and encase other robots in a protective force field.

Then you have Weeds poking out of the ground, healing any robots that move near them. Cluckers act like chickens by launching egg-shaped explosives into the air. And Snapshots take photos of Red as it shoots her with energy balls. Above all, these robots evolve in newer versions, with more powerful laser beams.

Speaking of functions, there are a total of 17 to collect as Red gains a level. My favorite one is Help() which summons a fetch dog to fight on your behalf. I did have a lot of fun with combining multiple functions by filling up my active slot effects. When facing robots with high defense, I always used Void() to weaken them before doing a sneaky backstab.

In my opinion, Jaunt() is essential for surviving cool down periods since it enables players to dash away from dangerous projectiles in the blink of an eye. I also like using Cull() to launch processes upward in an area-of-effect attack that deals massive amounts of damage. Ping() is weak on its own and yet, helps you plan turns efficiently if inserted into a passive slot.

Niola Chein’s profile after being integrated into the Transistor.

If you absorb the trace data of a dead citizen, you are granted a new ability. Spark() is a function you find that splits off smaller explosives that damage enemies in a circular field. It’s possible to increase the blast radius by combining it with another combat ability.

I enjoyed chaining multiple enemies using Bounce() as well as having Switch() in a slot upgrade to turn large groups of processes into temporary allies. So when you’re inspecting functions, do set up your own strategy by making creative combinations until you have no memory left to spend.

Decrypting files about influential citizens in Cloudbank is easy, you just need to add the corresponding function to a specific slot for three different combat encounters.

Members of the Camerata: Sybil, Asher, Grant, and Royce.

As the game progresses, a few pivotal cutscenes are shown, in contrast to Red on her motorbike with the ever-reliable, talking sword. Meanwhile, the Camerata is revealed to be a shady organization that attempted to stab Red during her on-stage debut. At the last second, a man took the final blow for her.–He was presumably absorbed into the Transistor.

At first glance, their motives are unclear, though the game implies the Camerata was put in charge of creating original concepts for Cloudbank’s attractions. For this reason, they integrated many people into the Transistor to extract their powers. Consequently, the situation went south when they lost control of The Process.

This beach house is like another sandbox altogether.

Aside from The Process trying to destroy you at every turn, there are a few safe zones where you can kick back and relax: Hidden doors in Cloudbank lead to the sandbox area, a beach inhabited by a friendly process named Luna and a giant beach ball. It is what you’d call a pointless but fun feature.

This is the best place to test your skills with some practice tests. As such, the huge tree has many doors that lead to different training areas. Some are survival-based whereas others expect you to defeat all processes in a single turn. Each time you complete a test, you will unlock a soundtrack from Transistor.

Beyond equipping functions and testing them in combat, I didn’t really pay much attention to the process limiters. All I know is that if you have them activated, they will add a challenging element to The Process, whether it’s doubling their damage output or spawning corrupted cells to harm the player.

On the bright side, you do get a user-level bonus to help you level faster. But the game won’t let you use too many limiters or else it would break the gameplay. If you’re curious about The Process you can read Royce’s amusing entries here, describing how they react to people.

Red humming a soft tune. Did you know she was voiced by Ashley Barrett?

Transistor is hard in unpredictable ways: You’ll lose count of how many times you’ve lost functions because you ran right into a swarm of Processes. Coupled with the fact that you have only one healing function, you might end up just barely staying alive.

I personally was never a fan of YoungLadies because they spawn endless duplicates, leaving me outnumbered so I can’t target the real one. I still remember that one part where the world’s spine tries to stab you with its tail. This thing affects the talking sword, making him act strange and distant.

Evidently, there are far nastier forces ahead capable of draining all your health in seconds. And when your health reaches zero, one of your functions overloads so it cannot be activated in the next Process encounter. A boss fight is exactly what I’m talking about–See Sybil and her extremely sharp umbrella.

That awkward moment when the villains die before you confront them.

All things considered, I was impressed by the plot of Transistor, especially the talking sword who expresses his love for Red when the two are in danger. He also likes to lighten the atmosphere or comment on objects you find in Cloudbank. I did feel that the Camerata’s backstory was rather vague.

On a final note, I did enjoy voting at the OVC terminals since you can order pizza or even change the weather at times. The news reporter would mention Red’s disappearance and Red would leave replies on the terminal despite being unable to talk.

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