Critics Corner: Transistor
I’m not saying that there haven’t been any noteworthy games released over the last few months but prior to this week, we hadn’t done a Critics Corner metareview of a game in two months. Transistor leads off an unusually packed late-May release lineup. You’ve got Wolfenstein, Watch Dogs and Mario Kart 8 leading the big budget productions while Transistor represents the indie contingent.
Supergiant Games had only one game under its belt prior to this week but having Bastion as its only title made it as close to video gaming royalty as one game will get you. Now, they’re back with Transistor. While the game tries not to be Bastion, it’s hard for reviewer (and gamers, I’d imagine) not to draw the inevitable comparison between Supergiant’s two games.
The game’s story and gameplay are a bit divisive with some critics absolutely loving how the story was done and the new style of gameplay while others just weren’t interested in what Transistor was offering. Everyone agreed that the art style and audio were absolutely fantastic.
But enough of my intro and summary. What did the critics think of Transistor?
“Transistor begins with a woman, a dead body, a talking sword, and a dying city. Red is a singer with no voice, trapped in a sprawling digital metropolis being erased by white robot programs called the Process. Byte by byte, block by block, Cloudbank is becoming nothingness in the shape of a city. But Red has the Transistor, the mysterious sword she pulled out of the dead body at her feet. Red is the hero, but the Transistor plays both narrator and star.” – PC Gamer (8.0/10)
“A great catastrophe has happened in Cloudbank, the city where Transistor is set, and relentless, predatory life forms roam the streets, attacking anything they see. These organisms are part of a collective known as the Process and it’s acting like a cancer, growing and consuming until there’s nothing left.
“The Process’ motivation and who’s behind it remain largely a mystery throughout most of the game. Until the very end, it’s easy to feel like you barely have a grip on the plot, but that seems to be the point. Transistor almost stubbornly refuses to give any easy answers. The lack of information is hardly a criticism, however. It wants you to poke and prod, to uncover its mysteries for yourself.” – Game Trailer (9.0/10)
“Transistor starts in the middle of the action, and it’s up to you to piece together what’s happened before, and what’s to come. It respects your ability to fill in the blanks, and relies on subtlety in a way that few games ever do.” – IGN (9.0/10)
“Not everything needs an explanation. I imagine some variation of that idea was in the heads of the team at Supergiant Games as Transistor took shape. From its surreal setting and enigmatic characters, to its surprising upgrade system and combat, Transistor is a game that is happy to let you discover its charms over time. For players willing to accept a slightly more opaque experience than many games, Transistor offers an escape into a strange and enchanting world. ” – Game Informer (9.0/10)
“That said, even if players don’t fully understand what’s going on in the game, Transistor does an amazing job of setting its tone. There’s an impressive sense of hopelessness that grows thicker as the Process spreads throughout the city, and the deep, melancholic speech of the Transistor coupled with the subdued, electronic soundtrack makes it clear that Red’s relationship with her talking sword is far more important than the details of the plot. Players will find snippets about the city’s current events buried in terminals throughout the city, and watching them slowly degrade over the course of the game only heightens the mood.” – RPGamer (8.0/10)
“You can race through the campaign and well into New Game Plus before much beyond the basics of the plot have taken shape in your mind. Supergiant enters late and treats you like a grown-up who’s really paying attention. Even then, it merely nudges you towards the main themes and a proper understanding of the backstory, laying out a narrative inquest – or at least an intriguing and portentous muddle – in which, with a few exceptions, you can draw your own conclusions.” – Eurogamer (9.0/10)
“Transistor most differs from its predecessor with its combat mechanics. Where Bastion was a straightforward action game, Transistor adopts a more strategic system.” – Destructoid (8.5/10)
“When I wasn’t exploring abandoned corners of the city, I was fighting Process — robotic foes hell-bent on destroying Cloudbank. Combat occurs often, setting up a gameplay loop of explore-search-fight that kept things moving at all times. Upon meeting a set of enemies, a perimeter appears, boxing Red in and forcing her to fight.” – Polygon (8.5/10)
“The Transistor has the power to absorb the citizens of Cloudbank, repurposing them as “functions” that Red can use in combat. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking Transistor was an isometric action game, similar to developer Supergiant’s debut effort, Bastion. In real-time, Red can swing the Transistor at enemies – rogue programs known as “The Process” – but she’s quickly overwhelmed. The Transistor has another handy trick though, allowing Red to stop time and consider her actions.” – Joystiq (7.0/10)
“At first, it’s just moving about and using any of the face buttons to execute a move, but suddenly Transistor tells you that you can push a trigger to pause time, allowing you to plan (then execute) an entire string of moves. This is the first of many jaw-on-the-floor moments, and it feels fresh, new, and incredibly exciting.
“What it means, essentially, is that Transistor is an incredibly accessible game. You can play it just as an isometric (almost) hack and slasher if you fancy, but the real joy is planning out an attack on multiple enemies, before escaping to cover behind one of the many electronically generated walls, waiting for your timer to reset, and starting it all over again.” – God is a Geek (10/10)
“As you progress, you collect more and more techniques, called functions, each one the essence of a fallen resident of Cloudbank. There are 16 functions in all, including straightforward attacks, movement abilities, a function that spawns a doglike helper, a function that temporarily turns enemies into allies, and others. Each one can be slotted as an active ability, or to upgrade another function, or to give you a passive benefit. There are a remarkable variety of ways in which these techniques can be combined, and hitting on particularly effective combinations and putting them to use in battle is immensely satisfying.” – GameSpot (8.0/10)
“Turn-based strategy is about empowerment through choice, and while certain moments of strategy stand out, that’s partly because there’s not enough throughout the game. The fantastic depth in selecting and modifying your four weapons would be a masterstroke were it not rendered somewhat redundant by choosing the three best attacks and repeating them until the game is completed.” – CVG (7.0/10)
“My only gripe with combat comes from the lack of camera control. Buildings in the foreground have a tendency to block small slices of battle arenas, and the last thing you want in the middle of a tense fight is to lose sight of your character. Though this only happened a few times throughout the campaign, it was enough to take me out of the experience on each occasion.” – IGN (9.0/10)
Graphics & Audio
“Visuals and sound are the bread and butter of a Supergiant game, and Transistor really does knock it out of the park with a gorgeous art style, fantastic use of color, and highly evocative soundtrack. I maintain that the style is positioned way above any actual substance, but I also cannot deny just how damn great such an elegant style truly is. From environments, to enemy design, to every distinct attack animation, everything is gorgeous, flowing, and colorful. Transistor is one of those games that prove you don’t need bleeding-edge game engines and 500 million dollar budgets to get a beautiful looking title.” – The Escapist (7.0/10)
“Transistor boasts a pretty amazing soundtrack. So much in fact, I’m looking forward to purchasing it when it becomes available. Supergiant Games realizes how good the music is too. By holding L1, Red will hum along with every song in the game while the player hears it. It added just that right amount of style that made me smile.” – ZTGD (9.5/10)
“It feels unfair to claim that Transistor is just Bastion with a fresh coat of paint as there’s a whole new story, setting, characters, and the combat mechanics are very different. Jen Zee’s artwork is stunning as always, Darren Korb provides another set of great songs, and Logan Cunningham’s voice is center stage again, as the Transistor. It’s a different performance this time compared to the gravelly wisdom of Bastion’s Rucks — the Transistor starts off unsure of what it really is or how it came into existence.” – Destructoid (8.5/10)
“It’s only when I sat down to write this, however, that I realised I couldn’t find any real faults. It may not be the longest experience, but it is worthy of absolutely anyone’s time. Supergiant have delivered, and proved that if you really care about something, it will show when it is played.” – God is a Geek (10/10)
“Players looking for a very artistic world with unique narration and an amazing soundtrack, you have just found it… Transistor has the style along with the game play that makes this a must own for many.” – ZTGD (9.5/10)
” One could argue that its flaws, such as the lack of clearly indicated pathways, are indicative of Supergiant Games’ preoccupation with presentation over design. Yet such mistakes are not exactly deal-breakers, and you won’t regret buying this by virtue of its immense beauty. But once you put the pad down and walk away from Transistor’s alluring world, there are not enough gameplay hooks to compel you back.” – CVG (7.0/10)