A Tale of Music and Code- Transistor Review

A warning before we start: this review has spoilers for the story. If you don’t want to spoil it and you just want to find out if you should play it, skip to the verdict at the end.

Transistor is a game that doesn’t look like much when you see stills. It looks like a game that is set inside of a computer, almost like a simulation. “I’ve seen games like this before.” Then you watch the trailer. “Okay, I like the music, and the combat looks cool, but I don’t see much of a story here, so why should I play it?” You see that it’s on sale, and you decide to pick it up.

Story

Opening

Starting up the game, you start as Red, a musician who has just lost her voice. I don’t mean in the way you lose your voice after a sporting event rooting for your home team, I mean someone stole her voice. You don’t know who did it, or how you got there. You walk around, and see what looks like a sword- it’s talking to you, calling out to you. You pick it up, and then you’re thrust into this new dynamic- enemies out to get you, combat to explore, a mission to get your voice back and restore Cloudbank to its former state.

Red is a famous, or infamous, musician. Her music always had social commentary in it and caused controversy, but she was one of the best in Cloudbank, the city she lives in. She had just gotten done performing at The Empty Set, the club where she worked, when she was abducted and her voice was stolen from her.

Asher is the person whose essence makes up the Transistor, a “sword” that is able to take the essences of people and turn them into combat moves based on their personalities and how they lived their lives. Not much is known about him as his records were scrubbed from Cloudbank’s archives.

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Red with Asher, the Transistor

The Camerata is the group who is responsible for unleashing the Process onto the city of Cloudbank, unintentionally. They are led by four main people: one you kill at The Empty Set, Sybil, the other musician who was Red’s rival; two of whom you find dead on arrival to their compound, and one who is still alive.

The one who is still alive, Royce, heads up the whole operation. He discovered the Process and the Transistor, then the Process went rampant in order to get the Transistor back to the Camerata. He wants the Transistor in order to stop the Process that he unleashed from taking over the entire city, then spreading across the world. It turns out that Royce wanted Red to be a part of the Transistor, but it failed, causing her to lose her voice. You end up fighting him after installing the Transistor into Cloudbank’s mainframe, stopping the Process. After that battle, you regain the Transistor, and the ability to remake the city as your own through your music.

Gameplay

The gameplay is simple, yet challenging, and creates many possibilities in every situation. Let’s dive in.

Mechanics/Functions

The main abilities you use in combat come from the essences of people who have perished due to the Process, and as upgrades from leveling up. These are called Functions, and they are your weapons against the Process. The amount of functions you can have is determined by how much memory you have, starting at 12 and it’s upgradable as you level up.

The main abilities and enhancements that I used towards the end were as follows:

  1. Load- creates a volatile packet that explodes for great damage in an area
    1. Breach- as an enhancement gives abilities greater range
  2. Bounce- creates a packet that bounces between enemies
    1. Crash- as an enhancement allows stun and makes enemies vulnerable to attacks and effects
    2. Purge- inserts a virus into the enemy dealing damage over time
  3. Jaunt- allows for quick escapes even during Turn() recovery
  4. Void- stackable weakening up to 325% increased damage

My passive abilities were:

  1. Help- allows you to become a SuperUser during turn with a 25% chance to gain a Kill code, dealing massive damage in an area
  2. Ping- allows for 100% increased movement during Turn()

For the final fight I had to switch these up, but these were what I used towards the end of the story that worked the best for me. There are tons of combinations you can use to create the best combos for different situations, and for when the Process upgrades.

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Breach in action

You access your abilities through Access Points. This is where you change your main abilities around, as well as apply your leftover abilities as enhancements to your main abilities. You can Access Points also act as save points, so make sure you use them when you find them because some of these fights can get difficult.

Now for the fun part, the ability called Turn(). Turn() is the ability you get from the beginning that allows you to plan your moves and take down enemies quickly. I call this the tactical side of the game, because some enemies have high dodge chance, while some have a very small window to cause them damage, and some can cloak until they attack. Turn() recharges over time, and some passive abilities allow it to recharge faster, while some reduce the cost of abilities while you use it. Turn() automatically kicks in at low health, allowing you a chance to take down enemies or get away from a barrage before you die.

Dying in this game only happens after you lose all four of your active ability slots. They are lost from largest memory to smallest, with the largest memory abilities having the most powerful abilities like Cull- massive damage and launching enemies into the air, Void- stackable weakening on enemies allowing for more powerful abilities, and Help- allows you to summon a Fetch dog of your own to fight for you.

Limiters

As you progress through the game, you also gain access to Limiters. Limiters actually help the Process by giving them additional abilities, like spawning more Cells on death, or hindering your abilities, like limiting your memory. In exchange for the limits on you, you can gain experience faster. Each enemy has its own limiter, and you gain these as you level up. Don’t worry, they’re not mandatory, you can turn them on and off through Access Points.

Enemies

As you make your way through the game, closer to the Camerata and stopping the Process, you begin to encounter stronger and upgraded enemies.

The first enemy you encounter is the Creep, a bug looking robot that fires lasers at you. As it upgrades, it gains more lasers, and the ability to pull you into its fire. Low health, around 200.

Next is the Badcell, which is basically a little drone that fires at you. They’re easy to kill with 10 health, but in swarms they can be dangerous. These spawn from cells that drop when you kill YoungLady, basically a brood-mother that can fire volleys of bullets at you, and can use Shadow Clones to fight you on four fronts. YoungLady has over 700 health, so be careful.

Then there is the Worm, a parasite that can heal the Process. It also has a destructive area around it that can damage you over time while you stand in it. Low health, less than 100.

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Creeps, Worms, and a YoungLady- be quick before you’re swarmed

The Jerk is a giant enemy that pounds the ground around it, dealing a small area of damage. It is fast though, and it will follow you around, so be careful not to get caught. Moderate health, a little over 600.

The most annoying enemy I had to face was the Snapshot. They fire a volley of high velocity balls at you in bursts of three, but they’re upgraded to 7 later on. It also takes pictures that fill up the screen, obstructing your view of the battle. One of the upgrades it gets is the ability to obstruct the area around it during Turn() so that you can’t see where it is, only the general area. This makes it hard to use pinpoint attacks on them like Breach, so I used Bounce as my main attack. They have moderate health, around 400.

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Four Snapshots, good luck and say cheese!

Fetch is a dog, and it has a powerful bark. The bark can knock you backwards, and it takes about a quarter of your health each time. It chases you around the combat area, and with one of its upgrades it can cloak itself. Not unbeatable, but it can be a pain to fight, especially with two of them at once. Moderate health, close to 600.

Cheerleader looks like a satellite dish, and it can project shields onto enemies, making them invulnerable until you kill the Cheerleader. Not much health, around 200, so it’s easy to kill, but can be annoying when you have high-powered enemies being shielded.

The Clucker walks like a chicken, but it fires mortar shells. Yeah, lots of fun when you have two of these and four Snapshots at the same time… Not much health, around 300, so they’re pretty easy to kill, but don’t get hit by their shells.

The Man was the penultimate enemy. It has four types: Speedy, Shooty, Stealthy, Sturdy. Speedy uses Jaunt, Shooty fires a beam in a long range like Breach, Stealthy is Masked, and Sturdy regenerates health quickly. They can share abilities, so while one Man is alive, the others share that ability as well. Their main attack is called a Haircut, and it’s a homing packet that acts like Load. I liked to chain killing these with my own packets to make a larger explosion. High health, close to 800.

There is one more enemy, but I’m going to leave that as a surprise for the player. Be on your guard.

Environment

Design

I love the design of this game, it’s like stepping into a colorful computer. I know that’s a terrible analogy, but I just love it. The combat flows, the animation is well done, the colors and design of Cloudbank are captivating. If it wasn’t for the city falling apart I’d want to live there. There isn’t enough natural beauty for me though. I mean I love technology and all, but I need the natural world too, like Neo-Paris from Remember Me, another great game that I recommend.

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There are plants in Cloudbank though

Music

I can’t say enough about the soundtrack to this game. I listen to it while I study, or when I want to relax. It has great vocal and instrumental work. In Circles is my favorite track. I highly recommend that you get the soundtrack with the game, because once you hear it, you’ll want to keep listening to it.

Verdict

Okay, it’s been a long read, thanks for sticking around. By now I’ve probably repeated myself quite a few times, so let’s get on with the verdict shall we?

Score: 9/10

Between the combat, design, and story, this game hit all of the marks for me. I’m giving it a 9/10 because I haven’t played through the Recursion (basically New Game plus), and some of the combat did get a little repetitive in the middle- not enough to be bad, but enough to be noticeable. I also kept something else secret in this review, because I want it to be a surprise to you guys like it was to me, a fun surprise.

This game was fun to play on stream, and I hope Supergiant Games keeps making games like this; in a world that is becoming increasingly multiplayer-only focused, we need more games like this. Bastion is next on my list to play, and I hope it’s as fun as Transistor was.

If you want to see more games like this, check out the developer Supergiant Games at their website. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and follow us on Twitch for live streams with me and Silver. Thanks for reading everyone, and if you like what you see, spread the word and check out our other articles.

-V

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