In February 2015, Transistor is free on for PS+ users so I took this opportunity to check out the acclaimed indie title that had made a splash earlier in 2014.
The gist. Transistor tells the story of a jazz singer named Red who wakes up without her voice and finds a man impaled by a gigantic sword. His voice and personality now live in this sword, called the Transistor. You find that the city is being overrun by a robot horde called the Process and you use the Transistor to stop them and uncover the mystery of what happened.
In terms of gameplay, you roam the world in a distanced 3rd person view similar to Diablo and you map different fight actions to the four face buttons on the controller. When you enter battle, you can freeze time and map out a certain amount of actions and then let those actions unfold. Through leveling up, you get to choose new abilities and upgrade things like how many abilities you can equip at once and how many actions you can put in your queue.
Each ability you gain has three options. You can equip it as an action, which is something you can use during a fight sequence. These may be varied by their area of effect, such as a straight line or a big blast, or by their effect, such as turning foes into friends for a short time. If you don’t want to use it as an action, you can use it to upgrade your actions that are already equipped. And lastly, you’ll have passive ability slots, so each ability has those properties as well. So say for example… You choose an ability called “Crash.” As an attack action, it deals damage and exposes vulnerabilities. If you use it as an upgrade, it will allow your attack that you’re upgrading to cause Stun damage. Lastly, you could use it as a passive, which would give your character some damage resistance and immunity to slowing effects. So the choices here are pretty extensive and you’re allowed to swap and move around abilities at any “access point,” which are scattered all over the map.
In addition to these positive abilities, you’ll also gain things called Limiters. These abilities make the game harder but reward you with experience boosts. If you equip a limiter that gives all enemies shields, you’ll gain an addition 4% experience, for example. I couldn’t find a difficulty option in the game, so I think this might be a way to make the game more difficult if you want a challenge.
The first thing to really stand out is the visuals. This is a stunning game, with vibrant colors and a very cool personality to it. With our heroine being a former jazz musician, music is also key and the soundtrack ranges from beautiful to haunting, sometimes both at once. There are also really beautiful load screens where Red travels via boat, motorcycle, and some other vehicles. Overall it’s just a very vibrant game.
In terms of gameplay, it’s very simple. You have your four attacks. You just have to master moving around the battlefield and combinations. I equipped my Crash attack with a bonus to backstabbing, so I was always moving behind enemies to get that bonus. You could choose though to prioritize a ranged attack, maybe with a bonus that would turn your enemies into friends for a short time, so now they’re doing all the fighting for you. While it’s a simple concept, the sheer amount of combinations allow for all sorts of strategy.
And your “life meter” is a little different than in traditional games. As you take damage, you lose abilities. When your bar drops to 0, you might lose your ranged attack. When it reaches 0 again, you might lose your ability to zap through objects. I never once lost all my abilities, so I don’t know if it makes you reload or what. And if you’re thinking “He never lost once?”, remember that you can equip Limiters if you want more of a challenge.
The game, while only 5 or so hours long, also packed a really unique story. You don’t get a lot of information up front, but I found the story to be really intriguing, as you uncover more and more of the backstory. It also has a really touching finale, with an emotional punch that I wasn’t expecting.
What doesn’t work?
I have zero complaints about Transistor. My initial thought was that there are some facets that aren’t really well-explained, but I actually respect Transistor‘s trust in you as a player. If you’re willing to explore its upgrade system, there are some cool complexities there, but some of this is easily missed if you don’t look close enough.
Often we may not have 80 hours to invest into a videogame experience, we just want something we can play for a weekend and then be done. And Transistor is perfect for that. I started and finished in the span of one afternoon but it was a complete package. Beautiful visuals, an engaging story, and gameplay mechanics that rewarded your creative thinking. If you have Playstation Plus, this is a no-brainer. If you don’t, it might still be worth your $20, as the game offers a lot of replayability and difficulty tiers.