Sunday, September 27, 2015

Transistor Review

Transistor is the second game by Supergiant Games. Transistor is an isometric RPG-style game that's 4 to 6 hours long. Supergiant's first game was Bastion, which I loved. Transistor, though, I think I would have liked a lot better if I knew what the hell was going on.


The best way to describe Transistor's story is that it is a technological noir crossed with an alien invasion. And then it gets weird.

You play Red, a singer who has her voice stolen for mysterious reasons. The game starts in media res, with Red standing over the body of a man who has just been stabbed by a giant talking sword, the eponymous Transistor. Red takes the Transistor and sets out to unravel the conspiracy that took her voice.

I'll leave it there to avoid spoilers, but the setting is very unique and weird. The story was decent enough, but it always felt like I didn't quite understand the setting, or what was really going on. It just felt like the author moved too far, too fast, and ended up leaving behind the people coming to this setting for the first time.

In part, this ended up leaving me cold, and I never really cared about any of the characters in the story.


Transistor is a gorgeous game for all the senses. The artwork is stunning, the music and sound is outstanding. Along these dimensions, Transistor is truly a work of art.


The gameplay of Transistor is really neat. Basically, you "freeze time" and plan out your sequence of moves. Then when you start time up again, you execute your plan in a short burst. Next you wait for your ability to freeze time to recover, and your enemies attack you. You can generally move around during this period, but can't do much else. Once you get the hang of things, this is a really interesting system.

I adored the ability system. Each "ability" has an active, passive, and modifier effect. You have four active slots, four passive slots, and each active slot has two modifier slots. The passive and modifier slots start locked and you can unlock them as you level up.

The key here is you can only assign one ability to a slot. If you use the ability as a passive, you can't use it as a modifier or an active ability. It's a beautiful system that encourages you to use many abilities, and combine them in an interesting manner. For example, I used a summon ability with an AoE passive to give me a pet who did AoE attacks. I used the pet to clean up small attackers, while I focused the main attacks on bigger threats.

Transistor also includes a similar difficulty system as Bastion. You get Limiters as you level up. Limiters boost the enemies in specific ways, but also increase your rate of experience gain. You can choose exactly how you want to make the game more difficult. I didn't enable any Limiters, though.


Transistor is an ambitious game. It also falls short of those ambitions. Does that make it a failure? Maybe.

But these ambitious failures are often far more interesting than more pedestrian successes.


  1. I suspect that Planscape: Torment was also somewhat difficult to understand without some previous knowledge of the settings. Even Dragon Age would be confusing without codex.

    1. Planescape is a good example of a confusing setting that was handled appropriately. Note that the main character is an amnesiac. Therefore, all the weirdness in the setting needs to be explained to him and thus is explained to the player at the same time.

      Dragon Age is basically a traditional fantasy game, with one or two new spins on things. So you really only need to explain the one or two new things.

      I think Transistor just exceeded the limit on how many new things you can throw at a player. The problem is also compounded because it's a noir game, and thus likes being mysterious and oblique.