A transistor is a technical device that amplifies. With the new action adventure game Transistor the more time you spend with it the more you'll find it amplifies your connection to it. Prepare to be captivated.
Red is a singer without a voice, accompanied by a voice without a body. Wandering the nearly abandoned streets and plazas of Cloudbank unable to speak, she is armed with a sword that does her speaking for her. Literally.
The latest release from developer Supergiant Games, which gave us the sleeper hit Bastion in 2011, has some distinct similarities with that earlier effort, including the isometric perspective and a bold art style. Both games also use a narrator to frame the story and guide the player. But while that speaker was omniscient, the narrator is in the form of the Transistor itself, the aforementioned sword.
Red was the intended victim of an assassination, the Transistor the intended murder weapon. Exactly why she was targeted is something you'll learn as you play the game. You'll also learn more about what the Transistor really is, and what it was designed for. Things, as you might expect, are not what they seem. What, exactly, is the Process, and why is it destroying Cloudbank? What are the curious creatures that it spawns to attack Red and the Transistor?
Entering combat locks down the area and you can't continue until all the enemies are destroyed, so there's no retreat. Red uses the sword to fight using both melee and ranged attacks. And you can pause the action to plan a series of attacks which are swiftly carried out once things resume, but after which is a recharge period.
With experience, Red acquires different abilities, here called "functions" that can modify each other and have slightly different effects depending on whether they are being used as a primary ability or are modifying another ability. How this works is a bit opaque, however; really the only way you'll figure out how things work is to play and experiment.
And you'll need to, because successfully defeating the Process requires finesse.There's strategy required here in knowing the various attacks as well as the bets ways to defeat enemies; you cannot brute force your way through this.
With a voiceless singer as the protagonist, it comes as no surprise that music, from Darren Korb, is very much central to this game, and Korb's range of jazz-inflected melodies is ideal. And while she doesn't speak, Red does hum and sing in the game, and Ashley Barrett's silky vocals variously reminded me at times of Jane Siberry and Karen Carpenter.
With themes of love and relationships and software code, Transistor takes about six hours to play and after you finish you can enter "recursive" mode, in which you keep the upgrades you made to Red, and the Process is a little more deadly.
You'll want to play it again immediately.
Developer: Supergiant Games
Platforms: Windows, PS4