There’s a running assumption throughout video games that each one needs to be a long, infinitely replayable, perfected experience. These expectations are doubled if you bought the game for full price and tripled if you bought it for full price on day one. I am not indicting this view entirely because I am not divorced from it entirely. After finishing my first run through of Transistor, I was shocked by how short the game actually was and, admittedly, I felt let down.
That is until I replayed the game all over again with zero hesitation.
Transistor goes by so quickly that it is easy to miss certain aspects of the game. For example, I didn’t realize that you could examine your individual attacks and read the backstory of the character they were based on. The game started making a lot more sense when I figured that one out. It doesn’t hurt that the game’s deep customization can make each battle feel and play completely different.
Despite the significantly smaller budget and the small design team, Transistor manages to tell an emotional story that rivals the emotional pull of gaming’s biggest AAA titles (Mass Effect, The Last of Us, etc.). It does so without lengthy exposition, cinematic cutscenes, or a gigantic team of award winning actors providing voice options. One of my favorite aspects of science fiction literature is the incredible library of short stories that often rival the genre’s most important long-form works. Transistor is a prime example of what a gaming equivalent to those short stories looks like in the real world.
First and foremost, I am amazed that combat feels as tight as it does in this game. Bastion was no slouch in the combat department either, but it was relatively shallow. Transistor takes the same basics and adds even more attacks, one of gaming’s most interesting customization schemes, and throws in a turn-based-esque feature on top of it all. If I hated the game’s length for one reason alone it was because I ran out of new enemies and new situations to lose myself in. Seriously, slotting your abilities with other abilities while simultaneously using other abilities as passive bonuses and getting to do so with a minimal amount of interference in what you can do feels phenomenal. It’s good enough that I hope someone steals it immediately.
Second, the emotional pull of Transistor cannot be underestimated. There are revenge and conspiracy elements to the plot, but neither really matter. The narrative, in like-step with the setting, slowly unravel before your very eyes before coming to a fitting close. Unlike so many other gaming experiences, Transistor is willing to put an honest relationship as its front and center main character rather than a generic archetype destined to save the day.
Tying into that specifically, I was very pleased by the Playstation 4’s option to broadcast the in-game dialogue over the internal controller speaker. A story about a mute woman and her true love trapped in a talking sword is infinitely cooler when your figurative ‘sword’ as a gamer, your controller, is doing the talking.
Like any good short story, Transistor hooks you, punches you in the gut, and then leaves you wanting far more. I want to learn all I can about the heroes, the villains, and especially the city. As far as settings go, Cloudbank felt incredibly original despite playing a purely background role to the entire game. Even then, there weren’t a ton of locales to see. I wish there was more. I got my money’s worth, no doubt, but I’d pay it three times over without question to just get more everything out of this game’s world.
That’s what passion, freedom, and a little risk get you. Transistor is indie gaming at its finest.
#Indie #Review #Transistor