Voice for the VoicelessVoice is an appropriate starting point, because so much of the richness in Transistor is articulated by actor Logan Cunningham. He takes a more active role this time, acting as the companion to the voiceless Red. Her voice was stolen by the affluent city leaders known as the Camerata, and Cunningham provides his talents as a special techno-sword called the "Transistor." By traveling with Red and giving commentary, he provides much-needed context for Supergiant’s creative world. The voice performances across the board are fantastic, including a brief but nuanced turn from the chief antagonist. But Cunningham in particular shines with a role that affords him a great breadth of emotional weight that underlines Transistor’s key themes.
Intimacy and the AfterlifeEverything in Transistor seems calibrated to express certain ideas about intimacy, from the animations to environmental art. Red’s relationship with the Transistor isn’t without struggle. It’s portrayed as a burden, as her slight frame can only drag the oversized weapon behind her. Likewise, he speaks to her with a familiarity that becomes more profound during the course of the game. He was once a person who knew her, but now he’s trapped. He can help her, but he’s frustrated by his inability to be anything more than an object. Meanwhile, his own presence in limbo, and the way the Transistor picks up something left behind from other people you find, raises questions about what is happening to them. Are they in the Transistor too? What is the afterlife in this world? Transistor consciously invites these questions, and sometimes vocalizes them itself. Supergiant has a knack for inventing its own worlds that operate by their own rules, and part of the pact of playing them means accepting those creations on their own terms. Transistor is set in a city, Cloudbank, and so naturally it’s filled with a wealth of internal logic, characters, and relationships to sort through. It’s incredibly inventive, but some parts of this world’s reality aren’t well-defined, making the fiction occasionally hazy and hard to track.
Hold That ThoughtTransistor is through-and-through an artful take on the strategy-RPG. Combat is focused almost entirely on careful planning. You’ll pause the action and queue up a list of commands, and then watch them execute against the Process--a legion of ominous, robotic enemies unleashed by the Camerata. You can still strike enemies outside of this format, but it’s clearly not how it was intended and should probably be reserved for emergencies. Combat is enjoyably tense in the moment of queuing up commands and watching them decimate your enemies, but there’s not much to do between them. While the meter recharges, you really have no choice but to run away and bide your time. This makes battles somewhat inconsistent: it’s fun to plan your strategy and mop up Process goons, but too much time is spent seeking shelter and waiting for the prompt to appear again.
Red takes on a Jerk
ConclusionBastion certainly wasn’t a fluke. Transistor cements Supergiant Games as one of the sharpest, most stylish, and unique small developers. Though some of its flourishes aren’t quite as fresh the second time around, Transistor speaks with a unique creative identity, mostly successfully refreshes solid RPG mechanics, and tells a poignant story worth experiencing. Final Score: 8 out of 10.
This review is based on a downloadable PlayStation 4 code provided by the publisher. Transistor will be available on PC via Steam and the PlayStation Store for $19.99. The game is rated T.