The turn based RPG “Transistor” had piqued my interests well before I had even played it. This was entirely due to its development pedigree (being made by “Supergiant Games”) and its over all artistic style. The first footage of the game that I saw immediately struck me with the feeling that the game seemed to be taking place in a type of French Art-Deco Poster from the 1930’s. The game grabbed me, insisting that I play thru it and experience the amazing story that it had to offer.
I just wish that the gameplay and story had finally ended being as compelling as it was during my initial impressions. (WARNING: Spoilers abound!)
The mysterious journey of the character known simply as Red begins just after a tragic event of which she has no memory. She quickly becomes the hero of the story, being driven to get revenge on those that have wronged her. You pilot Red through a seemingly idyllic game world draped with fantastic architecture, amazing artwork, and near-Utopian levels of atmospheric and environmental control. This “Pseudo-Utopia” is slowly being corrupted by something known only as… “The Process”. A varied array of black and white, faceless monstrosities which pound their way thru the city streets killing anyone that gets in the way. The Process must be faced down and conquered at every turn, only to have them evolve into something even more dangerous just as you round the next corner. Along the way you have the ever-evolving Transistor at your side, narrating the story as it unfolds.
This general story setting was enough for me to really get hooked into Transistor, especially during the early game. You craved plot points just as a starving man would crave sustenance to help them survive. During my first several hours of game play, I was that starving man.. looking for even the slightest tidbit of lore to tide me over and fuel my intrigued mind. Unfortunately the overall tapestry being woven by the game’s story quickly unfolds once you reach the half way mark. The primary antagonists of the game, claiming ownership and creation of the mysterious Transistor, reveal that they actually know less about the device than you do. Soon after this revelation, the ominous threat of a group known only as the Kamerata end up taking their own lives before you can even reach them. One person remains behind to mop up and face you down, their so called leader “Grant”… and he’s even more clueless than the rest of his now-dead lackeys.
Quickly.. the main story’s tapestry begins to unravel.
To compound the confusion, the game escalates in difficulty at a fairly rapid pace. Enemies do not evolve in gradual steps, but instead by leaps and bounds. From pesky “armor upgrades” to downright cheap “masking generators” you are quickly taught the game wants you to be constantly on your back foot, always in a state of retreat or near-surrender. This game design philosophy wears thin after only 3 hours of gameplay… and you still have another 4 or 5 hours left in front of you to go through. This turned the final third segment of Transistor into an unfortunate “grind-fest”, something I looked at more as an unwanted job instead of the enjoyable game I originally thought it to be.
FINAL VERDICT: My general euphoria and anticipation of Transistor was quickly dashed once gameplay got underway. These sentiments were slowly eroded, washed away and replaced with so much anger and frustration. Combining these emotions with the over all confusion of the storyline’s final state, and I must say that this game finished out as a real disappointment. I went into it expecting “Bastion” but instead was handed the broken shards of a shattered storyline… used to mask the cheap game design tactics used to increase the game’s difficulty. To strengthen the already growing ‘bitter taste’ being left in my mouth, the game has no Main Menu system at all. There is no difficulty adjustment when starting the game off, instead you are immediately thrust into this strange world upon starting the game up. The story was a mess and the game design was a disaster.
At least the artwork was nice.