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Transistor is a game that I never would have tried if not for the perks I get from my PS+ subscription and a recommendation from a friend (Yes, Pao, I mean you). On the last few days that it was free on PS+, a buddy of mine told me about Transistor and how awesome it was supposed to be. And just in nick of time, I was able to snag it up absolutely free.
In Transistor, you play as Red, a talented singer whose voice was taken away. You wield a sword called Transistor that seemingly takes the personalities and memories of people who have passed away and turns them into abilities or Functions. You and your city are being attacked by something called The Process. Who unleashed the Process and what it is, that's for you to find out.
At the most basic level, Transistor is just an isometric-view action game. What sets it apart is the way it's presented and the way the game mechanics work. Let's start off with the presentation and move on to gameplay a little later.
Transistor is set in some kind of futuristic utopia. And because of that, the art direction leans toward big, majestic, opulent architecture and set pieces. Later in the game, the environment makes such a drastic change because the of the story, the shift is jarring. The game mostly takes place in an area called Cloudbank, a very swanky place that houses a concert hall, nightclubs and premium housing, and that is represented very nicely in the hand drawn art of the "cutscenes" and in the computer generated environments.
One thing that stood out from all the design elements is the way lighting and color were used.
It's vibrant and bright, and yet calming amidst the chaos of the Process. The sound design helped with the calming effect, too. And speaking of sound...
Transistor is an eargasmic experience. The background music in this game is so good, it's almost as if they made the music first and designed a game around it. Just listen to it.
The music is so good that it's actually used as a reward for completing certain training sessions. Even if you're not an EDM fan, which I'd like to think I'm not, you'd still appreciate it if you liked music just in general. Just the music alone would merit the game an incredible score just for sound, but you've also got the incredible voice acting by Logan Cunningham, who is pretty much the only friendly voice you hear throughout the game. He is in the Transistor and he talks to you directly from the sword. It adds so much depth and flavor and character to an inanimate object that you actually end up caring about and not just because it's a wicked sword. You feel like there's an actual person in there.
But no matter how nicely a game is put together and presented, it will not matter if the gameplay is horrible. I've always maintained that games are a marriage of art and function. The art, I have no complaints about, but what about the mechanics? The function of it as a game? I'm glad to say that it is quite enjoyable.
You go around the world leveling up and collecting skills called Functions(). Each Function can be set as a straightforward active skill, such as the Cull() or Crash() attacks. However, all of those Functions can also be set as upgrades to other skills or as passive buffs. For example, the Void() function, when active, unleashes a vortex that stacks a weakening effect on enemy defense and attack. However, when you set it as an upgrade to another Function like Crash() or Spark(), it normally increases the damage dealt by that attack to 150% of the original damage. Once it is set as passive, all of Red's attacks are slightly buffed to 120%.
Personal favorite loadout of mine would be Crash() with the Jaunt() upgrade to allow me to attack even while on cooldown with Tap() for health regen on hit, Spark() with Load() to increase AoE and explosive damage and Purge() for some DoT, Cull(), the hardest hitting attack, upgraded by Void() for increased damage and Bounce() for lowered Turn() cost. I also use Mask() for quick get-aways and to buff my attacks to 200% while stealthed.
To avoid balance issues, there are these things called Mem(), which essentially acts as your maximum allowable skill slots. Each Function has a corresponding skill point price and you'll have to manage your Mem() to get the most bang for your buck.
And since yes, it is an action game, you can just go around smashing things all willy-nilly, although that isn't the most effective way to achieve success. There's this thing called a Turn(), which sort of acts like Fallout 3's VATS, allowing you to plan your attack sequence. Doing this increases Red's movement and attack speed. However, you'll have to manage the Turn cost of each skill, which limits the number of Functions you can use during one Turn.
Between managing your Functions(), maximizing your Mem(), and planning out your Turns(), Transistor plays more like an RPG that utilizes strategic thinking on the part of the player.
While combat does get boring and gameplay does get repetitive due to having pretty much a single goal throughout the whole 6-7 hour campaign, you're going to find that the ability to customize your active skills and passive attributes while mixing and matching different moves and upgrades to fit certain situations is going to keep you entertained for hours.
Pick Your Difficulty
One thing that really adds to the fun factor is the challenge. You can control the difficulty within the game by manipulating these things called Limiters(). You unlock them by leveling up. The more you level up, the more Limiters() you can choose. Each Limiter() changes the mechanics of the game slightly by adding some challenging gameplay elements such as increasing your enemies' damage output or decreasing your Mem or maximum skill point allocation. In exchange, you level up much faster.
It isn't a big triple A blockbuster title with all the production value from big name studios, but it certainly is fun and it deserves all the credit we can give it. Now while I'm sure I haven't really done Transistor any justice, I'm going to end my review by recommending the game, especially if you like looking at pretty art, listening to cool music and playing challenging games. You can get it on Steam for only Php169.00 because it's at 66% off now. Its full price is Php499.95. Or $19.99 on PSN.