Transistor PAX Prime 2013 Impressions: The Impossible Elegance of Supergiant Games

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Any fan of the hit indie game Bastion already knows the name Supergiant Games, and is probably already following their latest work of art, Transistor. In fact, Warp Zoned’s very own John Scalzo played Transistor at PAX East, and he had nothing but wonderful things to say about it. I played it at PAX Prime, after the game had been announced for the PlayStation 4, and I was ecstatic at the gameplay (and at getting my hands on a DualShock 4). I loved Transistor so much that I went straight home from Seattle and immediately began playing Bastion, from start to finish, over the course of three days. All it did was make me wish it was 2014 already so I could play the rest of Transistor.

Platforms: PC, PS4 (Version Played)
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Developer: Supergiant Games
Genre: Action RPG With a Dash of Strategy (and Narration)
Release Date: Early 2014
ESRB Rating: Rating Pending

transistor-preview-boxI’m one of the few people I know who hadn’t already played Bastion, so it was a relief to finally get to talk about it with my friends. And now, I feel like I can truly talk about Transistor as well. The two games are like siblings – both isometric with gorgeous art and unforgettable music, populated with characters who immediately grow on you. But while both games are action RPGs, Transistor actually leaps from this gameplay path, and powers up turn-based gameplay similar to what’s found in VATS in Fallout 3.

Red, a lovely singer who has been attacked by assassin robots, is the lead character in Transistor – but I view her more as the star of the game. She’s accompanied by her weapon, the Transistor, which is like a great circuit board sword that communicates with her and is able to talk to the essence of others who have been killed by the assassin robots. Through this, Red and Transistor are able to unlock more attacks, creating more elaborate and complicated strategies when fighting enemies.

And fighting enemies tactically is one of the main components of Transistor. You can slow time down and map out your movements, setting up each action as a “Turn” and then allowing Red to explode into action. Her moves included, a downward strike, a strong blast, an explosive attack, and a teleport trick known as “Jaunt.” Each of these moves takes up a certain amount of your action bar, and, once it’s filled up, you can execute your plan in an explosion of beautiful violence. You can also press L2 to undo your actions and re-plan them. This slowdown mechanic is perfect for puzzles, setting up situations in which Red must activate multiple switches in order to get through a door, or figure out the best attack to expose the vulnerability of an enemy and follow it instantly with another attack to deal damage.

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There were several updates to the PAX Prime build of Transistor, most notably the ability to level up with experience points. This adds an RPG element to Transistor, and gives the ability to add modifiers to Red’s attacks. Also included were interactive terminals around the city, as well as enemies that are resistant to the Turn mechanic, adding an extra challenge to the combat. When you set up your attacks against her, she teleports after the first attack, forcing you to take single attacks against her and then move somewhere strategic to prevent being vulnerable to her next attack.

As can be expected from Supergiant, there’s an important primary relationship here between Red and Transistor. But that relationship is much different than that of The Kid and Rucks. The Kid and Rucks are working together to build the Bastion after the Calamity, though I never quite trusted him. With Red and Transistor, he is talking her through their escape, but it’s obvious she is bent on getting her revenge. By the end of the demo, he was – almost desperately – trying to talk her out of her course of action. Their deepening relationship promises to be a foundation of the game, as much as the innovative gameplay and beautiful style.

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I would also like to mention the sleek DualShock 4, which I got to touch for the first time while demoing Transistor. I wasn’t expecting it to feel so comfortable in my hands – the size was exquisite, as was the grip. Everything about the buttons is familiar, except for L1, L2, R1, and R2, which have been changed to feel more like triggers. This feels far more natural – instead of sliding off of the L2 and R2, your fingers fit in perfectly. I couldn’t get over just how flawless it was – in fact, I’d never really felt like my DualShock 3 was imperfect in any way, but after spending some time with the new controller, I’m eager to start the next gen of gaming even more.

Transistor is an incredibly elegant cyberpunk noir game – it’s so beautiful that it’s almost like cyberpunk nouveau. The gameplay is smooth, and everything from the music, to the backdrops, to the story, are all haunting. When Transistor speaks to Red, the top of the PS4 controller lights up in time with his voice, which was both startling and stunning in the small, dark alcove Supergiant had set up for press to play the demo. With the headphones on, I suddenly felt completely separated from the tens of thousands of people at PAX – it was just me, Transistor, and Red, fighting the Jerks and looking for vengeance. There was nothing quite like the intimate tension I experienced there, and I can’t wait until I can recreate that it in my own living room.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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