An El33t P33k at… Transistor, a mysterious turn-based (but action-packed) RPG

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One of the most highly praised games of 2011 emerged from tiny independent development studio Supergiant Games in the form of Bastion, made more special by the fact that it was the team’s debut title as a unit.

Now after years of silence (and many Bastion ports), Supergiant is on the verge of releasing its latest downloadable game, Transistor, on PlayStation 4 and PC, in many ways representing a departure from Bastion while sticking to a few of the team’s core strengths, too.

Transistor – Announcement Trailer

What is Transistor?

At its core, Transistor is an action RPG in the same vein as Diablo giving you direct control over the game’s protagonist, Red, from a top-down isometric view as you carve up robotic enemies and other electronic threats using regular and special attacks to protect yourself, with a dash to get out of trouble.

At (almost) any time, however, players will be able to transform Transistor into a turn-based strategy affair with the press of a button, similar to XCOM, allowing you to carefully pre-select a series of moves and attacks with time slowed down in ‘Turn’ mode. These moves are governed by a meter which dictates how many moves you can choose and how powerful they are. Once you’re happy with your plan of attack, the moves are then unleashed as you return to normal. Sometimes, the view changes to that of a 2D side-scroller – in Transistor, the only constant is change, as the old saying goes.

Transistor takes place in a sprawling futuristic city known as ‘Cloudbank,’ where important personalities – including Red herself – are being targeted, disappearing one by one. Red is a singer, but her voice has mysteriously been taken from her after an attempt on her life.

Luckily for her, she happens upon an ultra powerful and sentient weapon called the ‘Transistor,’ which has enough chat in it for the two of them, voiced by actor Logan Cunningham who lent his talents to the role of the ‘Narrator’ in Bastion.


What’s Different?

The main difference between Transistor and other isometric action games is the ability to switch between playing the game as a directly controlled action RPG and a turn-based strategy game on-the-fly, allowing you to decide how to approach a given combat scenario in the way you prefer. You’ll even be able to undo turns before you execute them, which certainly sounds less punishing than a classic XCOM game.

The setting of Cloudbank city is also unique in its presentation and appearance, with art nouveau touches and circuit board decorations, highlighted with bright neon hues. To solidify the futuristic feel of the city, you’ll be able to find information terminals scattered throughout the levels to give you details on things like the ambient weather, which you as a citizen of the city are able to vote on. It’s not clear if this will change in the game, but it sounds like an intriguing system!

What’s the Potential?

In addition to being able to switch up your tactics and strategy as you please by dipping in and out of ‘Turn’ mode, the game also gives you the option to augment your four main abilities with ‘Functions,’ earned by levelling up your character in combat.

Each Function can be used to improve and change your close, ranged and area of effect attacks, and a chosen movement ability like a dash, to make them chain across enemies, last longer, do more damage, stun and pierce targets, and much more, and because you can use any Function with any other Function, you can mix and match these socketed upgrades to perfect your own unique approach to battles, both while in direct control and in Turn mode.

The story of Transistor also has the potential to surprise players much like Bastion did in the way that game approached its narration-heavy gameplay. In Supergiant’s new game, however, we’ll be learning about the world as we go along as the Transistor weapon mutters to itself, while doses of narrative are delivered via interactive cut-scenes.

What is the Transistor? What is The Process and why does ‘it’ want the Transistor back? And why have important figures begun disappearing in Cloudbank? It’s all very mysterious.


Transistor Reminds Me Of…

… Diablo. Running through the world in a top-down isometric view is reminiscent of many an action RPG, including Blizzard’s celebrated series.

… XCOM. While more ‘active,’ the turn-based mode in Transistor looks to give players just as much strategic satisfaction once a well-planned series of moves has been executed.

… Bastion. The influences and art style of Supergiant’s previous game are plain to see… except wrapped up in something entirely new.


What I’m Excited About

5.) I’m simply excited to be able to play the next game from the creators of Bastion, one of the most original takes on the RPG genre when it was released.

4.) The game’s main subjects – Red and Transistor – add a duality to the story where one no longer has a voice, while the other has been imbued with one, which I hope plays out in interesting ways throughout the game.

3.) Transistor’s art style looks great in stills, and terrific in motion.

2.) As a fan of RPGs that have weapons with augmentation slots, I’m looking forward to experimenting with playing with the game’s Functions to form some ultimate moves and attacks.

1.) The chance to easily switch between active and turn-based battles sounds perfect for me – either approach on their own can get tiresome after a while.


What I’m Concerned About

3.) Supergiant has alluded to the fact that there will be some form of connectivity with other players online (not multiplayer, but ‘hints’ that others exist), but being a solely story-based game I am worried that once it’s over there won’t be many reasons to jump back in.

2.) Despite the fact that areas already shown from Transistor look great, Supergiant has said that the entire game will take place in different areas of the city, which means there’s a potential for the environment to become all too familiar after a few hours of play unless there are significantly different places to explore.

1.) While Bastion was pretty well paced, I’m a little concerned that the fun of gameplay may be left a little too much to players to create on their own when choosing which combat style to use, and which Functions to experiment with, so I’m hoping there’s enough of a pull throughout Transistor to get me through.

My Personal Take

The art style and promise of the game’s soundtrack was enough to sell me on the idea of Transistor when it was announced over a year ago with the debut teaser trailer, and now that we’re close to launch with many more details, I can’t wait to try the game out for myself, if only to experiment with various Functions and dig into the mysterious story of the voiceless Red.

Transistor is out on PlayStation 4 and PC starting May 20th as a downloadable title on PlayStation Network and Steam, at a price of $20.

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