Transistor: Musical, yet digital

So as October ushers in the onslaught of fall games to come, not to mention the excellent Super Smash Bros for 3DS (which will surely be covered soon), there’s a bit of housekeeping from the previous summer.

For whatever reason, I missed coverage of indie title Transistor in this column over the summer, and, with the blockbuster titles sure to come, it’s nice to focus on smaller, easier-to-miss titles before bigger ones get some praise  (especially if the less gaming-inclined may not have heard of it).

Visuals are the most striking feature of this title. The vibrant picture of a red-haired woman garbed in a torn dress and an unmatching jacket, with a face of utter defiance, and clutching the blue-green glowing greatsword, the titular Transistor.

Transistor follows the adage of “show, don’t tell” to a fault. We aren’t told what happened before Red obtains the Transistor when the game begins, and even the exposition later on rarely explains everything.

Red has lost her voice and the disembodied voice of the Transistor has no body of its own: these two have a deep and symbiotic relationship. The Transistor becomes the narrator of the story. The PS4 version has the neat touch that the voice can be transmitted through the controller’s built-in speaker, and the pulsing light of the Transistor is emulated on the controller itself.

The city has little kiosks hinting at a world that can be changed at the whims of the masses, even down to the weather. These act not only as an exposition for this futuristic city, but since they have areas for text entry, Red takes this opportunity to use it to talk to the Transistor, marking one of the few areas of direct interaction they possess. Through much of this exposition, you learn of secret organizations attempting to override this ever-changing city, and the villainous Process that has cropped up as a result.

The gameplay oozes story and character. Combat is fairly tactical, charging players to utilize various kinds of attacks in different combinations. Each of these “functions” is not only a program used to defeat the enemy, but has a different personality attached to it. As you use your functions, new information of the person this ability is based on are revealed.

Being a singer in a world of creativity, the music of the game has a big presence. Songs of electronic instruments are juxtaposed by Red’s singing voice; her attire and style is less cyberpunk and more classy lounge singer. The game’s composer described the style as “old-world electronic post-rock,” and whatever its name, it’s an auditory treat, if anything. There is even a whole button dedicated to pausing the game and allowing Red to hum along to the Taken as an elaborate interactive music video. Transistor earns reason to exist on this alone.

Even the nature of combat adds personality. While you can brandish your combat abilities in battle in real-time, Red can stop time for a more tactical approach, allowing you to string attacks together in an optimal way. It speaks to Red’s own methodical approach to combat, and the interactive programming-style methods with her own reality.

While the game is a visual and musical masterpiece, like many indie titles, it delves into pretentiousness at times. Allowing the player to piece together the story is one thing, but there is a lack of drive at the beginning: there’s not much investment in the initial story other than how pretty everything is. Plus, the need to dig up information undermines any message that the narrative may have. There seems to be some commentary about the overuse of choice of the masses being its own form of oppression, and that the urges of one person to override the masses may hold importance, but clarity is lost in the telling of the story.

Still, it’s a unique experience that you’ve likely heard of already if you’ve had any experience with gaming’s indie scene. But this column is also for those who may not be aware of the smaller parts of gaming. If you have a passing fancy for video games, have an artistic and/or musical streak in you, and want a unique interactive experience, Transistor is one of the more sophisticated, independent games of the year.

It is already available on PS4 and PC. I’d recommend the PS4 version if you have one, due to the integration of the controller, but either way, you’re in for a musical treat.


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