Hitbox Review: Transistor

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

Supergiant Games’ second game continues to improve on the strengths of its predecessor. Transistor’s stand-out narration, well-realized world and deceptively simple combat make for an engaging experience. 

Transistor was released on May 20, 2014 for PlayStation 4 and May 21, 2014 for PC for $20. It was also released on Nov. 1, 2018 for Nintendo Switch. It was developed by Supergiant Games.

After a short tutorial, a flashback reveals that Red is a famous singer in the futuristic city of Cloudbank. A clandestine group called The Camerata attempted to assassinate Red using a large sword called the Transistor. However, she is saved by her unnamed significant other after he steps in front of her to take the blow. He is then integrated into the Transistor and serves as the narrator of the game. 

Red uses the same sword that took her significant other’s life to fight back against The Process. Screenshot by John Novotny.

During the attack, Red mysteriously loses her voice and now can only hum. A robotic threat called The Process is also rampaging through the city, killing and destroying everything in sight. Red and her significant other, through the Transistor, then set off to get revenge on The Camerata and stop The Process. 

Red traveling by speedboat and thinking about The Camerata, from left to right, Sybil Reisz, Asher Kendrell, Grant Kendrell and Royce Bracket. Screenshot by John Novotny.

Red gains access to several abilities called “functions” by integrating people into the Transistor who are near death or recently deceased. Red encounters several variations of robots that are part of The Process. Each have different abilities and gain new ones throughout the course of the game. 

An enemy called a Clucker resembles a chicken and will target Red with a bomb that causes damage in a radius. Another enemy called a Cheerleader looks like a satellite dish. It has no offensive attacks, but it can shield an enemy and makes them immune to damage. While there is an impressive amount of enemy variation, combat begins to become repetitive towards the end of the game due to the repeated use of a single enemy. 

During combat, Red can freeze time and plan out attacks or use functions in real time. Enemies will attack faster than the player can react, so it’s typically a good idea to plan attacks. Functions used while planning take up a certain amount of the time bar, which only allows them to use a certain amount of skill at a time. Once the player executes the planned attacks, the time bar will take a few seconds to regenerate. 

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Save points are found throughout Cloudbank, which automatically save the game and allow the player to activate functions in one of three slots. There are four active slots, which are the player’s main abilities to use in combat. Upgrade slots modify an active skill. For example, if the Crash function is upgraded with Spark, Crash will fire three projectiles that do more damage at close range. A function in a passive slot will give Red a bonus to an ability or trait. Flood will regenerate Red’s life points when the turn bar is full. 

There is an incredible amount of variation in function combinations available in Transistor. Players are encouraged to experiment with different combinations by unlocking additional character backstories. Each function is represented by a character in Cloudbank. The Bounce function, for example, is from Niola Chein, who was a prominent politician and worked to improve the lives of disadvantaged communities. 

After completing a combat encounter with a function in a new slot for the first time, it will unlock one of three entries. The player must play with a function in the active, upgrade and passive slot to discover who the person was and why they were targeted by the Camerata. 

The player can enter the Sandbox through backdoors, which gives them access to several challenges that test their skills in combat. This area is themed as a beach with a large tree and provides moments of respite during Red’s crusade against The Camerata and The Process. 

Transistor is filled with many small, compelling details. OVC terminals are found throughout Cloudbank, which are public computers where citizens can vote on polls or read the latest news and post comments. They play a short welcoming sequence of sounds when interacted with. Red sometimes communicates to her significant other through the comments on these terminals. There is also a sidestory about ordering from a sandwich delivery restaurant where the player can choose between four options.

More interactable objects appear in the Sandbox as the player progresses through the story. Screenshot by John Novotny.

The music in Transistor is composed by Darren Korb, who has worked on all of Supergiant’s previous games. The vocals are performed by Ashley Barrett, who also voices Red. All of the songs on the soundtrack are great, but the ones that feature Barrett particularly stand out because of her melodious, yet sonorous vocals. I highly recommend listening to the entire soundtrack which can be found on YouTube and Spotify

All of the small details in Transistor connect the player to Red’s story and identify with the trauma she is going through. The player feels grief when Red’s significant other is integrated into the Transistor and share her pain and anger after losing her voice.

Transistor’s art style is a feast for the eyes, especially when traveling between areas in Cloudbank. Screenshot by John Novotny.

The visuals, audio and gameplay all come together to form an incredibly compelling experience that should not be missed. 

Want to suggest a video game for review? Contact John Novotny at [email protected]