Tran­sis­tor

Its com­bat is in­tri­cate and the story of its odd cou­ple pro­tag­o­nists is both smartly writ­ten and deftly told

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher/de­vel­oper Su­per­giant Games For­mat PC, PS4 (ver­sion tested) Re­lease Out now

PC, PS4

No one likes to be pi­geon­holed. De­vel­op­ers, and indies es­pe­cially, seem to go out of their way to avoid ac­cu­sa­tions of for­ever mak­ing the same thing. Yet less than a minute into Tran­sis­tor, you know you’re play­ing a Su­per­giant game. This, like Bas­tion, is an iso­met­ric ac­tion-RPG. It, too, is easy on the eye, al­beit with its pre­de­ces­sor’s gor­geous fan­tasy fron­tier re­placed with a beau­ti­ful retro-fu­tur­is­tic city. But what re­ally unites these games, and de­fines the Su­per­giant house style, is voice ac­tor Lo­gan Cunningham. Once again, he’s part guide, part sto­ry­teller, but while he was a nar­ra­tor in Bas­tion – a de­tached ob­server – he’s an in­te­gral part of the story here.

He voices a man trapped in­side the epony­mous Tran­sis­tor, a sword of such heft that pro­tag­o­nist Red, a renowned singer, drags it along be­hind her, a trail of sparks in her wake as it scrapes the ground. The game be­gins with her com­ing to against a wall, slumped next to a corpse into which the Tran­sis­tor is firmly em­bed­ded, the weapon ap­par­ently hav­ing stolen his voice and soul. Red, mean­while, has lost the use of her vo­cal cords, so af­ter free­ing the sword, the two set out into the world in search of what they’re miss­ing.

And what a world. Tran­sis­tor’s city of Cloud­bank is am­bigu­ously fu­tur­is­tic, a place where hazy neon sci-fi meets vin­tage fash­ion and which is en­tirely con­trolled, per­haps even cre­ated, by tech­nol­ogy. Street-side ter­mi­nals bal­lot cit­i­zens on to­mor­row’s weather, the colour of the sky and pro­posed build­ing works. It’s through a mix of ter­mi­nals, the Tran­sis­tor’s clipped com­men­tary and the game’s take on text logs that we learn Cloud­bank is con­trolled not by com­put­ers, but by the Il­lu­mi­nati-es­que Cam­er­ata. Founded by sci­en­tists with big ideas, the Cam­er­ata’s ranks have swollen with the re­cruit­ment of Cloud­bank’s great and good – a roll call of ar­chi­tects, fash­ion de­sign­ers and ath­letes brought in to put a palat­able face on ques­tion­able in­ten­tions. Red’s on their list too, nat­u­rally, but she’s dif­fer­ent to the rest, and not only be­cause of her gi­gan­tic talk­ing sword: she’s the only one that’s still alive.

Cloud­bank, you see, is a ghost town. Its in­hab­i­tants are gone, re­placed by the Process – a hos­tile com­puter pro­gram that’s taken phys­i­cal, and highly ag­gres­sive, form. It’s in com­bat against its ro­botic bes­tiary that

Tran­sis­tor takes its big­gest step for­ward from Bas­tion. As be­fore, you have a suite of at­tacks, here mapped to DualShock 4’s face but­tons, but a squeeze of R2 turns re­ac­tion-based re­al­time com­bat into some­thing al­to­gether more tac­ti­cal. Activate Turn mode and the screen dark­ens, the elec­tro-clas­si­cal sound­track be­comes muf­fled and fil­tered, and time is frozen still, along with your op­po­nents. A me­ter at the top of the screen de­pletes as you move and set up a string of ranged and melee at­tacks, then an­other press of R2 sees Red en­act the plan in re­al­time. The gen­tle pace of Turn mode is frac­tured by the sub­se­quent cooldown timer, dur­ing which you’re at the mercy of your ag­gres­sors and must hunker down be­hind blocks of cover that dis­in­te­grate un­der fire. You’ll soon learn to end your Turns with an eva­sive move to start the cooldown in a po­si­tion of rel­a­tive safety.

It’s a de­cep­tively sim­ple sys­tem, and you’re rapidly made to feel wor­ry­ingly pow­er­ful, with those four face but­tons quickly filled with at­tacks. Yet there is so much more to Tran­sis­tor’s com­bat than early glimpses re­veal. You find more moves, dubbed Func­tions, ly­ing on the corpses of the Cam­er­ata’s ex-mem­bers. As you level up, you’ll un­lock more, and more ways in which to use them. A Func­tion can be Ac­tive and trig­gered with a face but­ton; an Up­grade, chang­ing the way an Ac­tive move op­er­ates; or Pas­sive, giv­ing Red a per­ma­nent buff. You’re en­cour­aged to mix up your ap­proach – the first time you as­sign a skill to an empty slot, you’re given a lit­tle back­story about the mem­ber of the glit­terati on whose corpse you first dis­cov­ered it, and you’ll need to put it in all three slots to learn their whole story. But you’ll be forced to switch things up, too: take too much dam­age and the most pow­er­ful skill in your ar­se­nal will Over­load and be un­avail­able for a while. And should you play things too safely, the Tran­sis­tor will read­ily point it out. When we spend an en­tire Turn bar on the Crash melee move, we’re chided with a dry mut­ter of, “Sub­tle.”

There are other lit­tle bal­anc­ing acts. When lev­el­ling up, you’re faced with a se­ries of choices: pick­ing one of two new moves, un­lock­ing new Pas­sive or Up­grade slots, or in­creas­ing the Mem­ory pool that re­stricts how many skills you can use at once. Lim­iters buff the en­emy threat level in ex­change for faster lev­el­ling. And downed foes spawn clus­ters of cells, which must be col­lected within a time limit or they’ll respawn, adding a fran­tic risk to the cooldown be­tween Turns. It’s a smart, re­mark­ably in­tri­cate sys­tem that in­vites ex­per­i­men­ta­tion long af­ter the cred­its have rolled and you’re into New Game Plus, where your skillset car­ries over and the en­emy threat ramps up.

Yet Tran­sis­tor’s great­est as­set is con­fi­dence. This is a re­mark­ably as­sured game for such a young stu­dio, the work of a small team that knows ex­actly what it wants to do and ex­e­cutes it al­most with­out er­ror. Its art style is divine, its sound­track is re­mark­able, its com­bat is in­tri­cate, and the story of its odd-cou­ple pro­tag­o­nists is both smartly writ­ten and deftly told. It is a game made, lit­er­ally, with a Flour­ish: tap R1 and Red flings the sword out in front of her, the blade spin­ning in midair as she jumps out to catch it. It’s a move that serves no pur­pose be­yond let­ting play­ers tra­verse Cloud­bank with the same easy style with which Tran­sis­tor has been made. Su­per­giant may work to a tem­plate, but when it’s as ir­re­sistible as this, it’s easy to see why.

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