Rating: T for Mild Language and Violence
Available for: Playstation 4, PC, iOS (including iPhone and iPad), Linux
Sometimes we don’t need 60+ hours of an RPG to get a good story, sometimes we only need a few hours. Supergiant Games’ Transistor (2014) took me all of 7 hours to complete, and I’m just as emotional about it as the day I finished it.
Now to those who don’t usually play video games, 7 hours sounds like a lot, but I cannot assure you it’s not. It’s the equivalent of finishing a book in an afternoon or two. And like a short story you would finish in an afternoon, Transistor shines in its simplicity, unencumbered by complicated storylines and overwhelming narrative.
Transistor starts when Red, a famous singer, loses her voice in an assassination attempt by a group called the Camerata. In the attempt, a man she was close to was killed trying to save her and his essence was absorbed into a sword known as Transistor. The game tosses you right into the story, as Red and her Transistor seek revenge on the four members of the Camerata and fight against a force called the Process that is taking over the city of Cloudbank. Much of the story and lore is revealed through the Red’s close friend’s commentary and OVC Terminals located throughout the city: polls and observations give hints as to the daily lives of Cloudbank inhabitants while news reports tell the player how much the Process has already destroyed the city.
However, the most interesting feature about Transistor’s gameplay style is the how narrative is revealed through actual combat. Red’s Transistor gains abilities as she levels up, and her abilities come from the voices of other influential figures who have previously been absorbed by the Transistor. Depending on how you choose to use the abilities (either Active, Upgrade, or Passive), the player can learn more about the person in question. You are frequently encouraged to change up the combinations of abilities in order gain greater insight to the world. This feature definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone, as I’m someone who likes to rely on certain combat combinations once I’ve found favorites, but the mechanic intrigued me so much that I couldn’t help but start to switch things up to learn more about these characters. The game also pushes you to do so, temporarily removing your most frequently used ability if you run out of Hit Points (you can regain these abilities after finding another access point).
In a game that doesn’t take very much time at all, it was important for Transistor to set the tone through the environment in addition to the Transistor’s commentary and OVC Terminals. The game does this by completely isolating Red and the Transistor as they make their way through the city. Cloudbank has been entirely evacuated and the city structures are awaiting their impending ruin; even Red’s companion will lament over what is no longer there. As Red returns to the scene of the crime and meets up with individual members of the Camerata, she finds the aftermath of destruction, the results of what the Process left behind when it broke from the Camerata’s control. The world is desolate here, but the character profiles will also inform you that the city was already on its way to ruin long before Red obtained the Transistor.
There is not much I can discuss in this post without going into spoiler territory, but I did want to highlight a couple of the interesting ways Transistor chooses to reveal its story. The narrative relies heavily on gameplay mechanics and environment in a way that is not centered around solely speaking with NPCs and interacting with a ton of different objects. It also requires some extra work on the player’s part, having them make an active effort to uncover more of the story and understanding of the world. However, even without filling each of the character profiles, you are still able to understand the story as a whole and become emotionally attached to its characters. All of this done in a such a short span of time is a wonderful example of how a video game can both be short and still tell an excellent story. Transistor is a game I definitely recommend.