Hands-On Preview: Transistor

Developer Supergiant Games has a lot at stake as they prepare to deliver the follow-up to their critically-acclaimed 2011 debut Bastion; an action-RPG that debuted on Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade that quickly found its way onto numerous other platforms, and even mores into the hearts of a vast collection of fans and admirers. Their sophomore effort, Transistor, is set to release in the coming weeks. At PAX East, I decided to take the upcoming title for a spin to find out if lightning can strike twice for the team at Supergiant Games.

From its lush visuals and soundtrack to its engaging and deeply-versatile collection of weapons, abilities, and upgrades, Bastion quickly became an indie favorite in 2011, and following it up would, at first, seem like no easy task. But after a brief but informative play-through with Supergiant Games’s much-anticipated successor, Transistor, it’s already clear that their follow-up will expand, enlighten, and entertain from where Bastion made such a big splash three years ago.

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Like Bastion before it, Transistor is a pseudo-action RPG from an isometric view. Players take on the role of Red, a young singer that takes on the mighty titular weapon of the game, and seeks an escape from a mighty entity known as The Process that is ruthlessly seeking her and the Transistor. Imbued with a range of abilities and the power to manipulate time and space for lightning-fast combat and decision-making, Transistor shows that Red is more than capable to take on the challenge, and even more so by providing players with an experience that is simple to grasp, and certainly difficult to master.

From a first-glance, Transistor most certainly has the look and style of Bastion, and it’s definitely not an unwarranted idea to think: visually, the style and isometric view calls to mind much of Supergiants’s first game, and hearing the soothing, velvety tones of the game’s narrator puts players into a familiar, exciting place. However, after a few minutes into the game it’s clear that while Transistor honors much of what made Bastion such an engagingly-deep but easily accessible title, it breaks significant new ground for Supergiant and brings us into a world that is at once familiarly-humbling, but fresh and brimming with new ideas around every corner.

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Beautifully illustrated artwork and stylized cutscenes bring an immediate allure to Transistor – played on the show floor of PAX East 2014 on the PS4 version of the game, it was hard not to turn my eyes away from the vibrant glow of Transistor‘s world, and even harder to have to leave once the demo level was finished. But, while the visuals gave me the reason to walk through the doors of what Transistor had to offer, the gameplay and mechanics explored throughout the 20 minutes or so of Transistor‘s demo kept me staying and thinking about the game long after I was prompted to return to the main menu.

As a hybrid action-RPG title, Red is equipped with the titular “Transistor” sword. Red can call in a host of abilities and attacks using the sword regularly through swipes, blocks, and an assortment of other basic attacks. The core mechanics of Transistor though revolve around the introduction of a unique mix of RPG and strategy elements, as Red can instantly slow down time to a crawl and select a deck of actions to be then played out with lightning-speed in real-time once the player exits out of the slowed-down time.

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Through this, players can really define on their own how they string together hits, dodges, and special attacks, making Transistor a unique proposition in terms of a typical action-RPG. Adding in some doses of real-time strategy to the mix allows players in Transistor to attack on their own choosing – take the typical hack-n-slash route to barge your way through enemy territory, or utilizing Red’s time mechanics to think through strategies and attacks ahead of time for more decision-based follow-throughs.

Coming off the high anticipation from Bastion, fans of Supergiant Games can rest easy knowing that even from just a brief excursion through the world of Transistor, I already can’t wait to take a more extended trip. Coming off the demo from this weekend’s PAX East 2014, the game already shows exceptional polish, style, combat, and most of all, dedication to new ideas and a world that’s just waiting to be explored through the eyes of Red. Luckily, with the game officially set to release on May 20th, it won’t be too much longer for us to wait until we can hop back into Transistor‘s tech-infused world with Red – and the wait will be worth every second.

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Transistor releases for PS4 and PC on May 20th, 2014 – check out our interview with Supergiant Games’ Creative Director Greg Kasavin on the title, straight from the show floor of PAX East 2014.

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