Turn up the radio

After their smash hit Bastion back in 2011, many of us wondered whether or not Supergiant Games would be able to replicate their success with such a small team. Then, last week, they released the first trailer announcing their new game, Transistor. And I know many people looked at that trailer and said “Hmmm… This looks like a cyberpunk Bastion.”

Well, I was fortunate enough to go hands-on with it at PAX East 2013 for 15 minutes, where it was playable on the show floor. And instead of just sharing my initial thoughts, I wanted to share with you the text message I sent to the rest of the EGM Crew upon my completion of the demo:


Surely not my most professional moment, that’s for sure. But after reveling in the jealousy I’d kicked up among my coworkers, I took a minute to compose my thoughts about what I’d just seen, played, and—most impressively—heard.

Indeed, from the very first moments the demo started, an amazing song serenaded my ears as the opening text popped up onscreen. Not only was the song beautiful to hear, but its lyrics and melody also helped set the stage for the game. It immediately established a tone for Transistor and opened the door for a much easier opportunity to get immersed into this new world. If there’s anything that Supergiant seems to be keying in on as their forte when it comes to game development, it appears to be masterfully crafting an atmosphere right from the get-go—especially with sound—to help drive home the points of the game’s inventive script. 

Logan Cunningham, who played Rucks/The Narrator from Bastion, returns once more as your guide. We immediately learn the massive sword that protagonist Red wields is, in actuality, the Transistor. And the Transistor talks! (With a voice provided by Cunningham.). The sword also has some sort of history with Red—who interestingly enough (and continuing with the audio theme), cannot talk.

Shortly after the first tutorial battle, Red stumbles upon someone who was clearly less fortunate than she in regards to finding a giant talking sword. The Transistor then says that even though the person is deceased, it can talk to them. So, after talking briefly with the person’s digital soul, Red learns a new move that can be used in combat, as the soul becomes sucked into the blade.

Not only is this a phenomenal twist, it also sets up many questions about the origins of the Transistor, serving as a driving force to continue the story. Was the voice inside the Transistor related to Red in some way? Did this person use the Transistor to save their consciousness? Has the Transistor always been used like this? Whether or not the voice is a brother, lover, or complete stranger to Red, how the Transistor got that voice is another interesting subplot that formed in just my 15-minute demo. Mind you, the main plot of a futuristic world being subjugated by robots isn’t something to scoff at, either.

As story-driven as Transistor clearly is, it could be easy to look past the unique combat system it sports. Red can perform a variety of moves repeatedly in real time—a bit like a button-masher—that can wield destructive results against the forces who clearly wish to stop her. Whether it’s up-close stabs or long-range explosive blasts, the Transistor makes sure Red can hold her own.

What makes this unique, however, is that she can also activate a special power given to her by the Transistor that allows her to stop time. In this suspension of reality, Red can run around the battlefield and perform attacks—or avoid ones thrown her way in order to overcome what seems like insurmountable odds.

Red can only do so much in suspension before being forced to step back into real time, but once she does, everything she planned out in suspended reality will happen at lighting-fast speed, dealing extra damage or allowing her to escape unharmed. The disadvantage—which quickly becomes evident—is that Red then becomes very vulnerable for a short time. She must wait for a special meter at the top of the screen to refill before she can even attack in real time again—never mind slipping back into suspended reality.

This risk-reward dynamic, plus the badassery of being able to play with time, definitely gave Transistor a special feeling. Couple that with another enthralling story full of mystery and intrigue, and you can consider me hooked for sure. Now, it’s just a matter of finding out what systems Transistor will be available for—and counting the days to when it launches sometime in early 2014.