For the first two hours of Transistor, I was in love. The team at Supergiant Games has built an immensely beautiful game and proven, like they did with Bastion, that a game’s music can be an integral and incredibly important piece of its emotional foundation. Discovering this world for the first time is simply stunning. But after a while, a question started to niggle at me. With increasing boredom, I began to wonder why Transistor needed its combat. There was so much beauty and thought and passion and soul built into this game and absolutely none of that was expressed in the game’s biggest, most prominent mechanics.
I was honestly glad to see that the game was ending because I could feel myself become more and more bored with each passing fight. But as the finale played out, I found myself strangely disengaged and unmoved. Despite loving the game’s world and art and music, I hadn’t become any more drawn in or invested in the characters than I was when the game started. There was nothing to pull me in because my main avenue of experiencing the story (the gameplay) had done nothing to move me one way or another.
Games like this — games that clearly have such incredibly talented people behind them but fail to do anything interesting with their gameplay — make me wish developers could find better ways of expressing themselves. Violence and combat in gaming is such a crutch and it’s games like Transistor that prove that violence shouldn’t be treated like it’s the default gameplay style. There’s just so much to love here but I think it all fails to come together because what it’s rooted in (stale, staid combat gameplay) is so terribly inconsequential to the rest of it.
If the game could have better built the relationship between Red and the Transistor through the gameplay then I think that it could have been far more affecting. As it is now though, it’s just a dizzingly-beautiful game, with a great soundtrack and decent love story, bogged down with fine-enough combat, and that leaves the whole affair feeling uncannily unsatisfactory
Overall, I liked it but not a lot. I love this team and the immense talent and passion they have but I don’t think it completely adds up in Transistor. I hope that for their next game they find a better way of mechanically expressing the story they want to tell.