E3: 'Transistor' Defies Game Design Convention Beautifully
'Transistor' is the follow-up to indie darling 'Bastion' from Supergiant games.
CREDIT: Supergiant Games
"Transistor," a new indie title from Supergiant Games, proves that you don't need tens of millions of dollars and a development team the size of a small city to make an evocative game; This indie game features a sympathetic protagonist, beautiful graphics and an unusual battle system that takes only minutes to pick up.
TechNewsDaily had a chance to go hands-on with a demo of "Transistor" at this year's E3 conference. The game begins with the heroine, Red, a redheaded woman in a yellow dress. Once a singer, she is now voiceless shivering and stumbling onscreen with no more idea than the player how she got there. Red soon encounters the body of a dear friend, still grasping an enormous sword called the Transistor.
Red's friend fell victim to a mysterious, computerized enemy force known only as the Process, which has made over 100 people disappear from the city within the last few months. Although her friend's body is crumpled and broken, his soul lives on as a guide within the Transistor. Once Red picks up the sword, she gains the ability to run, as well as her friend's oversized leather jacket.
The games industry has not had a great track record regarding engaging female protagonists, but it would take a pretty heartless player to not find Red's situation compelling. She was a singer with the most beautiful voice in the city until the Process took it away from her.
Red's transition from shivering performer to reluctant hero is almost instantaneous, and her call to action is the death of her only friend. The jacket that keeps her warm and the sword that protects her are both too big for her. Red struggles to carry them: the jacket hangs well below her dress and the sword drags along the ground as she carries on, wordless. Red's character design and animation say more in a few frames of video than most game protagonists convey through hundreds of lines of dialogue.
When Red first encounters the Process, combat is simple: all she can do is swing the Transistor at them. However, her weapon is more than a simple sword. It has the ability to briefly stop time to allow Red to plan out her moves. As she journeys through the city, a futuristic cyberpunk dystopia with more than a hint of film noir ambiance, the Transistor picks up the souls of Process victims, each of whom teaches her something. [See also: 5 Hit Games Made on a Shoestring]
The game takes place in a fixed top-down perspective, like Supergiant Games' previous title "Bastion." Soon, combat falls into a steady rhythm: Pause time, map out your route, select your moves, and activate. For simple foes, Red can walk right up and dispatch them with one or two slashes. More complex enemies might require a strike from behind, a quick teleport across the screen and a ranged laser blast.
The more complex the combination, the slower Red's attack abilities recharge. In-between attacks, Red must dodge enemy fire in real-time, ducking behind walls that can only withstand a certain amount of damage, while her opponents pursue her.
The way the game balances color, shadow, darkness and light is absolutely breathtaking. The stark whites and harsh reds of the Process play against the rainbow backdrop of thes city, while Red's yellow dress and red hair complement her black leather jacket and clash with her green sword. The whole game has a soft, watercolor texture that makes it look like a moving American realist painting (like Edward Hopper's famous "Nighthawks").
As the demo ends, with a silhouetted Red riding a motorcycle against a darkening cityscape, the narrator warns her against pursuing the Process any further. Of course, she disregards his advice and continues her ride toward a Process stronghold, giving just another tiny glimpse into the psyche of this strong and silent woman.
In only fifteen minutes, "Transistor" tugs at genuine emotions: pity, excitement, awe, respect, pride, loss and uncertainty. This is something that even mainstream games with huge development costs cannot consistently provide.
If the demo is any indication, "Transistor" promises to be something special. Gamers will get a chance to meet Red and inhabit her fascinating city in 2014 for an unspecified price on both the PlayStation 4 and PC.