It’s hard to think of how a development studio could get started on a better foot than Supergiant Games. The makers of Bastion, 2011’s smash success RPG brawler have once again unveiled their newest creation at E3 2013, dubbed simply: Transistor. No information has surfaced so far beyond the game’s stirring announcement trailer, proving (to those with doubts) that the studio’s commitment to eye-catching visual style and evocative soundscapes is alive and well.
Now that Transistor has made its appearance on the E3 show floor, we finally have a better idea of how the studio’s sophomore outing will once again blend genres and defy expectations. Both simplistic and dense, what Supergiant revealed has our curiosity piqued, and may just end up outdoing its predecessor.
As was evident in the first trailer, the developers have foregone the rustic hand-painted aesthetic of Bastion for something more in keeping with a futuristic sci-fi story. Following Red, the game's heroine in her struggle to resist ‘the Process’ — the totalitarian authorities of the game’s world — the art style of Transistor is much sharper, cooler, and in a way more unsettling than that of Bastion, from environments to enemies.
There are still common notes between the two games (though they're hard to quantify), and as was the case with Bastion, every step into a new corner of Cloudbank — the game’s main setting — reveals as many new facets as remain mysterious; not the least of which is the massive broadsword Red carries at her side, and for which the game is named.
We won’t spoil too much of the story, but the slow stream of enigmatic narrative frames Red as a woman who has suffered at the hands of the Process, escaped from the authorities’ clutches, and comes into possession of the Transistor; a large blade possessing its very own consciousness and a desire to help its owner survive. To do that, Red will need to wield the Transistor in combat against the robotic minions of the Process - but don’t think for a second that Supergiant has named their adventure after a simple sword.
Besides launching both short and long range attacks along a prescribed axis, the Transistor grants Red the ability to stop time, move from cover to cover or around her opponents, and launch multiple attacks on multiple targets in a single 'turn.' Each decision drains a section of the Transistor’s stored power, and when the power bar is drained, the player must execute the chosen moves in the real world, watching as Red makes real what they had planned out beforehand.
If all of that sounds a bit more complicated than Bastion’s brawler mechanics, the game’s tutorial helps communicate the surprisingly intuitive and simplistic control scheme against a number of single enemies. But when the Process arrives en masse, the game’s true genius begins to shine through. As mentioned above, Red’s attacks are only damaging along a single line drawn directly out from her position; if the player can manage to line up the enemies like dominoes, Red’s attacks are capable of inflicting damage against everytone in that path.
Those who recall the more frenzied and frantic sections of Bastion’s endgame — or that game’s Training modes for individual weapons — don’t need to be told just how quickly a battle can become a fast-paced game of chess. Planning out repeated strikes against larger opponents and seeing the damage to be inflicted stack up on screen, or using attacks with higher splash damage to inflict widespread injury is satisfyingly calculated. The balancing comes when Red is forced to seek cover and stay mobile until the Transistor recharges, before returning to the offensive once more.
Too little was shown of the game to get a sense of how far the developers are going to push these mechanics, but the brilliance of the relatively simple — and easily graspable — gameplay conceit was immediately apparent. The story explanation for new attacks being added to Red’s arsenal is just as intriguing, but as was the case with Bastion, the less we know for now, the better.
It’s far too early to say that Supergiant has done it again, but granting players the chance to slow things down and proceed at their own pace should decrease the hurdles for less experienced gamers. If the story, narrative, vocal performances and music are as polished as the studio’s last release, there is a good chance that Transistor could actually attract an even larger audience.
In the wake of Bastion's surprise acclaim, a statement like that may seem foolhardy; now that we’ve gotten a taste, there’s no denying that Supergiant’s tiny team of programmers and artists are doing things even massive studios struggle to achieve. Suffice to say: this won't be the last we hear of Transistor.
Transistor will be releasing in 2014 for the PlayStation 4 and PC.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.