PAX Prime 2013: Transistor Hands On

By: Michael Dao
We last saw Transistor at PAX East 2013. It was the newly announced follow on title from Supergiant Games, developer of the successful and critically acclaimed Bastion. Now, though Transistor  does share a lot with Bastion, as time passes, we can see that the two are clearly different titles in both gameplay and appearance.

Upon first glance, the games are quite similar. They’re both third person action games that have role playing elements, there’s sort of a dynamic narration system like there was in Bastion, and the backgrounds are all beautifully hand drawn. That’s where the similarities end. Whereas Bastion centers around a catastrophe befalling a world and the journey to do something about it, Transistor is the story of a singer who survives an attack on her life, and her story in this cyberpunk world.


The version of the game that we saw at PAX East 2013, was clearly a very early build of the game, although it did run flawlessly, and had an incredible amount of polish, and it is only by comparing it to the version that is being shown at PAX Prime 2013 that we can say that. The core mechanic is this turn-based style of play that can be best compared to the combat system Fallout 3. The player simply has to pull the right trigger to enable the turn system. From here, the game pauses and the player can then choose their movement and actions carefully. Every choice they make depletes a meter, and once they queue up the actions they wish to take, a second pull of the right trigger executes all of the queued commands. At that point, the player needs to wait until they can access the turn again. It is probably wholly possible to play the entire game without using the system, and relying on sheer reflex and action game chops, but the turn system allows for some thought and planning, and there are some puzzle sequences that will require its use. On the flip side, there is no greater joy in this game than executing a well thought out plan that decimates the enemies on the screen.

The biggest difference between the versions is that in this latest iteration, more of the customization options that we saw the likes of in Bastion are now in Transistor. As Red travels and kills enemies in her world, she earns experience points and levels up. As she levels up, she unlocks these modifiers to the abilities that she unlocks in the game. the first one that opens up is a modifier to backstabbing. There is currently bonus damage to attacking from behind to certain mobs, and the modifier can be attached to certain abilities, so that when you attack from behind using that specific ability, even more damage is done.


The new news from Supergiant about Transistor is that the game will be released on PS4 and PC. the build that was playable at PAX Prime 2013 was on PC using a PS4 controller. They incorporated a nice little touch on the game where the light bar on the front of the controller pulsed as the narrator spoke. This is of limited utility. Although Sony advertises the lightbar as a way to differentiate which player is using which controller, which is a fair use of it, they also state that it can be used to deliver some information, such as the health status of a player, but to be honest, it’s practicality may be limited. It just happened to be by chance that the pulsating light when the narrator spoke was even something that was noticed, by how I, and how I suspect most people will be holding their controllers. There is no current word on whether or not Transistor will be coming to any other platforms. Precedence says that it will be coming to the XBox at the very least, as Bastion was made for almost every platform under the sun – PC, Mac, Xbox 360, iOS, Google Chrome, Linux and OnLive. Right now, the title is only announced for PS4 and PC, but that may change as we get closed to the release date, which is looking like early 2014. They’ve stated their second priorities after their initial release on Steam and PS4 will be Linux and Mac, which will probably use Steam, but no details on any other platforms, although they have not ruled any out.

And yes, for the interested, Darren Korb returns as the composer, the art is still by Jen Zee, and vocals are still by the ever lovely Ash Barrett.

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