The fact that Transistor was nominated in the 2017 Steam Awards for Best Soundtrack is testament to the strength of its musical score: the game released back in 2014 and still stands out as memorable. Not only is the music masterfully put together, but it manages to link directly into the world of the game as it’s the protagonist, Red, who sang them prior to losing her voice.
A majority of game soundtracks tend to stick to instrumental pieces, but Transistor manages to include plenty of songs with lyrics that tie subtly enough into the plot that they don’t risk becoming cheesy. It’s uniquely melancholy and desperately sad, mostly due to the strength of its voice acting. While Red has her voice taken from her, her unnamed lover has his soul absorbed into the giant sword she carries- the titular Transistor- and continues to speak to her through it.
Logan Cunningham – who also starred in Supergiant’s first game, Bastion – absolutely kills the role of the man inside the Transistor, where he attempts to guide his girlfriend along the path to revenge on the people who tried to tear them apart.
The art direction is wonderful- the entire game is rendered in a vibrant art-deco inspired style which really enhances the beauty of its futuristic setting, a city of creators and visionaries called Cloudbank. Transistor isn’t just pretty though: the top-down RTS gameplay has a decent amount of depth and nuance, with the player able to choose between queuing up commands for a burst of power or using them individually to wear down the enemy. Difficulty is up to the player, as different limitations can be installed to make things trickier.
Representation is also subtle but well-considered and effective: there are multiple characters of colour, including Red’s boyfriend, and quite a number of LGBT+ characters in smaller roles. It wasn’t until my second playthrough that I noticed that two of the characters shared a last name and were intended to be presented as a gay couple. There is nothing particularly outstanding here, but it’s nice to see developers making an effort to be inclusive in a way that doesn’t feel performative. Part of the reason this works is because Transistor is full of subtleties intended to be caught on subsequent playthroughs: snatches of lyrics in some of the songs played at the very start of the game foreshadow its end, and a seemingly innocuous phrase repeated throughout the game has a heartbreaking meaning in retrospect.
Transistor is utterly captivating and one of the best indie experiences available- it’s just a perfectly crafted, heartbreaking story that’ll leave you humming the best of its soundtrack for weeks.