PAX East 2013: Transistor--Hands-on gameplay

ery rarely does a game come around and convey such a strong sensation of life; a feeling of vibrancy that could compel any number of powerful emotions that you would have never expected to receive from it. Days before the start of PAX East, Supergiantgames recently announced their latest project, Transistor, and that it would be available to play on the Expo floor at PAX East 2013. After spending my time with the current build, I walked away from an experience that imprinted a sense of longing I've never felt from a game, and it has left me shaken.

As the first introductory scene opens, a woman slowly pans into view; she's wearing a shimmering golden sequin dress, on stage to hundreds in attendance within the audience. A somber yet strong voice suddenly speaks out and narrates the starlet’s plight. Within minutes, Transistor already sets the mood with little or no exposition, just sheer atmosphere, and all of the impact felt just the same. The presentation in Transistor may take on some familiar hooks from Bastion but they’re elevated to an entirely different pedigree of storytelling.

The level starts with the woman teleported away from the stage, to a different platform where a voice beckons him; it’s a broadsword adorned with circuitry impaled into a dead man’s chest. The familiar voice again sounded off another familiar hook, but the context of a companion character that’s directly involved as opposed to a third-person character perspective. The companion dynamic is fleshed out rather quickly, but Transistor was one of the few examples in where it didn’t feel like a gimmick. In the short time that I had with Transistor it set itself apart from Bastion, as Bastion was a story where the main cast simply served as ambassadors to escort you to the real draw of its story, the word; Transistor is the exact opposite.

While there are some recognizably stark comparisons to similar elements going within the presentation and narrative, it’s assumed that the gameplay and combat would fall in line to the same trend, right? Wrong. In fact, far from it.

The Transistor is your weapon at all times. As you progress, you learn new abilities or attacks that are mapped to your face buttons that you can alternate between that surprisingly varied set of combination attacks.

Enemies in Transistor are aggressive and relentless. At any moment in which you are engaed by an enemy, the battle immediately becomes a sense of urgency that will constantly have you moving in between counter attacks and at some point, no matter how hard I defended, I was quickly becoming overwhelmed—then a new mechanic was introduced, one that would change the entire way that Transistor is played.

Red is given the ability to freeze time and everything on the battlefield; action and movement are regulated by the expense of an active-time bar. With this tactic, you can utilize environmental surroundings to initiate cover and switch back and forth or line up a shot for multiple strikes, and all the while mixing up real time strikes against the enemy will allow your active-time bar to recharge. Never before have these two play styles juxtaposed to create a multidimensional combat system that’s solid all around.

Supergiantgames has slated the release for sometime in early 2014. With less than a half hour, one conclusion became clear: If Transistor can remain consistent with the speed it gathered when it the ground running with its brilliant concepts and innovative presentation, then the title will be poised to be leagues ahead of current modern game design.

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