One of the most striking trailers to come out of E3 this year was that of Transistor, Supergiant‘s upcoming PS4 action RPG. After watching it a few hundred times, I made it my personal mission to go hands-on with it at this year’s PAX Prime — and after waiting in one of the longest lines at the show, I did just that.
Transistor adopts a top-down, isometric view during gameplay, not unlike Supergiant’s previous title, Bastion. The overall art style is similar as well, with vibrant colors just aching to burst through the screen. Transistor takes on a more modern aesthetic, though, with a neo-watercolor tone permeating the scenery we’ve been shown so far. This style really shines — both in cutscenes encountered in-game, and in real-world prints that you can get from Supergiant’s website (like the one to the right).
A moody, melodic score complements Supergiant’s luscious visuals — I’m looping the E3 trailer nonstop as I’m writing this — seamlessly weaving between exploration, combat sequences, and cutscenes, and highlighted by Ashley Barrett‘s mesmerizing vocals. In case you’re as entranced as I am, Supergiant has confirmed that a soundtrack for Transistor will be made available at launch, or shortly thereafter.
Combat in Transistor initially plays like a standard action RPG: attack enemies to gain experience points and level up your character. Things get interesting, though, when the “Turn” system is introduced. At any point during a battle, you can pull the R2 trigger to stop time around Red, Transistor’s protagonist. While her foes are frozen, Red can reposition herself and plan a series of attacks, all of which will be executed in quick succession when you press R2 again.
Each movement and attack depletes a meter at the top of the screen, so you need to think your assault through carefully — wiping out a field of monsters (The Process, as they’re called here) in one meticulously-planned onslaught is intensely satisfying. After time resumes and your attack is finished, your Turn meter takes a few seconds to recharge, leaving you vulnerable while your enemies seek to retaliate. This prevents battles from becoming too one-sided, which is quite a feat in a game where you can freeze time.
Four attacks were available in the demo I played: Crash, a standard, close-range attack; Breach, which is especially effective for enemies lined up in front of Red; Jaunt, a quick dash that will get her out of harm’s way quickly; and Spark, a cluster of bombs that will make short work of a crowd of smaller enemies. Mix these different attacks up after activating a Turn, and The Process will know not to mess with Red.
Transistor’s story is driven forward by dynamic narration, provided by the titular blue sword Red carries. As the Transistor speaks, a blue light pulses from its more transparent areas, matching the metre and accents of its speech. In my favorite use of DualShock 4’s new technology so far, the light bar on the controller matches the pulsing light on screen. It’s a small addition that some might not even notice, but it’s clever touches like this that have earned Supergiant my confidence.
Supergiant says we can expect Transistor in early 2014. Until then, I’m going to go watch that E3 trailer another hundred times.
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