Friday, May 23, 2014

Trans Sister

"I used to have a brother, but ever since the operation, I have a transistor."

Now that you never want to hear another joke from me ever again, I'll now state that there is a very real chance that what follows will be an entirely serious review of Transistor, with little to no content of value.

So, what is Transistor? Well, the easiest way to describe it is by comparing it to Bastion. Transistor is the second game made by Supergiant Games, the brilliant minds behind Bastion, a game which I've briefly covered before. In many ways, Transistor seems like a spiritual successor to Bastion. The combat is fairly similar, the way the story unfolds is familiar, and the world has all the same flair as Bastion. Now that my thesis statement's out of the way, I guess I'll expound on each of my points.

Transistor's combat is honestly probably the department in which it differs most from Bastion. When I heard about it, I thought "Well, you're probably only going to be able to wield the titular Transistor, so there probably isn't going to be as much customization as in Bastion". In Bastion, there were 12 different weapons, and you could equip any 2 of them at a time, leaving 65 possible combinations, not including all the possible special moves you can have. But I was wrong. Math wrong. In Bastion, the Transistor has different "functions" which are essentially different weapons. There are 15 of these functions, and you can wield up to 4 of them at a time, allowing an impressive total of 1365 different combinations. But that's just scratching the surface. Each function can also be used as an upgrade to your action functions, with each active function capable of holding up to 2 upgrades. And did I mention that functions can also passively boost your person, and you can have up to 4 of those? Each of these adjustments represents a potentially major shift in playstyle, far more than the special moves in Bastion. I can't get exact number on how many possible loadouts there are. Such a number can only be said to be "combinatorially large". And then, when you level up enough, you can get doubles of your functions, allowing you to use them in different slots at the same time, resulting in a number of possibilities that is barely even finite anymore. You could even say that it's "Supergiant".

Does this even count as a joke?
The combat itself is actually quite different from Bastion's. While Bastion focused on strategically blocking and dodging attacks, Transistor focuses on the turn() system, which allows you to freeze time, plan out your moves, and then execute them all at once in a manner rather similar to V.A.T.S. in the Fallout Series. This, combined with the vast customization options, lead to an experience that is somewhat more "strategic" than Bastion. This is really cool if you don't suck at it. I suck at it. This does not, however, prevent me from recognizing that it's really cool. When I'm in the groove, expertly executed plans are extremely satisfying. I mentioned awhile back that one of the most memorable moments in my gaming career was when I realized that I could kill people by throwing them into scaffoldings in Assassin's Creed (I also rather humorously implied that I did the same in real life, but now that my name's here, I'd like to definitively clarify that that is not the case). Transistor is lousy with moments like this. The incredible versatility allows for a bunch of cool strategies that just make you think "Damn, I can really do that?" Like "Holy crap, I can charm and drain the life from my enemies, all while escaping from them? Just like my friends in real life!" And then, somewhere around halfway through your second playthrough, you find that one perfect combination that solves all your troubles, and you realize that Transistor's combat is fun as hell. I mean, metaphorically, of course.

Not actually that fun, if I'm being honest.

Now, about the story. Well, for spoiler reasons, I don't want to talk about it too much. But I will say that it is pretty similar to Bastion's, perhaps even to a fault. I don't think that it had the same weight as Bastion, overall, but it definitely had plenty of Moments. Moments that made me think "Wow. This is what art is like". It's kind of hard to describe, so I'll give an example that I'm sure will do nothing to clarify from the Elfen Lied anime. *waits for boos and jeers to subside* *continues anyway, because we've been here for awhile* Elfen Lied opens with a naked chick breaking out of a high security lab by dismembering the hell out of everyone, interspersed with clips of a flustered intern running through the halls, unaware of the carnage that is taking place. Everything about her suggests that she's the klutzy main character. While she's on her way to deliver coffee to one of the bosses or whatever, she trips directly into the path of the naked chick. As the audience you are left to wonder how she's going to bumble her way out of this one. She doesn't. She is swiftly decapitated and used as a human shield, subverting your expectations just as viciously. I don't know why, but something about it just resonated with me. Maybe because I've had similar experiences before... is what I'd have said in the past, but I am now more reticent to imply that I've performed (or received) nude beheadings.

Anyway, there's not much else I can say about the story. I have a mind-blowing pet theory, but it involves some pretty major spoilers, so I can't talk about it too much. Suffice it to say, it involves Red, the protagonist, being the same person as Red, the protagonist of the 1st gen Pokemon games. They have the same name, and they're mute. That's reason enough for me.

The Transistor is actually a Honedge. Or Vice Versa. But not Cerebella's Hat

So, the world of Transistor. Let me be clear: this game is Compsci as all hell. It is a game made by computer people, for computer people. Everything takes place inside a computer, and it all- well, I mean, obviously it takes place inside a computer, because it's a computer game, but the actual setting for the game is a digital world. You know what I mean. And there are all kinds of references to computers, like the functions, which have names like "ping()" and "crash()", the fact that distances are measured in "blocks", and one of the first things said by the Transistor is "Hello World". Like Caelondia before it, Cloudbank has just enough detail to keep you intrigued and wanting for more. It would seem that this is somehow more satisfying than a game that just tells you what the hell is going on.

I left it out of my thesis statement, but another important part of Transistor is the sound: the voice acting and music. The voice acting is easily the best of any game I've ever played, with the possible exception of Virtue's Last Reward. The narrator this time around doesn't have the same grittiness as Bastion's, but the few other voice actors more than make up for it. I believe that the gaming industry could be saved if we just let these people dub every video game. And if your video game has female characters, tough luck. They're only allowed to say one word at the end. Make it count.

The music in Transistor is fantastic. In fact, you can go give it a listen on Spotify right now. I might even go so far as to say that you should. Ashley Barrett is just as fantastic a singer as she was in Bastion, and she had even more songs showcasing her talent this time around. None of them quite measure up to "Build that Wall", but there are very few songs who can claim to do that. Maybe even none, because songs are abstract ideas that can't claim things. The instrumental background music is also pretty damn solid. All-in-all, I think it's a great soundtrack, but I think I prefer Bastion's. As of right now, at least. Given more time, it's entirely possible that I'll grow to like Transistor's more.

So what's the verdict on Transistor? Well, if we're comparing it to Bastion, I'd say that I still prefer Bastion. The combat clicked with me more, the story seems to have more direction, and "Build that Wall" is just way too good. But that's not to say that Transistor isn't a masterpiece, or even that it isn't better than Bastion. Just because I prefer it doesn't, necessarily mean I think it's better. I'm not so arrogant as to assume that any of my opinions are right.

Now the real question is this: Is Transistor worth $20? I'm not sure. I'm kind of spoiled by Steam Sales, so $20 is close to the biggest purchase I've ever made on Steam to date. And while Transistor was a fantastic game, it was also quite short; I finished it in about 8 hours, and others finished in 5 or 6. The deep combat system and additional recursion playthroughs add substantial replayability, but that all depends on how willing and able you are to put in the effort. I can understand why you'd be reluctant to shell out $20 for Transistor, but if you ever catch it on sale, I'd recommend picking it up. It may not have broken new ground the way Bastion did, but it is still definitely a major bullet point in the argument that games can be art.

Now that that's out of the way, it's time to address the elephant in the room. Yes, I changed my blog's template, because the old one looked like someone pooped on a poop, and then left that double-poop to stew in a food processor for a week or three, even though double-poops are about as far from "food" as you can get. And honestly, I'm not sure this new format is much better. It maybe looks like a single poop fresh from a Dutch oven fortnight. I might fix it later, but I certainly wouldn't count on it. 

I've also changed some of the gadgets on the side of the page. I removed the pageview counter, because it made me sad to think that everyone saw how few people read my blog (Around 4000 at the time of writing). I also removed my short bio with the link to my G+ account, because there wasn't anything to see there, and it made me really sad to think that everyone could see how many more people apparently read my barren G+ account (Around 11,000 at the time of writing, allegedly). The bio contained a pretty neat joke, so I guess I'll record it here for posterity. 

"I write a blog where I try to say funny things. I also write poetry, which is put on a different blog. I might write fiction, depending on how some things work out. Despite all this, I consider myself more of a hard science man. Though, to be clear, the adjective 'hard' was describing the noun 'science' in that case."

In their place, I now have a widget that shows my Twitter feed, and a link to some of my blog buddies. I like to think I'm a pretty funny guy on Twitter, but then again, I also like to think I'm a pretty funny guy on this blog, so your mileage may vary. When it comes to Twitter, I have even fewer standards about how appropriate my jokes are, so expect this blog to lose its F-word virginity pretty soon after this post goes live. There's also some news with regards to my blog buddies. Payton Knobeloch, previously of "Loner and Friends", has a new blog on Wordpress, Knobbles, which sounds kind of like something dirty, but definitely probably isn't. Maybe. He lists my blog as a blog that he follows, so you should check it out. I also have a new blog buddy, Tim Eads, whose blog is, as far as I can tell, basically Mulan's "I'll make a Man out of You" in text form. If that blatantly misleading synopsis won't convince you to check it out, I don't know what will. Then there's Alicen Moser's "Lessons in Unnecessary Enthusiasm (!!)", and my poetry blog, neither of which have changed.

I've kind of forgotten how I end these posts, so enjoy this Dinosaur Comic I wrote. For necessary context, click here and here.

NOTE: I tweeted this and it was favorited by Dinosaur Comics author Ryan North, so I think that makes it Expanded Universe

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