Bastion indelibly had one of the finest soundtracks ever attached to a piece of media, wrought from the mind and hands of the now-dearly beloved Darren Korb. Though its quality cannot be denied, Bastion’s score lacked a certain element that truly married its existence to that of the game it accompanied. Enter Supergiant Games‘ latest accomplishment in the field of games, Transistor, a game very similar to its predecessor in several facets, but differs in emotional value through both its tone and musical aptitude.
Transistor is a masterpiece in its own right, our review singing the praises of its mastery over customizability and situational adaptability, but makes special note of Korb’s outstanding musical contributions, because they absolutely deserve special attention.
Transistor tells the tale of a singer without a voice wielding a “weapon” that has the potential to shape reality itself in more ways than one, these sentiments echoed masterfully in a sonic soundscape that ebbs and flows as you explore each new area in the game. Almost as if switching from one song to the next on the album itself, both the interactive medium and the passive one craft their own story together in a strange-yet-beautiful waltz in your mind and hands.
Opening with the haunting “Old Friends,” we find ourselves gutted by the sound of the deep, synthesized bass and the droning, echoing guitar with its subtle delay, each note resonating as a ghost in your recent memory, creating a foreboding sense of dread until the song modulates up to offer something of a hopeful vision before fading into thick bass lines.
Transistor’s soundtrack continues on with the impersonal posture of electronic-oriented music, clean and collected, reflecting the mechanical nature of game’s major antagonist, the Process. Furthermore, there’s nothing outright villainous about the collection of tracks here, much like the inhuman foes, but each one manipulates an impression of urgency or sorrow or loss. The first track to feature vocalist Ashley Barrett, returning once again after portraying Zia in Bastion, is a monumental three-and-change minute track that drains happiness from existence. “The Spine,” representing an in-game behemoth as ‘The Spine of the World,’ carries with it a film noir emotive capacity, shades of black and gray serving as backdrops to this horrendous, massive creature.
Barrett serves as a catalyst to your destruction, her wailing voice tearing you apart piece by piece in specific tracks—”In Circles,” the world reveal song “We All Become,” “Signals,” and the closing track “Paper Boats,” the last of which will leave you with a whisper of “goodbye” to your heart. In the context of the game, however, Barrett takes a literal spotlight, because by holding down a button, our lovely protagonist will stop and hum along with the instrumental track at play. It’s an entrancing little feature that oozes character and builds an even deeper connection between the strands of DNA that are the game itself and its soundtrack.
In kind, Korb’s pensive and lamenting work weaves a tapestry to make your hands clench a little tighter, your breaths a little sharper, your eyes dilate just a little more as you continuously try to process these semi-apocalyptic waves arriving into your ears. The world is ending around you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Despair grips you tightly, no intention of letting go.
There are moments of respite where, much like in the game, there is no semblance of danger. “Coasting” and “Sandbox” are two pieces inserted that sweep you away to a sandy beach beneath an afternoon sun, cool drink in hand, and a strip of sunscreen on your nose as you deliciously recline on a towel as your troubles waste away into nothingness. Truly these moments are to be treasured before you are once again plunged into desperation.
Transistor and its soundtrack are in a constant dance, each deepening the other’s purpose as they progress. In fact, the only criticism that can be posed against this auditory experience is that it resonates far weaker outside of the context of the game, save for the tracks that feature Ashley Barrett’s mellifluous voice. Still, neither should be overlooked, as they are equally important, and one does not exist without the other.
Transistor’s soundtrack alone will cut you deep, but coupled with the game itself, it will rend you in two.