There’s something to be said about how Supergiant Games manages to push all the right buttons when it comes to games. 2011’s Bastion was a marvel in storytelling, with adaptive narration that engrossed you in its deceptively simple story about a young lad fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds, with Caelondia devastated and the Ura Army continuing their aggression after Caelondia’s calamitous mishap. Transistor, on the other hand, interweaves its agenda in both its story and gameplay, each of them parts of a greater whole.
Spoilers beyond; you have been warned.
We have sung heavily the praises of the game itself, as well as the divine soundtrack by the masterful Darren Korb, but there is something to be said of the hard work the development team had in piecing the story and aesthetic together.
Transistor is greater than it lets on. It’s not merely beautiful to look at or listen to, but it too carries with it a message of hope and futility and love and despair, all intertwining in some wicked dance. Through it all, Red is merely a player to this sick game that took more than just her voice. The silent songstress was quick to see her world deteriorate, first as her lover perishes defending her, then her home overtaken by this overwhelmingly blank menace, brought on by the very people who had the audacity to attack her in the first place. The Camerata, the Process, the Transistor itself—all sick pieces of a grander game.
Some would mistake Transistor as a game about saving one’s home or a journey for justice, but it is anything but. Transistor is a tale about revenge through and through, as Red seeks to condemn those who wronged her so greatly. The situations are almost comical, however, as she is denied her vengeance against Sybil, consumed by the Process, and later against Grant and Asher who took their own lives in some pathetic attempt at redemption for their wrongdoings in releasing the all-consuming Process and a sort of self-retribution in how they ruined Red’s life.
Obviously that doesn’t sit well with our fiery protagonist, so she still seeks out her vengeance on the last remaining member of the Camerata, Royce Bracket. Though everyone involved was eccentric, Royce seemed different in all this, the only one truly unapologetic for the actions in letting loose the Process. His curiosity and desire for change seem to have led all the events in Transistor, until he and the rest of the Camerata lost control by losing the Transistor itself.
See, the Transistor is an item by its very definition that works in amplification and rectification, that is, to increase in strength or to remedy. As a weapon, it can take the essence of individuals and turn them into forces beyond comprehension—an amplification device. As a rectification device, it has the power to reshape reality, constructing and deconstructing as the wielder would see fit, hence the instances of rebuilding the bridge at the very end of the game.
The Transistor both is and is not the city of Cloudbank itself. The idea that you must replace the device into its cradle to restore order speaks volumes of its potential to create and destroy absolutely, acting as a sort of cybernetic, mechanical god.
A lot of information lies in the crux of Transistor, as when you replace the device into its cradle, you are sucked from the warped reality you were fighting for to do battle with Royce in a realm that lies somewhere between the digital and reality itself. Here is where everything is shaped at a metaphorical molecular level, and it’s you against him vying for control of not just Cloudbank, but existence itself.
Everything influences everything else. Red is influential, because she is a star. The Camerata are influential on a sociable or political level. The Process? The Process is likely everything, the very building blocks of Cloudbank itself, set to work by the Transistor. Obviously the Camerata wasn’t happy about how things were in Cloudbank, so they attempted to change how things were, but lost sight of their goals and lost control of the Transistor, setting in motion the events of the game. It’s all very complex and braided, but oh-so-relevant.
We have established the roles of the Camerata, The Process, and Red in all this, but what does it all mean?
From the moment Transistor was revealed to us, Ashley Barrett‘s voice resonated a powerful line that stays relevant to this day, even though parts of Transistor were dropped to increase its vague nature.
“Moving out to the country.”
There are several references to “the country” throughout the game, the most outstanding of which when, in Asher’s parting words to you via a voice message, he says to Red, “See you in the country.” “The country” refers to some sort of afterlife within the confines of the game, but in a metaphorical sense it represents simplicity.
In Cloudbank, everything is complicated. Class systems, celebrities of all shapes and sizes, relationships with others, the layout of the city and getting from Point A to Point B—even the city itself represents complexity in being built from the ground up by the Process. One of the most outstanding and relevant points that was cut from the final game is an instance in the very early demos presented at PAX East and E3 of last year is when you accidentally travel to the world of the Process, the building blocks of Cloudbank. Logan Cunningham‘s voice emanates in that familiar green glow—”Huh. This must be their world.” There was previously a moment mentioned that was dropped to keep Transistor vague, and that was it.
Okay, so you have all these moving parts within the world of Transistor, the Transistor itself, the Process, the Camerata, the class system of Cloudbank with the influential and not-so-much, the bustling city, the news—all of them normal on their own, but overwhelming in juxtaposition. We see Red even try to cling to some sense of normalcy by partaking in meal or even taking the time to wash up in a self-conscious moment, having been running around all day, fighting, and likely sweaty and dirty from all the exertion. She attempts to see the routine of her life, but with everything in such disarray and all the gears in motion, it’s impossible not to feel overwhelmed.
The complex nature of the game even translates into the gameplay itself, with each piece of combat offering yet another facet to analyze. Your battles start off simple enough, with Crash and Breach being your arsenal mainstays, but as you assimilate new individuals’ abilities within the Transistor, your choices grow more varied, your strategic options evermore sophisticated as what was once your attack now resides as a passive ability and redundant abilities attach to their original counterparts to give them a varied effect. Flood to Crash to Breach to Charm to Ping to Bounce to Spark to Jaunt to Tap to Void to Cull to Switch to Load to Get to Purge to Help to Mask—and all over again. They all move independently and together, supporting and strengthening one another to give you more power, growing and destroying with no end in sight.
And the country? The country is simple. Wide open fields, just you and perhaps other people to build relationships with, perhaps a small house with a porch and a rocking chair and a warm cup of tea on a starry, cool summer’s night. How much more simple does it get without the hustle and bustle of the world around you? The idea of simplicity translates within Cloudbank as well with the Backdoors; small instances of respite from the insane declension of the outside world. That’s not to say that the sandbox area is a perfect parallel to the country, as the Process has already encroached on that territory in the form of a friendly Fetch named “Luna.”
With this in mind, Red’s final act as the game closes out hits the hardest. Finally achieving mastery over the Transistor and Cloudbank itself, wresting it from Royce’s egotistical and maniacal fingers, the responsibility falls entirely on Red’s shoulders, a broken woman who has had everything taken from her since the very beginning of this escapade—her voice, her lover, her home, her life—all of it, gone. She reluctantly rebuilds the bridge from the edge of Cloudbank only to lead herself back to where she started and to command the Transistor to pierce her in the stomach, much the way it shredded her love.
All for the sake of simplicity.
Is that not the main takeaway for the game, though? To live simply and focus on what matters most? The Camerata were unhappy with how their world was, so they used their influence to try to force things to change to their vision, destroying everything in the process. High profile people died and others succumbed to a fate worse than death, being consumed by the Process and transformed into some ugly, inhuman bastardization of their previous self. People disappeared because a small group were unhappy, and that was just at the beginning. Everything disappeared as a result of their actions.
Live simply. Be happy. Until we all become one.