A debut game like Bastion is a tough act to follow, but at first glance Supergiant Games' sophomore effort, Transistor, seems to hit all the right notes.
Bastion was a game that - along with the likes of Braid, Journey, Fez, and others - helped bridge the perceived gap in quality between digital console titles and their retail counterparts. Since, Bastion came out on Xbox Live Arcade it has seen release on tablets, browser, and PC, further spreading its wonderful blend of visual splendour, tight narrative, and captivating soundscape.
Is Transistor then a sequel of sorts? Well, in some ways it retains the qualities of Bastion - there's a heavy focus on narrative, and the art is somehow similar, and the slightly depressing haunting emptiness of the world also reminds us of Bastion. Then again, Transistor adds a science fiction themed cyberpunk-esque theme, the camera has been zoomed out a bit (while still maintaining the isometric view), there is female main character called Red, and combat mixes real-time action with a sort of turn-based strategy component. In the end this is not Bastion 2 and should not be referred to as such, but it is clearly evident that Supergiant has a unique style and vision for their games that will be present in any project coming out of the studio.
"We wanted to create a whole new world, a whole new feeling with this game," says creative director Greg Kasavin. "We see it as being in the same genre as we also consider it an action-RPG, and in Bastion hopefully we kind of surprised people in what we were able to do with in sort of the structure of an action-RPG, and once again we want to do that here with combining this more strategic combat system with the fast pace that you would expect from the genre. And once again go to some very interesting places with the narrative..."
The combat system really blends the best of two worlds - while you can both attack and be attacked in real-time you gain a real edge when you pause (there's a cooldown) as you can plot your route and cue attacks that are then played out. As you take out enemies they spawn bonus items you have to collect before they turn into enemies. It's a layered approach that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout, while still providing strategic depth.
Supergiant Games came to PAX East in Boston having just announced their new game, and as we caught up with them during the pre-show media hour they were a bit taken back by the hordes of journalists who made their booth their first stop on the showfloor. Once the public were let in long lines formed and the eight or so Transistor stations were busy for the remainder of the show. The short demo served as an introduction to Red, the female lead, and her newfound companion - a strange and powerful weapon. Red has lost her voice when she was attacked in the beginning of the game, her's part of a wave of attacks on artists of all sorts in the city of Cloudbank.
Even if the story isn't narrated in past tense, the narrating weapon (yes, the weapon has a voice, the main character doesn't) does remind us of the old man in Bastion. There was a section where the story was told while Red was progressing through a series of side scrolling screens that in a way reminded us of another visually striking game - El Shaddai. If the first ten minutes are anything to go by, the story will blend Red's desire to regain her voice and take revenge within a grander evil scheme she is an unwilling part of. I wouldn't be surprised if Supergiant add a twist or two to this all too familiar motive.
Much like Bastion, Supergiant announced Transistor without actually revealing what platform it is being developed for. The release is targeted for early 2014 so one cannot help but think that PS4 and the next Xbox are in the running as possible first stops. The game will likely see release on a multitude of platforms with time, but don't be surprised if you see it on next-gen first.