The bigger the brush, the broader the stroke. When video games go big, inevitably we see the canvas through the gaps. We are wowed by the sprawling worlds and epic storylines of these prestige gaming products, but familiarity does them no favours. Transistor goes in the other direction: concentrating its effort onto a small canvas and pulling us closer. The game’s high-gloss visuals are lickable and delicious, the soundtrack teeters perfectly between swagger and soulful, and the gameworld is a miniature wonder painted with the finest of brushes.
Cloudbank is a cheerful anarchist utopia that we discover in the midst of crisis. We play as Red, celebrity and notable resident of this virtual world. After a failed assassination takes the life of our friend/lover, we dash from block to block on a journey of revenge. We learn the backstory of our own predicament by inspecting our surroundings and engaging with the rumour mill: the tragedy of Red, the famous singer whose voice was stolen and whose companion murdered, breaking news gone viral among the netizens.
The game seems always concerned with belonging, with the small intimacies of places and people that makes them a part of our lives. Now embodied in the titular sword that we drag around with us, our nameless companion gives a solo commentary on the past and present happenings of Cloudbank. We log on to public terminals and catch up with the news about the upcoming fashion week, vote on the colour of the sky, and order sea monster flatbread. Our journey resembles a tourist walking tour, interrupted by regular murderous interludes. We discover Cloudbank, love it, and fear for its future all as one.
Every part of the Transistor experience invites us to look closer, to get to know it better – the dense graphical style, the monologues and interactions, the extraordinarily deep and configurable combat system. Everywhere we go we are rewarded for checking terminals, for venturing through doorways, for variation and recursion. There is no merit to being standoffish; to do so is to miss out, and the world won’t be here forever. Transistor ends, and it stuns us with the finality of its ending. It refuses to sprawl ever outward and finish in untidy tatters. Goodbye world.