19 February 2015

Transistor (Game Review)

I just finished Transistor. And I usually write a little blog post when I finish a game, so here I am. However, I'm finding this game surprisingly difficult to describe. The game was created by indie studio Supergiant Games, whose first title, Bastion, got a lot of praise. I've had it for a while—courtesy of a Humble Indie Bundle—but haven't gotten around to playing it, as I don't play much on PC. Transistor, however, was recently offered as a PlayStation Plus monthly game for the PS4, so I immediately downloaded it.

The story of Transistor begins 'in medias res', explaining little about what is happening. You play Red, a singer in a city called Cloudbank, who has lost her voice. You acquire a strange sword called Transistor, which speaks to you. And you're under attack from strange creatures called the 'Process'. You set on a quest to find those responsible for the Process attack which is laying waste to the city. The setting is strange and mysterious, with a slightly Art Deco feel, but obviously highly advanced—a lot of the game's themes are quite... 'computer-y'. The game has a very nice aesthetic, presented in 2D isometric style. The music is also quite good.

I might describe Transistor as a tactical action game with RPG elements. At any point you can pause the game and input a series of action, which are then rapidly played out. There is a short cooldown after you use this feature. As you level up you gain more abilities, or 'functions', that you can equip. All your abilities can be equipped either as primary actions, modifiers to other actions, or as passive abilities, which is pretty cool and allows for a variety of different strategies. Instead of a difficulty setting, as you level up you unlock new 'limiters' that you can enable or disable individually, which make aspects of the game more difficult, but also grant a small bonus to experience. Which is also a neat idea.

Transistor is not a long game. It didn't have a clock anywhere that I could see (and anyone who reads my posts would know how much I hate that), but I played through it over the course of just a few days. There is a 'new game plus' mode once you complete the game, but I've never had a whole lot of interest in those things. Yes, the gameplay in Transistor is interesting and fun, but I feel it's the type of game I experience once and then move on to other things.

So, overall, Transistor features nice aesthetics, an interestingly presented narrative and original setting, and interesting mechanics. A nice little experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. And that's about all I can think of to say about it. I don't know if it's very helpful, I seem to be pretty bad at writing 'reviews', really—but, you know, whatever...

3 February 2015

An Infamous Post, feat. Delsin and Fetch

I played the original Infamous—or inFAMOUS, however you want to spell it—several years ago, when Sony offered it free after the big PSN outage. I had fun playing it, but never got around to playing the sequels. Recently, though, Infamous First Light for PS4 was a PlayStation Plus monthly game, so I decided to give it a shot. And I had enough fun playing it that I soon bought the previous PS4 title, Infamous Second Son. (My brain would want to insert a colon in those titles, but that's how I always see them written...)

Even though I played First Light first, I should probably start with Second Son. It's been a while since I played the original Infamous—and I never played Infamous 2—so I didn't remember the story too well, but basically all you need to know is that several years ago something happened that 'caused people with super powers, called 'conduits', to appear. Second Son features a new protagonist, Delsin Rowe, a young man of Native American heritage with a penchant for street art. A draconian government agency called the Department of Unified Protection (really, writers, you couldn't think of a more generic name?) is now in charge of containing conduits, branded 'bio-terrorists'.

When Delsin encounters a group of escaping conduits, he discovers he's a conduit himself, with the power to copy the powers of other conduits he comes in contact with. After the D.U.P. and its leader, Brooke Augustine—a conduit herself—wreak havoc in Delsin's reservation trying to recapture the escapees, Delsin and his sheriff brother set out to nearby Seattle, now under D.U.P. lockdown, to find Augustine so Delsin can obtain her power and use it to heal people in the reservation injured by her...

The story and characters are fine, but the meat of the game is the open world action. You mostly have free reign over the game's Seattle (which I don't believe is a very accurate representation, but does of course feature some notable landmarks, like the Space Needle—which you'll naturally have to climb at one point in the game). Freedom of mobility was an important element in the original Infamous, and this hasn't changed. You'll spend much of the game climbing buildings and running around rooftops. Over the course of the game you'll meet several other conduits and acquire their powers. In gameplay terms this means that you have access to several discrete sets of super powers that you can switch between. Which adds a nice bit of variety to the game.

Infamous does a good job at inspiring a certain completionist mindset. In addition to the story missions, there are numerous little side missions and collectibles you need to complete to 'clear' each region of the city. The game didn't have a clock anywhere I could find, which annoys me somewhat, but it felt a decent length when played to 100% completion...

There's also an additional bonus mission called Paper Trail, which I believe was originally released as free DLC content. The mission requires you to sync your PSN account with a website—you follow leads in the game, but have to use a web browser to examine clues you find and solve puzzles, before you can continue the mission on the console. It's kind of a neat idea, and some of the browser content is interesting enough, but some of the puzzles are kinda obtuse (I had to resort to using a walkthrough on a couple occasions), and having to keep switching between browser and console is somewhat annoying. Still, it's a nice little addition to the game.

Infamous First Light is a 'standalone expansion' for Second Son, sold at a lower price, based around the same city map. It's a prequel to Second Son, telling the backstory of Abigail 'Fetch' Walker, one of the conduits Delsin meets during his adventure. Fetch's powers are similar to what Delsin acquires after meeting her, though there are some differences, and perhaps a little more variety and depth, seeing as she only has the one set of powers. The game's considerably shorter—I played through it over the course of just a few days (though not quite 100%)—but of course is is cheaper, as I said, and it was still a lot of fun.

I quite like Fetch as a character, not least because she's a cool, bad-ass female character who looks like a real person rather than a model. Delsin isn't bad either, though honestly I didn't find him quite as interesting. I do appreciate the way they handled the Native American bit—not making a huge deal out of it and avoiding clichés.

So yeah, the Infamous series overall features fun, fast-paced open world action, and I have enjoyed all the games of the series I've played. Simple fun with relatively few issues I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure there are many more aspects of the games I could go into more detail about, but I think that pretty much sums up all I wanted to say about them. So, till next time then!