The River Always Finds the Sea
If Dear Esther is the video game equivalent of an Ingmar Bergman feature, then Transistor, Supergiant Games’ sophomore effort (and the very indirect spiritual successor to Bastion), is more akin to a Tarantino flick. To be only a little bit more precise, Transistor’s overall aesthetic feels like a heady blend of Kill Bill, Blade Runner, and just about any Wes Anderson movie you can name.
It’s inherently unfair to compare games to movies, of course. The two media, while having the audiovisual component in common, are fundamentally different in just about every important aspect (structure, plotting, mode/level of engagement, etc.). In this case, however, the comparison serves as a convenient shorthand for what I’m trying to express.
Though stylish as hell, Transistor is not, despite what some may claim, an artsy-fartsy title. And that’s not a bad thing in the least. While I’m normally a big fan of the artsy-fartsy (art house cinema, literary fiction, art games), clearly to the point of seeming, and being, annoyingly pretentious, I will be the first to admit that an expressive medium hasn’t fully matured until it has produced its fair share of in-betweens, those hybrid pieces that truly straddle the line between art and entertainment, that do approach the sublime, whether in aesthetic or narrative or both, while remaining both accessible and conventionally enjoyable.
Transistor isn’t merely a stylish and emotionally eloquent experience, and it isn’t merely an excellent action/tactical roleplaying game. Transistor is both, and it manages to be both without compromise. That makes the release of this gem a very, very good thing both for gamers and for Video Games. Neither Kill Bill nor Blade Runner is Citizen Kane (and seriously, we need to stop constantly name dropping Citizen Kane – it’s getting unseemly), but both films, at least in my opinion, are fantastic works of art (note that in the case of Blade Runner, I do not acknowledge the validity or existence of any version prior to the Director’s Cut). They are unabashed, unashamed, unafraid to be exactly what they are.
Supergiant’s latest, much like its aforementioned cinematic brethren, never apologizes for what it is. It speaks, and sings, for itself, in the vernacular of its choice. And, in my view, there is something honest about it, something, believe it or not, refreshingly unpretentious.