There’s not much to gameplay besides combat. There are no items to be found, nor is there any point in exploring other than gaining some additional info on Cloudbank, Red or whatever is going on.
Thankfully, the combat has been improved considerably since Bastion. Although it looks like a massive sword, the titular Transistor is a computing device able to affect the environment. Basically, it can be used for melee or ranged attacks, buffs or summons. These are Functions, and you can link them to four active Command slots.
New functions are unlocked with each level up, whilst certain ones are granted at key moments throughout the story. Each uses a set amount of Memory, so you can only use only ability combos at one time. Of course, as you progress, the Transistor levels up and you've got the option to upgrade its memory.
Functions are also exceptionally varied. You have weakening attacks that demand a follow-up, heavy strikes, “grenades”, summons, or temporary invisibility.
Each Function can be installed as a standalone ability, or can be attached to another Function, lending its characteristics to it. For example, for example 'Breach' is a hard-hitting long-range attack on its own, but paired with 'Spark, an explosive type-ability, it lends its longer-range and projectile speed to the explosion. With 2 upgrade slots for each ability, you can do some crazy customization with your arsenal.
That’s part of the problem, because you're required to experiment, and there are plenty of encounters that feel like trial and error attempts. Once you get that sweet-spot of abilities, you can do some fantastic things and clear an entire area in a few seconds, and that feels immensely satisfying. However, the umpteenth million deaths trying to work out what work and what doesn’t is also exceptionally frustrating.
Another unique part of Transistor is that it can be played as a turn-based strategy or a real-time action game. The mechanic is not necessarily perfect, but it works damn well. During a battle, you can initiate a turn, and Red will have a limited amount of actions she can perform before exhausting the action-bar. It feels more like a very complex puzzle than actual strategic combat, and it’s damn satisfying to get the right movement and attacks and basically clean 3-4 enemies in one “turn.”
In order to understand how to ‘Play with Transistors’, the game offers these Backdoors, where Red plays gains access to a multitude of mini-games that teach her to take out multiple enemies in a single-turn, survive for an extended period of time or kill as many enemies as possible until the timer runs out.
You can opt to deal with enemies in real-time, mixing things up: attacking, using cover, becoming invisible, charming enemies and letting them duke it out for you. I played using a mixed style, relying more on turns, especially when things got hairy.
Another important bit to the combat is the integration of ‘limiters’, purposeful blockers that make the game more difficult in exchange for a higher exp. reward. These become very useful, but only after you’ve actually nestled into the appropriate play style and murder is no longer on the menu.
Transistor also features a New Game +, but except making the whole combat system even more engaging, there’s not much added to the World or the story.