In 2011, Supergiant Games, a tiny game developer in San Jose, released Bastion, a game for PC which garnered critical acclaim and won over 100 awards. This was in no small part due to the excellent audio direction, including the gravely narration of Logan Cunningham, the incredible score of Darren Korb, and the incomparable vocals of Ashley Barrett. This dynamic trio returns in Supergiant’s recently released PC game Transistor, a sci-fi isometric RPG set in the fictional city of Cloudbank. Having played through just part of the game I can already tell that it’s something special, but while I am still working through it I’d like to speak to its fantastic soundtrack by Korb with songs sung by Barrett, available to listen to on both Bandcamp and Youtube.
A disclaimer: the game’s developers suggest not listening to the soundtrack till after finishing the game, as some of the games songs sung by Barrett are intricately linked to the plot. That being said, as Bastion’s soundtrack is one of my favourite video game soundtracks of all time, I couldn’t resist listening to Transistor’s soundtrack all the way through prior to finishing the game. The music perfectly blends the art nouveau, jazzy visual sensibilities of the game with the science-fiction theme through the combination of jazzy rhythms with traditional piano and guitar with electronic sounds from synth and electric guitar. The effect is truly one of a kind, and the lounge-style numbers of Ashley Barrett, the voice of the diva hero of the game named Red, tie the whole album together into a unique and satisfying package.
The tracks are varied and reflect the mood of the situations Red finds herself in well. The album begins with “Old Friends,” a steady number that introduces you to the game with a rhythmic drumbeat and moody electric guitar riffs that build up slowly as cymbals join the fray, and you’re transported to the mysterious world of Cloudbank. “Vanishing Point” and “Traces” both build up the tension related to the mysterious circumstances of the game and the growing unease Red faces as she begins to learn more about what is happening in the city. Tracks such as “Forecast” and “Apex Beat” pick up the tempo and throws Red into the thick of battle with a quickened drumbeat likened to a racing heart, piano undertones that suggest a hint of danger, and quickened guitar rifts that move as fast as Red can after she freezes time to attack using her Turn() ability. “Water Wall,” one of my favourite tracks, sounds as if it could be played in a seedy hotel, and has the cadence of a slightly demented waltz number. Tracks such as “Gold Leaf” and “Dormant,” build up the tension to the breaking point, utilizing threatening bass rhythms and sinister violin notes. The soundtrack definitely offers levity at points, however, such as in the tracks “Coasting,” which sounds as if you might hear it at a beach resort, and “Sandbox” which contains island ukulele and guitar sounds and is where Red goes to relax in the game. The music does a great job of driving the story, but the real star of this soundtrack, however, is Ashley Barrett. In a game where the hero does not have a voice, Barrett’s songs do a great job of building character for Red while also defining the message of the game.
As soon as I heard her song “We All Become” in the reveal trailer I was hooked, and I found myself humming it for days. A song of defiance, the background track has the energy of a quick melee in the streets, while Barrett’s vocals are full of energy and sway, and her voice has the range in this track to convince you of both the danger and the solution. “The Spine” is a song fully reminiscent of the best lounge singers of the 50s, a song full of pain about the twisted nature of the plot Red has become aware of in the game. “In Circles” is a dark lounge number about Red’s lack of pity for those who have attempted to manipulate her likening her enemy to a fly on the wall, now circling down the drain, which truly made me feel the unwavering conviction of her character. The rest I leave up to you, dear reader, to decide if you want to listen to before you finish the game or not.
Korb and Barrett together define a masterclass of music, a delightful duo. I look forward to seeing more of their collaborations in the future, whether with Supergiant or without. My review of Transistor should be coming soon, meanwhile here is Darren Korb and Ashley Barrett performing the end theme of Bastion, and “We All Become” from Transistor at PAX Prime 2013: