MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
There’s a good four-paragraph precis of the plot on Wikipedia, but it follows the game fairly closely and doesn’t give a sense of the big picture. Before I try to analyze anything, I need to make sure I understand what’s going on.
In the glorious post-post-postmodernist Art Deco future, there is a city called Cloudbank, which is next to the water and filled with huge buildings and quaint little neighborhoods. The cool thing about Cloudbank is that its citizens can vote on everything from the next large public works project to the color of the sky. The natural environment (such as the weather) and architectural landscape are thus entirely malleable.
The means by which the physical world is manipulated is called “The Process,” which takes the form of a group of entities that seem to be half software and half hardware (so they are both cybernetic and robotic). One of the city’s architects, a man by the name of Royce Bracket, used a giant flashdrive called “Transistor” to control The Process and reshape the city of Cloudbank according the wishes of the people, whose voice was represented by a civic administrator named Grant Kendrell.
This when things get a little fuzzy.
Grant Kendrall, who had been acting as an administrator for about thirty years, realized that the city would never be able to evolve naturally if everything were constantly changing. He discussed this with Royce Bracket over drinks, and the two of them decided to form a secret club called “Camerata,” whose creed is “When everything changes, nothing changes.” As the Camerata, Grant and Royce decided that they were going to remove control over the physical environment of Cloudbank from the people and create something less ephemeral and more lasting and meaningful.
The tool they would use to accomplish this goal would be the Transistor, which is able to absorb the “trace data” of human beings. It’s not entirely clear what “trace data” is. Is it a true digitized version of a person’s consciousness that allows the person to live inside the Transistor? Or is it the sum total of a person’s digital records, including the data drawn from the votes they’ve cast at the city’s many public terminals? Regardless, the Camerata, which expanded to include Grant’s husband Asher and a professional socialite and media personality named Sybil Reisz, resolved to upload the trace data of several of Cloudbank’s prominent citizens into the Transistor.
Again, it’s not certain what they hoped to achieve by collecting this trace data, but this is what I think – Royce had observed a gradual change in The Process in which certain types of robots had become more human in shape and disposition; so perhaps, by giving The Process more input through the Transistor, Royce aimed to give The Process a better sense of the character of the city and its people, which would in turn ensure that its vision would be clearer as it remade Cloudbank.
In any case, Royce removed the Transistor from its cradle and began murdering people (or perhaps Grant and/or Asher did the actual murdering), but this only resulted in the three of them losing control of The Process, which began destroying the city. Meanwhile, Sybil, who had apparently nominated people to be murdered, lost herself to The Process, either having her physical body hijacked or having her consciousness transferred into a Process humanoid.
The game begins immediately after the attempted murder of a popular singer named Red. The murder is unsuccessful, as Red is shielded by her lover, whose own trace data comes to rest within the Transistor. Red therefore sets off, Transistor in hand, to find the Camerata, stop The Process, and somehow restore her lover’s consciousness back to his body.
There are a lot of holes here, but I think that’s the gist of the game’s setting.
( Header image from Screenscapes on Tumblr )