When I first booted up Code Name: S.T.E.A.M on my 3DS I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The idea of running around a steam punk America while taking orders from Abraham Lincoln himself seemed so bizarre to me. Despite this strange scenario, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M offers an interesting take on the turn based strategy genre. Without delay, let’s put on our boiler packs, choose our weapons, and fulfill our patriotic duty! It’s time to charge into this review full steam ahead!
Presentation wise, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M takes place in a comic book universe, and the graphics definitely represent this. Characters and objects have bold outlines, and costumes are intricate and have that steam punk look while giving off an Americana vibe at the same time. Since the game is clearly going for a steam punk look, the world around you has that gritty machine driven feel, yet bold colors still make the environments interesting to look at. The story is told through comic book panels, and the game’s clever use of camera angles make them really fun to view with the 3D turned on.
In regards to the story, you play as the operatives of a special task force known as S.T.E.A.M. Created by president Lincoln, it’s S.T.E.A.M’s job to harness the latest steam armor and weaponry available to protect the world from any threat. Seeing as the world has fallen victim to an alien invasion, it’s up to you and your comrades to find a way to stop the alien menace. Since the game takes place in a comic book setting, the crazy scenario placed before you gives the developers a chance to get creative, and this is evident by the fact that a majority of your team members are based off famous characters from American literature. It may seem odd to have Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz fighting aliens side by side, but it works surprisingly well.
While the characters and setting are certainly unique, does the game run out of steam when it comes to game play? Instead of a traditional top down view of turn based strategy games, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M puts you down on the battlefield with your troops. Because of this, using the terrain of a battlefield for cover against attacks is vital, and you will have to think carefully about how you move every turn, since unseen enemies may ambush you on the field.
Any action you do on the field during your turn is regulated by the amount of steam your equipped boiler pack generates for you. Every step you take, and any shots from your weapon will deplete your tank, so finding the quickest route through a level or carefully coordinating attacks to take out aliens is the best way to efficiently use your steam per turn. You can even save some steam from your turn to use as fuel for ambush attacks while the enemy is taking its turn moving around the map, and these overwatch attacks can be very effective at dealing extra damage. Be careful though, as the aliens are able to use these overwatch attacks on you as well.
The main goal of each stage is to fight through enemy forces to get to the end of the map; the game does a good job of keeping this objective from getting stale. Each map has plenty of routes for you to take, and you get introduced to new enemies as you progress through the game, which will force you to continuously change your strategy. Occasionally you’ll have an alien boss to defeat, a person to find, or someone to escort, and this too keeps the game fresh.
It may seem like the best option for every level would be to make a beeline for the end goal, but this will almost certainly lead to your demise. Every character that you unlock has a unique set of abilities for fighting and movement, and the game demands that you make proper use of them in order to succeed. If a level requires you to traverse a lot of ground, it might be good to bring along characters that can cover a lot of area, or someone who can bypass certain obstacles to reveal a shortcut. In the same vein, a stage pitting you against a wave of aliens to get to the goal might require a healer and some heavy hitters. Choosing the right characters for a map can be the difference between victory or defeat.
That doesn’t mean you won’t find help within the stages, as the areas you fight through are riddled with objects to interact with, and health and additional steam can be found both hidden and lying out in the open for you to obtain. Signposts placed within the stage can also be read to give you hints on how to go about completing the stage, as well as refilling your steam so you can complete more actions during your turn. There are also coins and special gears hidden in the stage, and collecting them will give you access to better equipment in future stages. Finally, because stages can take very long to complete, you can make your way to save points within the level. These save points will allow you to restart from where you last saved if you fail a mission, and they can also be used to heal your allies in a pinch if you have enough coins. While they can only be used once, they can bring you back from the brink of defeat, and help cut down on the frustration of some of the more difficult levels.
In the end, what it all boils down to is that Code Name: S.T.E.A.M is a fun turn based strategy game that feels like an action game. You have an arsenal of colorful characters at your disposal that each bring new strategy and game play to the table, and finding the hidden gears and collecting coins while making your way to the goal is both challenging and rewarding. It’s true that moving your characters around the map and defeating aliens is satisfying, yet at times you’ll find yourself fighting with the game’s camera in order to set up a shot. The game also feels very accessible to those not comfortable with turn based strategy games, but this is by no means an easy game so some players may find themselves stuck and frustrated at times. There is also an online and local multiplayer mode, so the game should have plenty of replay value once the story is beaten and you’ve unlocked everything. If the story and the game’s setting intrigue you, and you enjoy games similar to Fire Emblem, you’ll have a good time with this game. If strategy games make you cringe in general, then most likely the game will just leave you feeling frustrated.