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July 13, 2015 / Jett

Code Name S.T.E.A.M. Review

Aliens have invaded London! Who can we call to save the day?! The Agents of S.T.E.A.M. of course! Led by the Abraham Lincoln, it’s up to you to guide him and his ragtag group of steampunk soldiers through battle. Created by Intelligent Systems, Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is a turn-based strategy game with third-person shooting, a la Gears of War. Is this shake-up enough for it to move outside of the shadow cast by Intelligent Systems’ previous efforts, such as Advance Wars and Fire Emblem?

Set in a Steampunk world, soldiers of the time are just adopting new steam-powered weapons and armour. Most of these are parallels to real-life weaponry, such as rifles and grenade launches. Over time though, the arsenal gets increasingly outlandish. Having said that, all of these weapons and your movements are limited by the amount of steam you have handy. Everything you do, from moving to shooting, depletes the same steam stash. Once you run out, you physically can’t move or shoot until your steam supply refills. This is the story conceit for why this is a turn-based action game.

This may be a turn-based strategy game at heart, but its combat is more akin to a traditional action game. As you maneuver around the map, you’ll aim your sights and pull the left trigger to shoot. Things like distance and line of sight matter, as weapons will perform at varying degrees of effectiveness depending on what’s between you and your target. Many enemies also have weak spots that will require some accurate shooting. Code Name S.T.E.A.M. hopes that this type of combat within a turn-based game make for the best of both worlds.

Comparisons made between this and Valkyria Chronicles are well founded. Nintendo’s effort clearly takes inspiration from that fantastic franchise. Having said that, Nintendo’s offering is a greatly streamlined version of that game. You’re managing a much smaller troop with generally fewer combat options. For the type of game that its trying to be on a handheld device, the reduced scale works just fine.

At first, I was feeling pretty lukewarm about the whole thing. Things start out very basic and take a bit too long to ramp up. Also, I started playing the game before the April patch. In this state, enemy turns are unbearably slow and boring to watch, as the camera is intentionally locked behind your characters’ backs. Make sure to patch the game to get that fast forward button, as it makes for a much more pleasant experience. Even so, the longest enemy moves are still too slow running in double time. For those who have a 3DS XL, the fast forward speed is even quicker, so at that point it’s not a problem. I’m not lucky enough to have one of those, so this is something I must deal with.

As the game progresses, things take a turn for the better. New squad members join your team and bring with them unique primary attacks. For instance, one beastly character can jump on his opponents Blanka-ball-style. You’ll also unlock new secondary guns to round out your arsenal. Most importantly, the level designs and enemy layouts get to a point where solving each challenge becomes really compelling. Having the right crew, equipped with the right weapons and making the right moves is key, as the game can relentlessly mow down your troops each time you make a mistake. If you want to be a completionist and collect everything that a level has to offer, you’re going to have your hands full.

Some of my initial gripes with the game went away with a patch or with time. However, other issues persist. I like the challenge that the enemies bring to each level, though they failed to resonate with me beyond that. They’re just uninspired bugs that come in different sizes and have different abilities. Sure, the hummingbird like ones are annoying, but none of the baddies ever got me emotionally invested in the battle other than the fact that they stood between me and the goal.

More of a minor quibble I have with the game is the way in which it handles shots with arcs, such as grenades. Save for the variances that comes with distance, you can’t actually change the angle of the arc. This becomes problematic in certain levels when this limitation makes it impossible to shoot grenades up or down a ramp at a meaningful distance. Most characters won’t be impacted by this, but two of my main four did suffer from this odd quirk.

Code Name S.T.E.A.M. has its problems and it’s not the best effort from Intelligent Systems. Having said that, it’s still a good game and one that hardcore turn-based strategy fans will be able to overcome its flaws and enjoy it as a lighter alternative to Valkyria Chronicles. Give this one a go if you can grab it on the cheap.

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