Not out of steam just yet.
Strategy games come in multiple flavors. There’s some I can fall deep into, like the turn-based 4X games and the traditional strategy role playing game. Then, there’s the real time strategy games like StarCraft and Command and Conquer, which I was never able to get into. Finally, there are the ones that don’t really fall into a genre. Those kinds of games have their own twist to the entire mix that sets it apart. Games like Valkyria Chronicles offer a different take on the strategy genre, and Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is one of those games.
Players take on the role of a special forces group led by Abraham Lincoln, who faked his death so he could run this squad of ragtag soldiers equipped with steam powered weapons and armor. These members include some of the iconic characters in fiction; John Henry, Tom Sawyer, the Cowardly Lion (not so cowardly anymore) and from The Red Badge of Courage, Henry Flemming. When the Earth is invaded by aliens, it’s up to Steam to stop them.
Price I’d pay: $30
Multiplayer: Online and local versus
The winning strategy.
In the same vein as the fantastic Valkyria Chronicles, Code Name S.T.E.A.M. (Steam) is a more action-based strategy game that feels like a mix of shooter and grid-based RPG. Imagine if I took Advance Wars, Valkyria Chronicles and XCOM and mashed them all together. Steam has players moving four squad members around a grid-based map, using steam-based weaponry to fight off the alien invaders. Advancing could mean victory or death, since the player must be careful not to fall into an ambush or get hit from an enemy that is in “Overwatch Mode.” Every movement and action requires steam to perform. This is essentially Ability Points. Without steam the characters are stuck, so making sure there is enough steam to move to cover is very important.
Being out in the open will get someone killed fast. Luckily, each turn refills each party member’s steam gauge, and moving without completing an action will not fully consume steam. That way, I could move around, see where the enemies may be, then move back to where I started and still have all the steam I started with. Only when I attacked an enemy, jumped down from a ledge or picked up a health item did I use up the steam that got me there. Keeping some steam and ending the turn will put many characters in “Overwatch Mode.” Here, if an enemy moves into the line of sight of a character, they will take an immediate shot. This can help out when trying to guard a location or person.
Each character has their own unique feel and abilities. Players can equip them with different sub-weapons to add a little more variety. Things like healing or special weapons that do a lot of damage to weak points are just a few. Obtaining coins and cogs in each map will offer up new things to try out, like unlocking new battle gears. Also, during the battles, a one-time use save point can be activated. While there, players can spend some coins to restore the squad’s health. These really do come in handy since the game can be brutal if players aren’t careful.
Hurry up and wait.
It really is a blast to strategize and position characters on the battlefield while lining up attacks and figuring out the best way to approach a certain situation. Then the enemy’s turn comes up. This is where the game comes to a crawl. Each enemy unit has to move individually. That means having to watch (or in many cases not watch) what they are doing during their turn. I say this because most of the time, the camera is from the perspective of one of my squad members, so they may not be able to see the enemies that are in the next room. So I’m staring at a wall while something on the other side is moving.
Now, it wouldn’t be that bad if it was quick or if I could speed up this time, but I can’t. So it may take me 30 to 45 seconds to get my guys in gear, move them on the map and attack where I want them to. Then I’m stuck waiting a full minute for the enemy to move and attack and there’s nothing I can do except stare off into space. On top of that, while the attacks may very well be dice rolls like an RPG, when I have an enemy four spaces away and I’m aiming directly at it with nothing in the way, I shouldn’t miss two out of three shots. Come on.
The visual style and presentation is very well done. It has a vintage comic book feel, and the bright vibrant colors stand out very well, while the 3D also looks great. The simplistic nature of the overall scheme is great. With many games like this, I would easily imagine the bottom screen to be filled with text and numbers and stats, but in Steam, it’s very simple. Choosing which weapon to use, who to control and their heath and steam are all that’s there, and the simple look and feel really helps to make it more accessible. I really enjoyed this aspect of the game.
Tell me a story, guys.
While I really liked the premise and the characters, they weren’t explored more in the story. I want to see more of Tiger Lilly and John Henry. What are they like outside of combat? I want back stories. Intelligent Systems made Fire Emblem. They know how to flesh out characters. I want to see more of that in Steam.
The game also boasts multiplayer, both online and local play. Here, the slow pace of the enemy’s turn is limited to 60 seconds, so tension is high to get turns finished before the timer is up. There are three modes, one of which has players pitted against each other in giant mechs. It’s more action based then the other modes, didn’t feel as fun as the strategy moments. Still, the multiplayer that could have been a throwaway in the grand scheme of things is actually quite fun.
Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is a decent action strategy game. It has the makings of a great game in the same vein as Valkryria Chronicles, and while it is executed in a fairly clunky way, I still had a decent time with it. Strategy fans will get a lot out of this, while casual players can find a decent introduction to these types of games. It has some faults, but in the end, I did have a good amount of fun while playing, even in the multiplayer. I recommend giving it a shot if you’re a strategy fan. Just remember, you’ll have to wait your turn.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.