Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. Review. Running Out of Steam

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Posted March 24, 2015 by Bryan Boshart in Video Games

Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

Developed By: Intelligent Systems

Published By: Nintendo

Release Date: March 13th, 2015

Available For: 3DS

 

Some games have a concept that is just plain weird enough to garner my interest. Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is one of those games, of course S.T.E.A.M. is an acronym for Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace. Under the guidance of Abe Lincoln, all the well after his assassination, you’ll lead a team of literary heroes to defeat aliens assaulting the globe. Once I heard all this and saw the comic book art style, I was immediately interested. More so  considering the game was being developed by Intelligent Systems of Fire Emblem fame. Sadly, the game fails to live up to the pedigree of the other Intelligent Systems games.

The basic gameplay design feels very similar to Valkyria Chronicles and X-COM Enemy Unknown. Each turn your team of characters each has a set amount of steam to spend on any action. Your basic movement and attacks all cost steam, should you have any leftover you can enter overwatch to try to intercept advancing enemies. Unused steam is carried over to the next round to allow you even more actions. To kill an enemy effectively you’ll have to strike at it’s glowing weakpoint. Every character even has a one-time use ultimate attack that can change the tide of battle. The straight forward combat system is a bright point for the game, that gets marred by the absurd length of time it takes for your enemies turn. On a small level you’re looking at probably thirty seconds of waiting, with no way to skip or fast forward. Worse yet are the larger battles where you’ll spend as much as eighty five seconds (I actually timed it once) doing nothing. When a portable game keeps me away from the controls for what amounts to a bad PS1 era load screen it’s just plain infuriating.

Ultimate Attack

Henry Fleming’s ultimate attack is so patriotic it would make Captain America blush.

 

Most maps are fairly large and have lots of verticality letting you or your enemies set up ambushes. Save points and breakable objects are littered throughout the levels. The goal of most levels is to simply reach the goal, while a few others have more specific goals like killing a boss or finding survivors. As time progresses enemies will spawn into the level and make life difficult for your characters. Unless you have prior knowledge of where enemies will spawn in, you can have three or four literally spawn in a few squares away and wipe out a character immediately, with nothing you can do. Additionally, enemies will often camp the goal and just sit and overwatch getting three to four shots each on you as soon as you get in range, which wouldn’t be too hard to plan around if it didn’t lead to longer battles, leading into more enemy spawns. This catch-22 is just as illogical as it sounds and leads to uneven difficulty spikes.

The controls themselves are simple aside from the control stick and attack button, nearly everything else can be used to control the camera. The camera itself isn’t bad, but because it sits directly behind your character you’ll have no view of the overall map, which seems an odd decision in a strategy game.

Weapons are distinct and different from the standard weapons you’ll get in most games. Before each level you’ll attach a sub-weapon onto your characters lending them a bit more versatility. Offensive guns like muskets and rifles fire multiple times and have a large range. Defensive weapons like the mine-layer can cover your six from sneaky enemies. Weapons like the Shuriken Launcher and Shotgun obliterate enemies at close range. Other weapons are more about utility than damage, Medi-Carbine can heal, Stun Bombs do what you would expect. The sheer variety of weapons is incredible, and by the time I finished the game, I didn’t unlock quite a few of them. Various steam engines can also be equipped with different max steam amounts, and steam gain per turn. While the different steam engines are never fully explained in the game, the additional customization they allow for each character is definitely welcome.

Lion is one of the characters I ended up using the most

Lion is one of the characters I ended up using the most

As you progress through the campaign, you’ll unlock new characters who all have different abilities. Henry Fleming, of Red Badge of Courage fame, uses a burst rifle and is solid all around. The now far less cowardly Lion leaps around the battlefield and is useful for flanking enemies and thus striking their weak points. Tiger Lily uses a healing rocket that restores health to anyone in the vicinity, making her incredibly useful, but it’s offset by her frailty. I loved how each character is useful and is worth playing at least once. I do wish that chapters gave a breakdown of the type of map, missions, and enemies you’ll face as it would help me pick a properly balanced team. While the characters are well designed in battle, out of battle they are just plain dull. Their uninspired, cookie-cutter characters did nothing to garner any interest in the world. The story was equally bland, and I struggled to make it through the uninteresting dialogue.

Things would be dull if Code Name S.T.E.A.M. didn’t offer a horde of enemies for you to wade through. For the most part they are well designed. Some enemies are designed to rush you down and attack in melee. Others function as long distance shooters and are more apt to go into overwatch. There are even blind enemies who’ll attack the nearest thing that makes sound including their own allies. The wide variety of enemies require an ever adjusting strategy to defeat and are mostly one of the bright spots of the game. There are even a few “boss” enemies, while most aren’t a threat on their own, they often summon more enemies or produce fields that stun your allies. Yet again, something blemishes what is mostly a positive. A few specific enemies are poorly designed. First off are the little birds who automatically stun your allies on hit. While logically you should want to take them out it’s next to impossible. Even if you stand directly under them and shoot up you only have a tiny chance to hit them due to the delay from button press to when your gun actually fires. The other offending enemy are the floating eyes that appear from time to time. When hit they randomly move, usually backward, but should they hit a wall they usually just come back toward you. This ends up being disastrous, as if you end a turn in their field of influence, you get bombed for roughly half a life bar. The end result is you either move forward into the main enemy force or hope you can push the eye far enough away to not get bombed.

Despite the interesting concept and neat graphical style Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. just feels untested. It does a lot of things right, but even in them manages to do something that just ruins a good idea. The bland, stereotypical plot doesn’t do much to help either. Honestly Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is no S.T.E.A.M. ahead.


About the Author

Bryan Boshart

Hey, I'm Bryan. I write video game reviews here at We The Nerdy. In my spare time I mostly play fighting games, but play almost anything.

 
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