Being the division of Nintendo that seems continuously busy creating sequels for not only their own Fire Emblem series, but also key Nintendo titles such as Paper Mario; it’s difficult to imagine a brand new IP from Intelligent Systems. Yet in 2015 we have a brand new tactical strategy entry that taps into not only the steam-punk setting, but also borrows classic characters from literature. The bizarrely named Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. marks an intriguing new direction, but it comes with its own share of issues.
Imagine if you will a steampunk Victorian age where Abraham Lincoln merely faked his own death in order to set up a secret organisation of steam-powered soldiers; with the recruits mainly comprised of characters from popular works of literature from the cowardly lion to Tiger Lily. As the plot progresses, there’s a bizarre explanation for why aliens are suddenly invading the world that ties in with another classic, yet more recent, piece of literature. Frankly, the story is akin to a Saturday morning cartoon and is light-hearted fun.
Age of Steam
From the get-go, the comic book aesthetic vibrantly conveys the action and story of Lincoln’s band of misfits. The design of each of Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. has a great attention to detail of the character’s influences. In stark contrast, however, the aliens all look remarkably similar and are largely forgettable adversaries as a result.
Weapons certainly look and sound the part, with the pumping rock soundtrack featuring a few stand-out riffs; while a star-studded cast provide great voiceovers. However and rather uniquely, it seems that a European localisation change to certain character’s names doesn’t sync up with the voice actors’ lines. As such, certain character’s names are butchered in the text. For the record, “King Quee” is actually Queequeg from Moby Dick.
Remarkably similar to the likes of Valkyria Chronicles with its Overwatch and limited third-person perspective, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. borrows heavily from its contemporaries and applies them to sprawling maps with save points. Each level has an objective, which is largely either get one person to the goal or kill a boss foe, but on occasion you will have more obtuse objectives such as defrosting innocent civilians. Maps can be split per chapter, but again where the level design calls for it, that might not always be the case.
One big problem, however, is that there is no overview to help you, meaning you can potentially get lost. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. also has the nasty habit of throwing tons of enemies at you every mission. Spawn points are in almost every map, with dawdling to look for gears and coins being more hazardous as a result. It probably wouldn’t be an issue if it was only a couple of levels, but every single turn is a mild panic to see where new enemies spawn. That combined with the enemy AI doing some really strange things can shatter immersion. In one instance, I had one guy on single digits of health left and I was trying to kill a boss. In the enemy’s turn, one of the bombers waltzes up to the boss and fires, killing the boss and allowing me to complete the level.
When the enemy isn’t flat out completing missions for you, their ability to use Overwatch is a constant struggle, pinning your squad down and slowing the pace of the game. You also have the ability to Overwatch, but the aliens are just better at it for some unknown reason. The enemy turns as of the latest patch no longer take an age thanks to the fast forwarding, but that doesn’t remove the fact the enemy practically plays by its own rules.
Thankfully, your squad members not only can restore health and even revive at checkpoints, but have access to their own unique load-outs. Each character has one signature weapon, one equipable sub-weapon; and their one-time-use super move. You gain new sub-weapons and boilers (used to gain more steam to use as Action Points per turn) as you bank coins and collect gears, but really it’s the main weapon that influences your team of four per mission.
Controlling your squad is relatively easy should you be the owner of the New 3DS family or a Circle Pad Pro accessory as the second analogue stick helps. Your movement may be grid based, but you control as if you’re playing a third person shooter. Should you not own either, there are two alternatives – namely using a stylus to maneuverer your aim, which is not ideal; or the face buttons which are far better suited on this occasion.
Exclusively to the New 3DS is the ability to scan certain Amiibo into the system. Luckily I was able to test this using the Marth statue, which brings the Fire Emblem hero into the game, bringing swords to a gunfight. All Fire Emblem Amiibo feature the series’ perma-death until they are re-scanned, which is an odd choice considering the lack of perma-death of the main characters of Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.
Thrown into the mix is a multiplayer mode that includes online functionality. Three game types are available for online play, such as deathmatch, a coin rush of sorts, and the “A.B.E. Battle” mode which is essentially the third person mech-fighting occasionally spliced into the main campaign. Local multiplayer has one extra mode, where two players shoot balloons. I would love to tell you what they’re like, but even after release the player base seems non-existent.
Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. has a lack of polish and is vastly infuriating to play, but beneath the veneer is a third-person tactical RPG that is certainly mad. Enjoyable moments are there, especially if you don’t take anything seriously; but for some the frustrating enemy respawns, incredibly unforgiving Overwatch mechanic and localisation issues might be a bit too much. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is an interesting take on the genre, but this steampunk adventure is divisive in its design.