Friday, June 19, 2015

Press Start: Code Name STEAM review

Think you got enough steam there, Butch?

Developers: Intelligent Systems
Publishers: Nintendo
Genre: Strategy
Platforms: 3DS

Last year, I put together a list of the top ten games I was looking forward to in 2015. Code Name STEAM, a strategy game for the 3DS, topped the list. I mentioned that the developers, Intelligent Systems, had earned my respect, but recently I’ve been questioning that statement. Sticker Star was a mediocre outing for a Paper Mario game, and Awakening, while not terrible, isn’t on par with other Fire Emblems. For me, Code Name STEAM would either redeem Intelligent Systems or seal their fate as “meh” developers. Did their new strategy game do the trick? Let’s find out.

Story and Concept
Left to right: Tiger Lily (Peter Pan), Randolph Carter (Cthulhu metaverse), Henry (Red Badge of Courage), Tom (Tom Sawyer), and John (John Henry the Steel Driving Man).
Code Name STEAM takes place in an alternate version of the 1880s, in a world where steam power has allowed for many advancements. The Earth is threatened by a race of ice-based aliens who will stop at nothing to freeze the entire world. Earth’s only hope is STEAM, an organization headed by Abraham Lincoln (who in this universe had escaped assassination) that fights with steam powered weaponry. The team includes Henry Fleming, John Henry, Tiger Lily, Tom Sawyer, and 8 other characters from English literature.

Oh, and this is all actually a comic book being read by a kid after school.

Screw historical accuracy, I have a giant robot with a top hat!
This game, without a doubt, has the most out-there concept I’ve ever seen in a video game. Yet as soon as the concept was revealed, I fell in love with it. It’s very creative, and it's so outlandish and ridiculous it wraps around and becomes awesome. It’s like the world’s greatest B-movie in game form! It’s a shame the story of the actual game is pretty much just there to justify blowing up aliens as Wizard of Oz characters, but I suppose it fits with the whole comic book narrative.

Graphics and Design
The eagle is explosive. Because America.
Code Name STEAM has pretty good graphics for a 3DS game. The character models are fairly detailed and move fluently without too much trouble. The maps, while small, are pretty detailed as well. However, the graphics in this game really pull off the comic book art style with its use of color and cel-shading. One area it could have really improved on, however, are the cutscenes It tries to replicate comic panels, but that just results in the characters barely moving. Other than that, this is a fine looking game.

Sound and Music

This game features a fantastic voice cast, bringing in actors like Adam Baldwin, Wil Wheaton, Fred Tatasciore, Kari Wahlgren, and Paul Eiding. Each voice actor brings a lot of finesse to the table, and as a result, the voice acting in this game is great. The music is also amazing, with orchestral rock themes for the player’s turn and electronic music for the aliens. Each piece is crazy fun to listen too, and several stand out in the best of ways. On the sound front, Code Name STEAM dazzled me.

Stealth is a huge part of the game. Sneaking up on the enemies gives you a tactical edge.
Code Name STEAM is a turn based strategy game with third person shooter elements, much like Valkyria Chronicles. You control a squad of four characters as they complete objectives. Character’s actions are governed by steam, which is needed to move, fire weapons, and perform actions. Characters with steam leftover during the enemy’s turn can still use some of their weapons to perform an Overwatch attack. If a enemy crosses a character’s line of sight, the character can perform an Overwatch and return fire. In addition, each character has a unique special attack they can use once per map.

Getting to the high ground is key to victory.
Code Name STEAM excels as a strategy title, mainly because it rewards good strategy. Advance too quickly through a map, and you’ll be crushed by superior numbers. Advance too slowly and you’ll be swamped with reinforcements. This may seem frustrating, but actually thinking about your moves will usually lead to rewarding victories. The maps themselves reflect this; they are usually compact and crawling with enemies, but advancing with a well thought out plan makes all the difference.

Each unit has a unique weapon. The Fox, for example, has a rifle with long range and low Overwatch cost.
Code Name STEAM is also a very well designed game. The game is challenging, as the enemy can use Overwatch too and is surprisingly clever sometimes, but the challenges rarely feel unfair. Each one of your weapons is well balanced (baring a few exceptions), and each squadmate has his or her uses. Most maps are designed so that the player is given a disadvantage at first but can be solved with good strategy. Code Name STEAM is expertly put together from a design standpoint.

Scarecrow is one of my favorite characters, but he's a bit too specialized to be considered a great unit.
Of course, this game is not without its faults. The game does not allow you to track enemies outside of the character’s line of sight, meaning when it's the enemies turn, you’ll have to wait as enemies you can’t see scuttle around the map (granted, the patch makes it so you can speed up the enemy’s turn, but it’s still a problem). The game does have a few poorly designed maps that are more frustrating than fair. And while all squadmates have their uses, some too specialized to be useful on most maps. Units like Henry and Lion are far more useful than Scarecrow or Queequeg because they can be used in more situations.

Code Name STEAM is one of the best games I’ve played this year. Its creative, strategic, colorful, and challenging. I will admit it has some hit or miss qualities, but I had tons of fun with this game. It’s easily one of the best strategy games I’ve played.

8.5/10 - Terrific

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