Code Name S.T.E.A.M. Review – A Strategic and Gorgeously Cel-Shaded Steampunk RPG

I love my 3DS. Honestly it’s probably my favorite gaming machine these days. There isn’t a day when I’m not on it at least a little bit. Come to think of it, a large majority of my reviews are for 3DS titles…and that tickles me just fine. Sometimes I bring my 3DS with me to the grocery store. Sometimes I take it to the movie theater. Sometimes I tuck it into bed after reading it a bedtime story about grandpa Gameboy and the terrible Sega menace. Sometimes I lie, but I’ll tell you something I defiantly DON’T do, I don’t under any circumstances roll around in a pile of my 3DS game laughing like a lunatic while his neighbors look on in concern whist shielding their children’s eyes. Never.

Code Name S.T.E.A.M is the latest and greatest from Intelligent Systems, and surprise…it’s another strategy RPG! The minds behind Fire Emblem and Advance Wars have brought us more of what we love from them, only it’s got a cool new twist! Did it sound like I was upset about that? Oh no, I couldn’t be more thrilled! Instead of another top-down grid style RPG modeled to look like the most complicated game of chess known to man, we get what is in essence an over the shoulder shooter. Anyone who has played Valkyria Chronicles will feel immediately at home, and to be quite frank, they will know exactly what I’m talking about as I’m trying to explain how this game ticks.

While the game itself plays quite fluidly, it’s actually a little tricky to put in words. Basically, Code Name S.T.E.A.M is both a real time –AND- a turn based RPG wherein characters move around in real time, but take turns doing so. Additionally, each character has a limited resource in the aptly named “Steam”, which is consumed as you move or attack. You can flip back and forth among your four-character party as many times as you deem necessary during your turn to make tiny adjustments to your strategy, but once you tap the end turn button, that’s it.

Combat is really quite simple, like the majority of the gameplay. It will however take a bit of time to gain mastery over it. In simplest terms combat is as easy as walking up to an alien, holding “L”, and blasting it in the face… but did I mention that this is a strategy game? Doing what I just said is a sure fire way to get yourself killed. As mentioned previously, steam is a resource that each of your characters are bound by, which means you must plan your use of it. Both movement and attacking consume steam so it becomes your job to figure out how to manage it in an effective manner.

During movement the playing field will have a sort of grid laid over the entire area (there it is!). Each square in this grid consumes one puff of steam, and believe me, moving larger distances uses this up quickly. You can however backtrack your steps on the same turn to regain the steam and use it on something else. Attacking enemies uses larger quantities of steam; the amount varies depending on the weapon as the stronger the weapon, the more steam it consumes, meaning limited mobility while still being able to attack that turn. Weapons each have a different ranges, so that’s just another thing to consider when planning out your strategy for attack.

Combat also features a mechanic called “Overwatch”. This allows for you to launch a ‘first-strike-attack’ against your opponent when they walk into your line of sight. Overwatch is only activated on your opponents turn during their movement phase, so leaving some leftover steam at the end of your turn isn’t a bad thing! The catch with Overwatch is that not all weapons can do it, so what this all really boils down to is that success in Code Name S.T.E.A.M relies on learning as much as you can about how different weapons work and using what you learn to your advantage.

Combat can also be exercised in a multiplayer mode. This is a 2 player versus mode that pits you against one of your friends in a 4 on 4 deathmatch, but I didn’t get a chance to play the multiplayer modes as the game was not yet released into the wild.

For all that Code Name S.T.E.A.M did right, nothing stands above its artistic direction. Right from the get-go it’s clear that the whole game has been designed to look like a comic book; from the heavy black lines outlining everything, the frame by frame motion during animations, all the way to the dynamic words that are overlaid onto action sequences…sort of like the old 60’s Batman. Sock! Blamo! Much of the game sports a Steampunk manner of look, which is fitting given the games themes. Many of the characters in the game pull from this art style as well, though many others are based off of pop-culture or various forms of fiction. Two the characters that you get early on in the game pull inspiration from the cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz” and Tiger Lily of “Peter Pan”. When the game is in action, the characters appear heavily cel shaded, while the environments have more of clean look to them. My theory surrounding this is that it assists you in seeing those things off in the distance a bit easier.

When you boot up the game, the exception being the first time, you’re greeted with a ridiculously catchy theme song. It’s hilariously contradictory of itself as it bares lyrics about killing aliens, but it is hands down the most cheerful bit of music you’ll hear the whole way through. I actually went and watched the games release trailer over and over so that I could learn the words and sing along with it…which by the way should never be practiced in a public setting. Apparently that’s -weird- or something. Music during missions is mostly subtle and abiotic. This works well because the characters will often chatter back and forth or make commentary as missions move forward. Many times during missions you’ll get updates from HQ or other characters. While this adds a certain level of charm to the game, it can also wear on you quickly. It seems like characters only have one or two things to say, and they say them repeatedly. These voice clips are triggered most often when you come within line of sight of a target, or are being attacked by one. This could have been dialed back and the point still could have come across. “I get it, you’re being attacked.”

Code Name S.T.E.A.M is another game on my increasingly long list of “Surprised me with how good this friggin’ thing was”. Having spent a good deal of time with it I don’t have to many criticisms. That being said, some of the campaign missions frustrated me a little; escort missions specifically. Also, constantly re-spawning enemies can be a drag to say the least, but hey that’s the name of a strategy game. Finding the winning tactics and finally beating the level is probably why these types of RPG’s stand as some of my favorites. I have absolutely no issue with recommending this title not only to RPG fans, but fans of shooters as well. Great artwork, enjoyable music, and compelling gameplay, what more could a game really need?

***This game was, of course, reviewed on the 3DS with a code provided by the Publisher***

The Good


The Bad