Codename S.T.E.A.M. Review: Half of a Game
Release Date: March 13, 2015
ESRB: T for Teen
Recommended Price Point: $24.99
Tiger Lily from Disney’s Peter Pan, Wesley Crusher from Star Trek, John Henry, and a lion in a steam punk world sounds like a wild fever dream that I’ve had before. As confusing as that line-up of characters is, Japanese developer Intelligent Systems decided to extract them all out of their acid trip and insert them into a video game. Codename S.T.E.A.M. is another strategy game from the developer that has brought the world Fire Emblem and Advanced Wars, but this time it features analog controls. Oozing with gadgets, steam punk design, and annoying music, this slightly less intelligent version of chess will leave you with one giant question on your mind, “huh?”
You start the game off as Henry Fleming. You are confused by the ambush of aliens on your planet and have no choice but to destroy some blue creatures on your pursuit of safety. After meeting up with African-American folk hero John Henry, you continue throughout this alien infested world until you come upon a ship holding our sixteenth president Abraham Lincoln, voiced by Wil Wheaton. He needs your talents to save the world, so he then recruits you into his navy seal-like task force called S.T.E.A.M., which stands for Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace. “Huh?”
As you jump into the gameplay, the first thing you will notice is the gauge at the bottom of your screen. This gauge is your steam gauge. Steam is your action/ability points. This is the currency that allows you to get around the map and attack enemies. Different weapons require a different amount of steam, and one block of movement on the map is the equal to one chunk of steam. The basic turn-based method applies, but with a nice little “Overwatch” feature added in to make it more interesting.
Overwatch is a system that lets you attack defensively. If you have enough steam to use your weapon left over at the end of your turn, it will translate into a defensive attack whenever an enemies comes in your line of sight. This can come in handy if your health is low or in specific strategic set-ups. I would often find myself saving enough steam for an Overwatch even if I could move three extra spaces, just because it was that extra layer of safety for one of my squad members. The only problem in the Overwatch system comes when facing an opponent who is currently Overwatching. There is no way to tell when an enemy is in the Overwatch mode, which is very frustrating.
As you progress through the story mode, you gain access to more squad members. You can go into any battle with a maximum of four squad members. Each squad member can have a main weapon and a sub-weapon. Certain characters have awesome sub-weapons that can heal your party up and keep you guys going through the fight, which can come in handy quite often. Also, you unlock special moves as you progress. Henry Fleming has a wild special move where you throw an explosive eagle at enemies, which is pretty satisfying. Another nice unlock system in the game is the boilers you can obtain. Your boiler is the thing on your back that controls how much steam you can hold and how fast it recharges. The more cogs you find across the map, the cooler boilers you can obtain.
After about an hour or so of gameplay, you unlock Milton. He is a gentleman that will remain in your ship’s library. He is a vast information well. I treated him like a codex and came to him whenever something did not make sense or if I had encountered an alien that had an ability that I did not understand. As you progress through the game, he gets more and more knowledge to inquire about. As you come upon things within the game, he masters his knowledge of said things and tells you about them. He’s a great pal to have.
It was a pleasant surprise to find out that there was a versus mode, and that it was fun. There is a lot more depth to this mode than I thought there was going to be. You can choose between playing locally or online. I did not get a chance to play any local multiplayer so I will be talking about the online mode only.
Within versus mode are three separate game types. The first game type is called Death Match. This one is simple and fun. You pick your squad of four characters and you go against somebody else’s squad. You pick one out of the six maps. There is a twist to this mode, you cannot use subweapons, so if one of your characters cannot utilize Overwatch with their main weapon, then they will just not be able to do it in Death Match.
The second mode is called Medal Battle. Medal Battle is a lot more fast paced than Death Match. You go against another player’s squad of four in a race to see who can collect the most medals. You have five turns to complete this, and each turn only lasts sixty seconds long. Like Death Match, you can pick between six different maps. The twist to this mode is that you cannot use sub-weapons or special attacks.
The last mode is called A.B.E. Battle, which stands for Anthropomorphized Battle Engine Battle. Here is the fastest game type in the versus mode. You go up against another player in a one versus one boxing match with guns attached to your giant Abraham Lincoln robot. It’s a pretty cool concept. Unlike the other game types, in this one you only have one map to choose from.
I’m not going to lie, I wanted to be excited for this game. Lately, I have been trying hard to maintain the balance between pessimism and optimism when it comes to video games. I have been burnt too many times by being hyped for a game that ends up to be less than satisfactory. I was really looking forward to this game. I knew the developer was one of the top developers when it comes to strategy games, and I was glad to see more games getting amiibo support. Within the first couple hours of playing this game, I knew I was right to try and maintain a low level of hype. The only thing I could think of was, “huh?”
The first time that I ended my turn and had to sit through the whole duration of the computers turn I was extremely confused. I started checking the menus and googling a way to skip this dilemma, but there was none. Every level, every chapter, every time you have to sit and wait, sometimes longer than sixty seconds, for the computer to run through their turn. The worst part about it is that you are locked onto your character the whole time. If your enemy is moving their squad across the map and you are in a position where you can’t see it, then too bad because you aren’t allowed to.
During the testing of this game, somebody had to say, “hey boss, what the heck? This is getting kind of boring just watching the wall as my opponent does whatever for a minute.” I am stunned that this game was shipped with this huge hole in it. This properly ruined my experience while playing this game. I was not expecting this game to be a game that I played while getting work done on my laptop because I had that much free time within the game. Let’s say I take as much time to utilize my turn as the computer does, that means essentially half of the game is wasted to waiting and sitting on my hands.
If you can look past half of the game being wasted, then this is a fun game. Beside the ridiculous story and style of the game, I had a fun time with the combat. I really wish there was some type of leveling system to this game, it just feels flat without it. Another vital missing part of this game comes in the form of a top-down view of the map. Why can I only see directly in front of me in a turn based strategy game? This game has fun combat and a nice amount of depth, but also huge holes in the game that critically damages your enjoyment. If you are looking for a game to play while you watch a Netflix show with your girlfriend or spouse, then Codename S.T.E.A.M. might be the one. I played this game on the Nintendo 3DS.