Code Name S.T.E.A.M. Review
Intelligent Systems is one of my favorite developers. Best known for Advanced Wars and Fire Emblem, it has continued to make top-tier strategy games for decades. These developers have a knack for creating tension, making you battle for every victory. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. retains many of the developers' signature strengths, but interruptions in the action tarnish the fun.
Intelligent Systems went all out with something completely different for this new IP. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M's premise is delightfully zany: You're recruited by Abraham Lincoln to defeat invading extraterrestrials. Along the way, you enlist the help of new teammates from classics such as The Wizard of Oz and Tom Sawyer. Unfortunately, the narrative is rarely exciting and functions more to set up your next alien pursuit. Don't expect fun conversations between characters or kooky antics to match the offbeat premise.
Thankfully, the actual missions are exciting. Intelligent Systems has provided a delightfully fun battle system. Steam power dictates everything you do, from your movement to launching an attack. Once you're out of steam, you can't take any more actions. However, you don't have to use all your steam in a turn; leaving some in a tank means that if an enemy gets in your line-of-sight, you can launch a devastating counterattack. I enjoyed playing around with this system and contemplating every turn. If I didn't want to waste steam traveling to enemies, I just waited until they came to me - then launched a counterattack. On the other hand, if I knew I had enough power to kill an enemy, I wouldn't hold back.
Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.'s biggest assets are its variety and unpredictability. Some missions require you to escort characters or detonate bombs in a certain amount of turns, while others have you holding off a huge monster from storming your base. Going through the story mode, you unlock new characters that can change your battle strategy left and right. You can only pick four characters to have on the battlefield at once, but each brings something unique to the table, like sniping attacks or providing your party extra steam. Also littered on the battlefield are gears and money that are essential to weapon and jetpack upgrades, but can be risky to go after. I had many times where I had to weigh taking a longer route against reaping the potential benefits. I liked having something extra to collect and being rewarded for doing so.
My favorite part is how thought-intensive every battle becomes; positioning is extremely important, and one rash move can be costly. Maps challenge you with different enemies and terrain, and sometimes you can't prepare for what's ahead. Foes often call for reinforcements and special enemies, such as eye stalkers who appear out of thin air, can't be attacked, and flood you with heavy damage if you end your turn in their proximity. Paying attention to enemy types is important because they all pose their own threats, such as stunning your army or healing their buddies. I was addicted to beating every mission, seeking out the best vantage points, trying out new characters, and besting massive bosses.
Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is full of fun strategy, but its lethargic pace can take you out of the experience. Maps are lengthy (some can take 20 turns), but this is exacerbated for a few reasons. First off, you must watch every enemy in a level take its turn. You can't skip it or speed it up. It adds some tension watching the enemy close in and knowing where they are, but half of the time you can't even get a clear look at the enemy due to the camera angles getting blocked off by objects in the environment.
To add insult to injury, what you're looking at when the enemy acts is rarely exciting, diminishing your enthusiasm for the battle at hand. Foes also take too much time to execute their actions in later maps when there are tons of enemies on the battlefield; I've never been annoyed with watching enemies before in a strategy game, but other titles make them play out quickly or give you an option to speed them up. Unfortunately, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. keeps these lengthy affairs, making it difficult to enjoy what the game does well. It never kept me from pressing on, but it did test my patience. Sometimes I would set my 3DS down and do something else while I waited for my turn.
During my time in Code Name: S.T.E.A.M., I globetrotted to cool places like Buckingham Palace, Washington D.C., and fictional places I won't mention to avoid spoilers. At times, I felt overwhelmed with unexpected reinforcements or extra mission requests, but then reveled in persevering. The world is cool and exciting, it kept me thinking more about my actions than most games, and yet some things really hinder the adventure. The game could use a bit more personality, and the long enemy turn time can ruin the experience. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M has plenty to love, but it also falls short in keeping all moments thrilling and tense.
Three multiplayer modes can be played locally or online in Code Name: S.T.E.A.M., but I didn’t find much to love about any of them. The only benefit is the money and weapons you earn by playing multiplayer carry over to your single-player campaign. Every mode has a different time investment, which is nice. Death match lasts up to 30 turns, but can end sooner if one team is defeated. Medal takes five turns with the player who finds the most medals hidden in the environment winning. A.B.E. battle plays the fastest. Here you play in first-person as a presidential robot with steam-powered shooting and melee attacks that make you feel like you’re playing Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.