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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

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When Code Name S.T.E.A.M. was first announced, I was very interested by it- I believed that the mechanics were neat, the art style was inspired, and the entire thing felt too ridiculous to go wrong. Unfortunately, the world did not agree, and Steam (abbreviated for the writer's convenience) was not received particularly well and sold few copies. This came as a legitimate surprise to me, as I had played the demo and enjoyed the experience quite a bit. However, the lukewarm reception caused me to rethink and hold off on a purchase.

Getting the game for a lower price is always nice, but having to write a late review about a game you have become quite fond of is not.

PROS:

-Ridiculously bizarre and awesome concept that ends up having truly enjoyable moments, like Abraham Lincoln piloting a giant mech.

-Solid gameplay mechanics that mature as the game continues, introducing new folds to the base mechanics and revising your squad approach.

-Forgiving and inventive currency system encourages a variety of play styles.

CONS:

-Enemy Overwatch is sometimes extremely punishing.

-Definitely not a game for everyone.

THOUGHTS:

Steam is a game about literary characters fighting Lovecraftian aliens using steam-powered weaponry. It is also an active-turn-based strategy game which allows the player freedom of exploration and resource management on a number of levels, resulting in an experience maybe not totally unfamiliar to those who have played XCOM, but also unique enough to warrant a look.

I have heard many complaints that Steam is either too hard or not actually a strategy game, which I disagree with. The save system does a great deal to negate the damage done during enemy turns, which have been shortened significantly by a patch that doubles or triples their speed. While it might seem like the cost is very high, currency is something that continues to accrue and only hurts your performance if you want to unlock more weapons or compete via Streetpass. They can serve as a means of perfecting one's performance as well as a buffer for those who haven't quite grasped the combat yet. One thing is for certain, they exist for a reason, so don't hesitate to utilize them.

The strategy of the game comes more from resource management than it does "traditional" strategy, where holing up and waiting for the enemy to come to you is not always the most effective measure and sometimes puts you right in the thick of things as enemy reinforcements arrive. Clearing and moving forward is a major part of Steam but it is also balanced between turns, not just when you have control of your team. Overwatch is an essential aspect of the game in that it can royally mess you up when you hold off an offensive as well as bolstering your defense at home. As Steam introduces new weapon and boiler types, you start to see how perhaps the uphill struggle earlier in the game was a necessity, as your team becomes more fleshed out, they are better suited to a number of situations that maybe the original team was not. This makes replaying earlier stages much more enjoyable, and the added challenges the game throws at you also help fine-tune your management skills. There was a particular level shown off when the game was first being demoed that featured a prime sniping spot, something you can only really appreciate once you have added a character with that ability to your team.

Are there rough spots? Sure. The difficulty is high and environmental support and hazards are key- this is not a static strategy title by any means. Sometimes aiming for weak points becomes an intense game of reading enemy animations, as you can miss a shot if you wait too long. Early game levels with enemies that can stun or Overwatch easily might be a bit off-putting to some, and the lack of a proper overhead view might cause strategy fans to scoff. But each level does feature an introduction that pans through a map, and you might be pleasantly surprised by the ability to explore and bypass areas on your own. In addition, its management aspects become even more evident online, where you'll face off against others that may have some nasty tricks up their sleeves.

What Steam excels in is its constant pressure and absurdity. You will have to think about where you units can move next in reaction to the constant slew of enemy types and how they function, as well as dealing with large bosses, saving civilians, and defending areas. Plus, you get to beat up huge monsters in a train robot, with drills. And there's Califia toting a ROCKET LAUNCHER, and freaking Queequeg! It's a love letter to strange literary characters, turn-based goodness, and rocking music. I enjoyed it much more than I expected, and I already thought it was going to be great.

Verdict: A game as odd and unique as Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is something to be celebrated, especially from Nintendo and Intelligent Systems. A solid combat system that is a very different but welcome addition to strategy games out there, with plenty of oddities to be found, from its colorful cast of characters and their special moves, to the depth behind saving and spending steam. If you want to experience something a little different from what is on 3DS, I highly recommend it.

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