Intelligent Systems are known for their quality strategy series Fire Emblem and Advance Wars, so it’s no surprise that Codename: S.T.E.A.M. (the company’s first new IP since the excellent Pullblox back in 2011) follows a similar path. Codename: S.T.E.A.M. is rather similar to the XCOM games in that you take control of a small squadron of elite soldiers with limited movement in a turn-based strategy environment. More like Valkyria Chronicles however, the gameplay is in the style of a third person, cover based shooter.
Codename: S.T.E.A.M. always keeps you on your toes in a variety of ways. It can get very tactical. First off is the game’s movement and shooting system. Each character has their own separate steam meter, that depletes when you move, one grid at a time, and when you attack, with each different weapon using a different amount of steam than each other. You can choose to leave a character with an overwatch weapon too, which lets you attack enemies that get too close during their turn. Learning to make the most of your steam (which will re-fill to some extent each turn) is essential, especially in the latter stages of the game, which gets harder, and offers more and more strategies for you.
The alien menace advances as you go through the campaign. They’ll start off simple, but then you’ll find ones that are invisible, tank-like ones and ones that fly overhead and strike you to stop you moving. You have to get to grips with all the different enemy classes, but thankfully, this isn’t that difficult as you have a good amount of characters to use in each mission. Before each mission starts, you can choose four characters to deploy, all of whom have unique weapons that can help, or hinder your progression from stage to stage. Learning the positives and negatives of each character is paramount to your success on the field.
Each character is great fun to boot, too. The steam punk, Victorian setting is a lot of fun, and most of the characters are either historical figures (such as your leader, Abraham Lincoln) or old-timey fictional ones such as Tom Sawyer. The presentation is great as well. The whole game is set out like a comic book, with thick black lines and simple colours. The writing is cheesy and brash, just like a good comic book should be. Codename: S.T.E.A.M. has fun with its setting, and you should do too. It looks great in 3D, and if you have a New 3DS, the game opens itself up to you a little more.
One of the biggest issues in the game is how long the enemy turns take to play out. You can fast-forward them, but they still do take a little too long, unless you own a New 3DS, which makes it faster still. The New 3DS allows the use of Fire Emblem amiibo without the need for the cumbersome and hard-to-find nfc reader (these let you play as Marth, Lucina, Ike and Robin in any mode). A New 3DS also offers more control methods. You can use the second analogue nub if you aren’t a fan of touch-screen aiming or the d-pad. The nub takes a little getting used to, but offers what I think is the best way to play the game.
Alongside the single-player is a decent multiplayer offering that lets two players pit their respective teams against each other. It’s a fun enough diversion, but you likely won’t use it much. The single-player is obviously where you’ll spend most of your 20-30 hours with the game, but despite the fun graphics and character design, Codename: S.T.E.A.M. falls a little flat compared to the likes of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. This is more slow-moving game, even despite elements of action such as the odd controllable tank.
You are never given an overhead map, and will need to discover the map as you move through it. This is difficult, however, because enemies are hiding around every corner. You will plod through most levels, unwilling to take risks, because enemies can do a lot of damage. Sure, not being able to see the enemies until your character does provides a different kind of tactical gameplay than the likes of Fire Emblem, but I would have at least liked to have had an overhead view to see the map to plan my movement through each stage accordingly. Going in completely blind did get annoying on occasion.
Although I have praised the game’s presentation and graphics, I did feel that the stage design was never as memorable as that of the characters. Often I’d think that the environments looked a little dull compared to the wacky characters and plot of the game, but to be honest, it was never much of an issue. The gameplay was more than fun enough to override any of these issues. The plot, however, while fun, won’t stick in the head like a Fire Emblem game will. This, I feel, is Codename: S.T.E.A.M.s biggest issue. It’s a little forgettable despite its wackiness thanks to slightly dull environments, a forgettable plot and often plodding movement in missions due to the lack of an overhead view.
Codename: S.T.E.A.M. is a good game, with great characters, presentation and fun cover-based shooting, but it’s unfortunately below-par for Intelligent Systems.