For the uninitiated, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is a third-person action-strategy game developed for the Nintendo 3DS by Intelligent Systems, the studio behind the Advanced Wars and Fire Emblem games. I have little-to-no experience with strategy games, so I didn't know what to expect from Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. — but I was pleasantly surprised. The game has an appealing comic book art style, coupled with animated and voice-acted cutscenes to deliver the story. The gameplay is fun, with heavy emphasis on strategy and taking advantage of the environment. Let's take a look at some of the key elements of the game.
The story takes place in an alternate-history steampunk version of London, complete with steam-powered bullet trains and zeppelins. When an alien invasion throws the world into chaos, it's up to the agents of S.T.E.A.M. — under the command of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln — to be Earth's last line of defense. Lincoln's top secret steam-powered task force consists of a ragtag band of characters from classic American literature and folklore. When the demo begins, you are put in control of American soldier Henry Fleming (from Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage) as you play the introductory missions to learn the basics of movement and attacking. Eventually, Fleming is joined by folk hero John Henry, and, by the final mission of the demo, you control a full squad of four soldiers, including Tiger Lily (from Peter Pan) and the Cowardly Lion (from The Wizard of Oz, although he isn't very cowardly in this game). Each character has different weapons and abilities, allowing them to either attack enemies or assist teammates.
The gameplay of Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is easy to learn. Use the circle pad to move your character, and the stylus on the touch screen to move the camera. Alternatively, you can utilize the face buttons for camera control, but that method feels more clunky when compared to the stylus/touch screen combo. Each character starts his or her turn with a certain number of steam units. When it's your turn to move, a grid appears on the ground indicating how far you can move with your current steam reserve. Every time your character moves one space, a unit of steam is consumed. You are, however, free to go back the way you came, which will replenish any steam units you used to move. This can be great for scouting the map a bit, but beware: if you fire a shot, pick up a health pack, or are spotted and attacked by an alien, then you will be required to stay where you are, with whatever steam you had left before that happened. Firing your weapon uses more steam units than moving, but the number of steam units consumed depends on the weapon. For example, Fleming's Eagle Rifle uses three steam units, whereas John Henry's Bear Grenade uses four.
The strategic part of the game comes into play in the way you choose to use or conserve your steam, as well as how you take advantage of the environment. There can be benefits to ending your turn early without exhausting all of your steam supply. For example, some characters have an ability called Overwatch. This means that, if you’ve saved enough steam in the tank for an attack, whenever an enemy walks into that character's line of sight he/she will automatically engage the opposition. This can be a very effective defensive tool during the enemy phases. Other squad members, such as John Henry, can't perform Overwatch, so they would be better suited to stay back and dole out damage, or find higher ground and attack from above.
For every enemy you defeat, you earn coins, or "medals," which can be spent at save points to replenish health or revive fallen teammates. These save points can be found on every mission map, but use them wisely: each save point can only be used once per mission.
The biggest drawback I have experienced in Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is during the enemy's turn. You are forced to just sit there and wait for all of the enemies to make their moves, and there seems to be no way to speed up that process. Since you are confined to a third-person perspective with no overhead view of the map, there will be many enemies that you can't see on the opposite side of the mission area, meaning you end up having to wait until all of these unseen enemies finish their movements before you can take your next turn. It's a minor complaint, though, because I still enjoyed my time with this demo.
If you haven't downloaded the demo yet, I encourage you to give it a shot. The best way to understand Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is to play it. The demo is available now on the 3DS eShop, and the full game launches on March 13 in North America.
Let us know what you think!
Ben Holt is the one of the newest members of the Short Pause empire, a guitarist and amateur songwriter, and an all-around swell guy.