As some of you may remember, I wrote a little note about the game Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. a month ago, commenting on how they sneak in literary characters that may or may not inspire you to read the works they came from.
Now that I’ve finally finished the game, I think a review is in order! If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read any further!
I’m opening with this now: if you like tactical strategy games with a near non-existent story and gimmicky characters, this is for you. Otherwise, pass, and save yourself the 15-20 hours.
Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is, at it’s roots, a steampunked version of X-Com: UFO Defense meshed with a bit of Valkyria Chronicles with nods to various characters in literature, mostly focused on the Wizard of Oz and H.P. Lovecraft.
The Earth, which has harnessed steam technology to do wondrous things, is being invaded by aliens that are attempting to destroy humanity and freeze the Earth. You are to take your team, lead by Henry Fleming and under orders of Abraham Lincoln (who really faked his death), to fight this alien menace. Your organization? S.T.E.A.M.!
The game starts off rather fun. The controls are a snap to pick up, and the tutorials actually serve an in-game purpose of refilling your steam tank (which determines movement, overwatch, and attacks), making it worthwhile to grab all of them.
The game itself is relatively forgiving. There are normally multiple save points on each map, and by spending a few medals (earned by killing foes or finding them on the map), you can heal one or all of your characters. Additionally, each enemy has a weak point, so with the right weapon and position, most enemies can be killed in one hit.
Art-wise, it’s a pretty game. The game introduces the story in comic book form, so the artwork is cel-shaded, but done well. The cutscenes are done in comic panels, so the movements are done in dramatic fashion as though the panel changed, but it adds to the effect instead of detracting from the game itself. It’s not 60 fps pretty, but it is an interesting art piece.
Additionally, you have the chance to revisit maps to try to find more gears and medals, which are the currency needed to unlock steam boilers and new weapons, respectively. The boilers give different perks, like more steam and attack power, but also have a downside, like low regeneration or a defense decrease.
Each character can also wield a secondary weapon; if you know the map is going to be ugly with things to destroy, you can give your healer a rocket launcher, or give your sniper a low-cost carbine to plink at targets. It offers versatility to different maps, and is something to toy with.
Finally, the game offers you some challenges to get you to keep playing. The first challenge is to rack up massive numbers of medals on each map, and each time you streetpass with someone, it is supposed to compare your records and, if you are in the top four for the week out of everyone you streetpassed, you can gain more medals. The second is to accept “challenges” on each map that make the game harder but increases the number of medals you acquire at the end.
Not every game is perfect, and Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is far from the mark. Let’s break it down, shall we?
The Story was sloppy at best. It sounded like a fun premise in the first few chapters, but once you get to Miskatonic University to save a professor and finally realize these are Lovecraft-inspired monsters, things get a bit dicey. The use of Abe Lincoln being the only one who could move things forward didn’t shock me (anyone who’s played the tabletop RPG Deadlands shouldn’t be), but so much of the story just felt like it was thrown together at the last second.
On the same note, the characters get zero development. They are randomly added to your party as you move along, often in VERY inconvenient maps or locations that don’t make sense. For example, the Tin Man, who’s weapon gives more steam power to an ally in exchange for his own, joins you in a canyon with suicide bomber aliens diving down on you. Why is Scarecrown at Miskatonik? How the hell did EVERYONE join S.T.E.A.M. in the first place?
The characters don’t change, grow, or really develop outside of being added to your group. We never learn why Tiger Lilly never wants to talk about her past, what inspired Dorothy to stay in Oz while her three friends come to the “real world,” or why John Henry, who hates machines, is okay with being the equivalent of a steam-powered cyborg. I guess we will never know.
The A.I. is a bitch, simple as that. While the game can be forgiving in some ways, gods help you when the A.I. gets vindictive. For example, in the Oz maps (yes, you go to Oz), you are introduced to enemies that are cloaked, have good range on their weapons, and have nearby artillery. The problem is, those weapons have knockback, so you can start in cover, get hit out of cover, and hit with artillery. I had three party wipes due to that tactic on one map as my characters couldn’t hit them in Overwatch, and the A.I. was smart enough to use knockback before firing mortars.. It’s one part map design, one part tactics, one part play balance. It doesn’t work out well.
On the note of map design, some of these were really unbalanced. There is a foe introduced in the Oz map called a Dreadnought, which is a large, winged, Cthulhu-inspired beast. Your goal is to defeat him, but you quickly learn that as long as there are other enemies on the map, he is shielded and takes next to no damage. It’s a tough fight, but entirely possible.
Sadly, in later maps, you run into TWO of these creatures AT THE SAME TIME. On one map, you get two of them blocking the way out with two Queens (who generate two creatures every turn), making it impossible to kill them. As they have a very powerful Overwatch attack that stuns you, it can make completing the map a major challenge.
There is also a grading system for each map that judges if you’ve completed the map “in time” and if you kept your whole squad alive. Problem is, some maps require waiting for an enemy to reach a set point or you are running toward it as it is charging at you; if you wait, it’s already too late. Other maps, like the above with the two dreadnoughts, make it near impossible to complete with your whole squad (or even on time) as you are trying to position them with a distraction.
The Script is horrid. I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s loaded with a bunch of puns, iffy voice acting, and overall has little redeeming qualities. I mean, seriously, it gets BAD sometimes.
Competitive Play is also a bit useless. I’ve streetpassed people who have been playing the game, but apparently they didn’t activate streetpass, the system glitched, or something else, because I went through a convention for a week and, while I was granted “first place,” nothing came of it.
From a gameplay standpoint, the level-up mechanic is useless. Each character has a primary weapon and sometimes comes equipped with a secondary weapon (such as Lion getting the crossbow). Some of the primary weapons are great, such as Fox’s sniper rifle, but others are very limited in use, such as Carter’s “bait.” Secondary weapons are supposed to supplement this, but for the most part, once you get weapons you like, the rest is pointless. For example, why do I need a 4 steam Gatling Gun that is innaccurate and reasonably weak when I can have a 2 steam, single shot crossbow that deals massive damage?
After a while, I equipped characters with set weapons and never needed to change. It made the level-up mechanic pointless about halfway through the game.
One of the biggest issues was the incessant jingoism. You have a reasonably diverse cast, yet everything relies solely upon American ingenuity, American soldiers, American tactics, etc. There’s even a boiler that’s called “The Patriot,” and it’s one of the better boilers as it gives you full steam every turn. Rather odd seeing Tiger Lilly walking around with a giant American flag on her back. . .
This game has Amiibo support for the Fire Emblem cast, but I never had a chance to test it. Mostly because I never did get my hands on Ike, and wasn’t willing to pay the $30 for one just to test it. I beat the game before the rest of the characters were able to be pre-ordered (added kicker: I was at work and the system was down, so couldn’t order them), and since I have ZERO interest in picking it back up, I won’t see how they play.
The game was enjoyable at first, but it just had too many problems that whittled down my enjoyment by the end. There’s some promise here and a fun world that I’d love to have seen more of, but by the end, I really wished I had saved my time and money. There was some fun, but not enough to warrant the $30.
At least I have my Majora’s Mask pin. . .
As for the next game I’ll be playing, I will either go back to Rune Factory 4 or Monster Hunter 4 for a little while. Tekko last month and a few blacksmithing classes this month have been keeping my bank account low, so picking up Story of Seasons or Xenoblade Chronicles has been on the back burner. At least I have one game to trade in toward it!
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