Strategy and tactical games have always been popular. There’s action, tension, decision making, strategising, a variety of classes to work with and plenty of enemies to shoot, punch and maim. One of the most popular tactical/strategy games in recent years is XCOM: Enemy Within. Not only was it a great success, but it showed the world that you can have a great tactical game on a console. Now, there’s a new kid on the block and it’s headed your way onto a handheld. Is Codename S.T.E.A.M. the 3DS version of XCOM?
Not sure about you, but I love the idea of a steampunk world. Reliving the old ages with fantastical equipment and overly advanced technology is the stuff of dreams. Unfortunately it’s just that, a dream, but we get to live that dream in video games. That steampunk feel is the crowning glory of this game. Visually, the game really plays off on that old, yet futuristic vibe in a cartoonish manner. It’s cool and it actually works well, especially when meshed with the way the story is told.
In essence, the story is visually represented through what looks like a comic book. It kicks off with two of the main heroes, John and Henry, as they are inexplicably attacked by an unknown alien enemy. After their first mission, the two are rescued by Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States of America. Following their rescue, both soldiers are enlisted in a secret task force called “S.T.E.A.M.,” which stands for “Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace.” Don’t worry, it gets cornier.
Their main job is to obliterate the alien enemy using the latest in steam-powered technology. As you can see, the main theme for the game is steam – it even includes steam puns, like “I’m running out of S.T.E.A.M.” and “Full S.T.E.A.M. ahead!”
Along the way, you’ll meet new members of your team, each with the own unique gun and special ability. Most are useful, but you’ll find your favourites and keep using them most of the time. Some members include a talking Lion, a scarecrow and a robot. Think that’s odd? The technological steampunk vibe is later dampened by the inclusion of mystic arts and black magic.
The game is divided into various different chapters, each with a certain amount of maps. Each map is to be completed before you can move onto the next chapter. Easy as pie. The problem is, they’re pretty difficult, even the maps at the start of the game. In fact, I’m not a newbie to tactical games and I found this irritatingly difficult. Most times I had to tackle a level three times before getting it right. Once to see who sits where, two to see how far I could get and three to form a proper strategy to finish it. With no map and a camera that sits over your shoulder, you don’t have full scope of your surroundings, making things a little tricky.
No More Steam
Adding to the frustration, and eventually boredom, is the very short supply of moves you’re allowed per turn. Yes, this is turn-based strategy. Each character, depending on the boiler you attach (more on that in a bit), can only move a certain number of steps before running out of steam. Now, one steam is used for each block moved. That’s fine, but here’s the problem – weapons also use the same steam. So, if you shoot an enemy, you drastically shorten your steam. Shooting twice usually depletes most of your steam, so if you shoot, you won’t move to the next enemy very quickly.
This doesn’t get easier when the levels become a bit more elevated, introducing various layers and decks. Some characters can’t climb or jump, making traversal a nightmare with the limited supply of steam each turn. However, it’s nowhere near as irritating as the combat.
A Foggy Camera
You can control the camera in two ways: 1.) using the stylus on the touchpad (I do not recommend this at all), and 2.) using the Y, X, A and B buttons. If you have the NN3DS, the mini stick will also control the camera. Using the stylus is incredibly uncomfortable; the buttons work better, especially when aiming.
During combat, you need to aim your character’s weapon at an enemy. You can shoot from whichever direction you want, but there’s usually a weak spot somewhere on their body. Most of the time it’s on the back or the head of the alien. Aiming perfectly is the trick to nailing the weak spot, but because the enemies don’t stand idle, it’s hard to land a hit, so timing is just as important. One small misstep could cost you steam that you can’t afford to lose. The enemies are very durable and, if you don’t use the weak spot, sometimes needs two or three party members to take down.
It doesn’t just end there. You can use overwatch, but only if you have leftover steam in your tank, your enemies on the other hand, always seem to have backup energy. They can move around, attack you twice and still enough power for overwatch – not to mention that they outnumber you. And just when you think you’re winning, the game starts spawning (though not in all maps) more creatures. The worst smack in the face takes place just before you reach the goal, with barely any life left and possibly down a member or two, and the game damn well spawns three to four tough enemies right in front of the goal. That move alone cost me so many levels, patience and time.
Where’s The Progress!?
One of my bigger gripes with the game is the lack of enemy variety and character development. Not only do the enemies looks stupid, but you keep seeing the same baddies over and over again. On the character side, there’s ZERO enhancement or development. The only part of your team you can alter are the sub-weapons they use and the boilers. There’s a fair amount of weapon variety, but some are more useful than others. The boilers supply your team mates with steam. Some return steam faster than others, while some allows more steam to boil. Equipping the right boiler for the right person for the right map is kind of a pain, and includes a little guesswork.
Lack of variety aside, the game does come with some funny moments and a few awesome sections where you get to fight as President Abraham Lincoln in giant mechanical version of himself, called “A.B.E.” If that sounds strange then you won’t believe what happens later in the game. I can’t say anything about it, but it’s a VERY BIG “WTF” (stupid) moment.
The game took me about 18 hours to finish, but you can replay the game and collect all the weapons (by collecting coins) and boilers (by collecting gears). You can also play Versus Mode, which is the multiplayer section. It’s not a bad inclusion of the game. The maps are nicely contained and I didn’t experience much lag. The biggest problem, however, is finding a match. You can play either Online or Local. When preparing your team, you can pick anyone you want, and edit their equipment. You can participate in a tournament or play one on one. There are three modes: Deathmatch (self-explanatory), Medal Battle (where you have to collect medals) and the A.B.E. battle, which is the Mechanized Abraham Lincoln I mentioned earlier.
In the end, I wasn’t particularly fond of the story. I liked how it was told but the plot was too silly for me to take it seriously, even as a comic. The combat was too restrictive and a little too difficult. With no character evolution, I felt bored and frustrated. Fortunately, if you own any of the four Fire Emblem amiibo’s, you can use them to add four more people to your roster. Codename S.T.E.A.M. isn’t a terrible game, it’s just not the handheld strategy game I was hoping it would be.