Codename S.T.E.A.M. Preview: Not just vapourware

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Codename steam

Codename S.T.E.A.M. isn’t the codename for Nintendo’s 3DS strategy game, it’s the actual title. Developed by Intelligent Systems, the same studio behind Fire Emblem, Codename S.T.E.A.M. appeared at first to be a strange steampunk form of Valkyria Chronicles for Nintendo’s handheld. The demo proves that this is not the case, but it’s still an interesting game.

Nintendo has released a rather generous demo of the game on the eShop for free. It gives you access to the prologue (three maps), Chapter 1 (three maps) and the first map of Chapter 2. This is ample opportunity to get a significant feel for gameplay and I’d highly recommend that anyone who is interested in the game grabs it – progress can carry over to the full game and you can even earn yourself an exclusive gun.

The game starts in utter confusion and the plot doesn’t get explained much over the course of the demo. All you really know is that aliens have invaded and you need to hide and get past them, or kill them all. Everyone will approach the maps differently, and unique strategies are rewarded.

Codename steam 1

Each character has a boiler on his or her back. This determines how much steam they have. Every action from moving to firing your gun is based on steam. However, there is a lot of flexibility within this. If you move to a new location on the map and you’re not happy with your movement, you can retrace your steps and get your steam back. This makes collecting coins and collectibles around the map seemingly easier. However, it’s not as straight forward as that.

If you are seen/fired upon by an enemy, that sets your movements in stone and you can’t retrace your steps to regain your steam; similarly, once you fire your weapon, your steam usage is confirmed and you can’t undo or go back to get your steam back. Additionally, thanks to the Overwatch system, you may not want to use up all your vapor.

If you have enough steam left over at the end of your turn, you can watch for enemies during their turn and fire upon them when in range. However, unlike the axed Overwatch abilities from Warhammer, not all characters can make use of this. Hopefully, this will prevent players from just standing in one spot and waiting for the enemy to appear for an easy kill. It certainly is an easy kill, though – I found that attacks in Overwatch were much stronger than normal attacks. Due to the combination of characters with or without this ability, I found myself using the one to push the offense with the other staying on defense during the aliens’ turn.

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There are parts of the game that feel a lot like Valkyria Chronicles, particularly as you move around the 3D map, exploring and discovering your enemy. There are also elements borrowed from Fire Emblem, particularly enemies spawning behind players on some maps. However, I found the controls to be less fluid than either game. The camera is controlled primarily by using the camera interface on the touch screen. This means that looking around, aiming and other actions have to be done using touch while movement is controlled with the left analogue stick. This is something that would definitely be improved with the 3DS add-on analogue stick or the New 3DS’ added analogue stick – on a normal 3DS it feels clunky and awkward.

As much as I enjoy turn-based combat (and I do, a lot), it can get a bit tedious when you’re waiting for the enemy to complete his turn, especially when you can’t see the aliens moving but their turn seems to take forever. There is no way to fast forward with the R trigger during combat, so you really will just sit there and wait for the aliens to look for you and go through all their usual animations, even if you can’t see them.

Codename steam 3

At the start of the game/demo, you only have one character to control. However, as you progress you eventually get four teammates to use in your fight against the aliens. Interestingly, you can then return to the earlier maps with your full contingent of characters. Obviously, this opens up a variety of new strategies and gameplay, letting you explore the full options available on every map. In the full game, presumably even more characters will be added, opening up a lot of replay value in each map as you revisit them with a refined team.

While there are currently a few things that are irritating me about the game, it is still showing some strong strategy elements and I’m keen to see the final project. I just hope that they inject some more soul into the game – based on the demo, I really didn’t care about the various characters and the story felt extremely thin. It makes the game feel like an interesting strategy toy, rather than a complete experience. While there are some excellent design choices that made me smile, the game still needs more character before it feels alive.

Last Updated: February 2, 2015

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. You can read more of my words over at www.borngeek.co.za, or just follow me on all the social networks to get the true range of my sarcasm and wit.

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