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‘Code Name: STEAM’ review: Steampunk chess

I’ve never been one for turn-based combat. Sure, in some games that require the mental agility of a well-read grasshopper, it can be a hoot but most of the time, these games are slow and laborious.

In a world where instant gratification often outweights hard grafting, it’s easy to pan a game that doesn’t really give you what you want when you want it, but Code Name: STEAM (stylised as S.T.E.A.M.) is a bit of a mixed bag really.

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On the one hand, you have a rather charming Steampunk-inspired romp through a world ravaged by aliens coloured within comic book framework, but on the other there’s the often annoying wait for things to happen envisioned from a third-person perspective. More often than not, just as things are about to happen, they run out of steam. Quite literally.

And while I sound uber critical of this title, I rather like particular aspects of it.

For one, Intelligent Systems (designers of the brilliant Paper Mario series and Fire Emblem) have done a good job in transcoding a 2D world into the New Nintendo 3DS XL‘s distinctive and immersive 3D screen. The environments are littered with gorgeous details and even though the 3DS’s screen isn’t the best on the planet, it does the game more than enough justice.

It’s not quite as engaging in gameplay when compared to the likes of Paper Mario though.

The turn-based strategy model won’t appeal to everyone and especially not those who fancy their hand at romping through a level at the speed of light. Code Name: STEAM‘s gameplay requires a certain degree of measured consideration and careful planning. With that said, you tend to move even less when you realise how integral the game’s primary actuator is — steam.

To briefly gloss over the story is a crime in a game like this, so let’s have a look at it a bit more closely.

You play as Henry Fleming, a chap who’s practically minding his own business in industrial era London when aliens move in and ruin the peace. For the record, if you loved the series Firefly, you’ll probably love Code Name: STEAM. Fleming is voiced by Adam Baldwin, and he does a damn good job of a limited quip set too.

Nevertheless, Fleming and his compatriot, John Henry, are rescued by an airship captained by Abraham Lincoln himself. Lincoln then divulges all the alien-fueled information needed, and the plot’s set into motion.

The opening sequence is quite funny frankly, with Lincoln in London piloting an airship. Intelligent System’s definitely poking the suspension of disbelief bear a little, but it does wonders for this title’s charm.

Of course, with STEAM (actually an acronym for Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace) being a central pun throughout the game, Fleming has a limited movement set in each stage based on the amount of steam he has in his rather kickass battle armour. If you run out of steam, you can’t move and will be forced to hand a turn over to the aliens. Of course, they can attack you when you’re stationary, but the idea is to get beyond the aliens line-of-sight.

You’ll spend a majority of your time sneaking behind boxes or poles trying to get away from the aliens, but the steam powered guns are pretty entertaining to use, if you fancy your aliens steamed and not par-boiled.

The gameplay gradually escalates into a dynamic version of chess where running away and charging at integral moments practically define the experience, but like I said before, it’s not a game for everyone.

To be harsh, I first felt Code Name: STEAM was a game with a premise that sounds awesome, and an environment that looks incredible, but ultimately is only as deep as its first lick of paint. That’s largely untrue though.

The game’s really enjoyable in deep, thoughtful bouts of gameplay, but it’s definitely not a game for the quick bus ride home.

Verdict: It’s difficult to pinpoint how I feel about this game. On the one hand, I love what Intelligent Systems has done with the comic book, industrial era mood board, but I could never really get into turn-based strategy, and not at least TBS games this slow. But many long graft sessions later and an appreciation for the different take on the TBS genre makes Code Name: STEAM a worthy addition to a varied Nintendo 3DS arsenal.

Score: 7/10

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