Retreat! Retreat! Retreat!
Splatoon may be the game that got all the mainstream attention, but Nintendo debuted two new IPs this year- the unsung one is the new 3DS game developed by Intelligent Systems, of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars fame. When unveiled at E3 last year, the game garnered some attention from the press and public for its take on the XCOM and Valkyria Chronicles formula. Developed by a studio which pioneered the turn based strategy game genre, what could possibly go wrong with this game, right?
Unfortunately, Codename STEAM, while having a rock solid foundation, seems to suffer from some amount of shallowness as well as some shockingly amateurish mistakes, which do make one take pause and wonder how a developer that has been working on turn based strategy games for over two decades managed to release a product in this state. Make no mistake, somewhere buried deep inside of this is the nexus of a very good game potentially in the future, should Nintendo and Intelligent Systems choose to follow up on it- but as it stands right now, Codename STEAM comes with enough issues that any recommendation would be littered with caveats.
"Unfortunately, Codename STEAM, while having a rock solid foundation, seems to suffer from some amount of shallowness as well as some shockingly amateurish mistakes, which do make one take pause and wonder how a developer that has been working on turn based strategy games for over two decades managed to release a product in this state."
The first thing that is immediately apparent is how the game looks. No, I’m not talking about the technical side of the graphics here – it is a 3DS game, we can’t expect much on that front – but Nintendo games on the 3DS have usually boasted gorgeous artstyles that have made up for all of their technical shortcomings. Codename STEAM is not one of those games. The artstyle seems to be trying to evoke classic graphic novels, but the execution seems to be flawed, and we are just left with a game that looks completely unappealing. This is not an aesthetic that anyone can appreciate, and while I grew to be more accepting of it after the few dozen hours that I invested into the game, I cannot truly say that I ever truly liked what I saw.
A similar problem is the game’s story (although frankly, this can be much more readily forgiven). Aliens that seem to borrow heavily from the lore of H.P. Lovecraft are invading the earth, and Abraham Lincoln (yes, that Abraham Lincoln) recruits a squadron of heroes from history and fiction, to fight back. It’s a potentially bizarre and wacky premise, but honestly, the story just serves as an excuse to explain why Henry Fleming and the Lion from the Wizard of Oz are fighting H.P. Lovecraft’s creations on the map. It works best, in other words, when you just accept the premise, and then proceed to never think about it, especially since thinking about it will make you sad at the generic writing for each of these characters, that squanders the potential of having all of these colorful personalities interact with each other in engaging ways.
Unfortunately, the game’s myriad of gameplay issues are not as easy to ignore. At launch, the game was riddled with a whole host of issues. Since then, Nintendo have released a few updates to address some of them, but a painfully large number of them still persist. Chief among them is the absence of any kind of tactical map.
"The lack of any kind of tactical map makes this an exercise in futility and frustration. A battle isn't as much of foresight and planning and positioning of units as much as it is just blindly stumbling through the map, and hoping that your tunnel vision isn't preventing you from seeing anything too far ahead. "
To understand why this is an issue, you must first know how Codename STEAM works, so let me explain- the game, much like XCOM and Valkyria Chronicles, mixes up third person cover shooting with grid based turn based strategy. You and the aliens take turns to position your units on the map, and then engage in actual combat, which is where the actual shooting comes in. You can take advantage of the terrain, as well as your immediate environment, to aid and enhance your offense or defense.
Unfortunately, the lack of any kind of tactical map makes this an exercise in futility and frustration. A battle isn’t as much of foresight and planning and positioning of units as much as it is just blindly stumbling through the map, and hoping that your tunnel vision isn’t preventing you from seeing anything too far ahead.
This issue is exacerbated by another of Codename STEAM’s issues, which is its lack of variety in mission objectives. Though the dressing may change each time, your objectives almost always boil down to ‘get from Point A to Point B.’ Which wouldn’t be much of an issue, but you can’t see the whole map, so you don’t know where point A is with respect to point B, you don’t know where to go or where you are going, and in truly hectic matches, it is easy to lose track even of where you are. The fact that the maps are littered with collectibles to upgrade gear makes things worse- if you decide to go after one of them, and are ambushed, you may lose track of the objective and have to start over again. Not giving you a map, and expecting you to piece things together from what each of your units see is an egregious error, and I cannot see the sense in it at all.
"If you do decide to get STEAM, and find that you can enjoy it, you will at least find there to be a substantial amount of content on offer."
Together, these make Codename STEAM’s moment to moment gameplay intolerable. Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have released some updates to fix other issues (chief among these is the addition of the ability to fast forward your enemy’s turn, which often take up to 90 seconds otherwise. Amazingly enough, this function was missing st launch), but the issues that remain are bad enough that the game’s merits otherwise, whatever they may be, are undermined.
If you do decide to get STEAM, and find that you can enjoy it, you will at least find there to be a substantial amount of content on offer- the single player campaign offers roughly fifteen to twenty hours of play, and there is competitive online play as well (though the online population seems to be almost entirely negligible at this point). The game adds longevity further by having optional items scattered on most maps, that you can try and go back to pick up.
Ultimately, Codename STEAM is a baffling product- I really appreciate Nintendo and Intelligent Systems getting out of their bubble and trying something new, but this entire game reeks of being an amateurish effort, which it shouldn’t. Rife with mistakes that should be unacceptable, and squandering all of its potential, Codename STEAM is a game that you should avoid unless you are really desperately looking for a strategy game on your 3DS, and have already completed Shadow War and Fire Emblem Awakening.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo 3DS.
The premise and core gameplay show promise; loads of content and longevity
Completely squandered in its execution- the gameplay suffers from some poor design decisions, the story is a missed chance at offering something memorable, the artstyle is truly awful
Rife with mistakes that should be unacceptable, and squandering all of its potential, Codename STEAM is a game that you should avoid unless you are really desperately looking for a strategy game on your 3DS, and have already completed Shadow War and Fire Emblem Awakening.