Saturday 10 December 2016

Code Name STEAM review: New perspective is undercooked

Published 07/05/2015 | 23:30

Code Name STEAM: From the people who brought us Fire Emblem and Advance Wars
Code Name STEAM: From the people who brought us Fire Emblem and Advance Wars

FROM the Nintendo subsidiary that brought us the brilliant Fire Emblem franchise comes another turn-based strategy yarn.

Code Name STEAM (3DS); rating: 6/10; age: 12+

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But while the third-person perspective brings us much closer to the action and the quirky steampunk styling catches the eye, STEAM falls between two stools.

With a barmy back-story featuring President Abraham Lincoln tackling invading aliens in an alternative version of history, it clearly doesn’t take itself seriously. Developer Intelligent Systems extracts a heap of entertaining mileage from the historical and literary characters – the jolly cast includes left-field choices such as Tom Sawyer (from the Mark Twain novel), the Lion and Scarecrow (from Wizard of Oz) and Randolph Carter (from the stories of HP Lovecraft).

Similarly, the weapons span a wide gamut, including boxing gloves, grenade launcher and a crossbow. Working as a team can produce satisfying moments of setting up enemies to knock them down.

Code Name STEAM: Attractive styling and quirky characters
Code Name STEAM: Attractive styling and quirky characters

The problem lies in trying to overlay a demanding strategy RPG on a low-down perspective. Controlling up to four characters, survival becomes akin to a lottery as enemies spawn from nowhere and the scenery obscures the route to your goal. Even the enemies’ movements are shrouded in mystery, providing only an occasional glimpse of the units as they take their turn.

The fog of war is a legitimate gameplay feature in similar strategy titles but never in such unfair fashion as this.

It’s doubtful many players would persevere beyond the first third of the game, flummoxed by the confusing design, poorly explained sub-goals and the constant shortage of “steam”, the currency that substitutes for turn points, which control how far you can move or how much damage you can deal.

Online multiplayer provides a modicum of relief, forcing the pace a little as you scoot around the arenas trying to draw a bead on the enemy. But it’s merely a diversion from the problems of the single-player campaign.

Factor in stodgy pacing with punishing difficulty of the solo mode and you’re faced with an experience that lacks approachability. STEAM may be just too lukewarm to handle.

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