Code Name S.T.E.A.M. takes place in an alternate reality sometime in the 1800s where steam power has advanced rapidly. Henry Fleming, a U.S. soldier stationed in London, witnesses an attack from an unknown alien race. He and his compatriot, John Henry, fight through hordes of aliens only to be rescued by Abraham Lincoln at the last second. Lincoln faked his death to retire from the public eye in order to create S.T.E.A.M., a secret organization vying to destroy the alien menace.
The story is told through comic book panels, illustrated with excellent cel-shading and charismatic booms and whoosh sound effects. In terms of theme, it’s reminiscent of Starship Troopers. There’s no key villain antagonizing the heroes. It’s about a world rallying together to stop an invading horde through Patriotism. It may be flamboyantly cheesy, but it works because the game knows it.
As interesting as the story is, especially with some of the later revelations, it’s a bit of a letdown as well. With twelve playable characters, it would have been nice to interact with them on some level. Instead, characters are introduced, and then seemingly tossed aside. For such a unique cast, it’s unfortunate and wasteful. Diversity, however, comes across in control.
Gameplay can essentially be broken down as a mix between Valkyria Chronicles and X-COM. Each chapter’s mission is broken into one, two, or three smaller maps. Most objectives require players to reach a goal marker. It may sound simple, but the aliens far outnumber the heroes so making it out alive can prove difficult. While things may be dire, a good strategy is to know what characters will make the best squad for the job.
For example, Henry is a strong, mid-range shooter. John Henry can lob grenades for an area attack. Lion can reach higher elevations and his arrow gun deals critical damage to alien weak points. And the list goes on. For the most part, every one of the twelve characters has a distinct advantage on the battlefield. Maps may cater to a certain team, but they are also open and can offer new paths upon replays when choosing a different layout.
Henry and his compatriots are equipped with steam powered weapons and gear, which dictates both movement and attack options. For example, one movement square will cost one steam point. A rifle attack from Henry will cost three points whereas John’s grenade launcher will wager four. Also, should players choose to save steam points and end a turn, characters will go into Overwatch. If an enemy crosses his line of sight, he will attack for additional damage. While this is a strategic plus, enemies also have this ability.
While it shares similarities to Fire Emblem, it’s not exactly a RPG. Characters do not earn experience. Instead, killing monsters and collecting medals on the field will be tallied to award new sub-weapons. Special gears collected will unlock new boilers, which can change offense and defensive statistics as well as the amount of steam points one can accumulate in the field. Medals can also be spent at mission checkpoints to save and heal.
This system lacks any sense of progression. The sub-weapons and boilers unlocked amount to different strategies rather than true boosts in power. One never gets stronger from start to finish. Again, the emphasis throughout most of the missions is surviving through flight. While this endangered sense is harrowing, it’s also frustrating. It’s more of a tactical shooter, like SOCOM, than anything else. It’s an interesting twist on the genre, but is also disappointing from such a prolific RPG team.
Visually Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is stunning. The character designs are outlandish and fun, and it’s always a treat to see what historical and literary figures, or references, may pop up next. The same can be said for the aliens, as each is unique, with over a dozen species. Many of which are clearly inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Putting these elements together in a brightly colored world makes this imaginative take on the 1800s, that much more enjoyable.
It also sounds great. The music came across as corny rock at first, but quickly became amazing. Mixing together heavy rock with orchestrated tracks blends together an unforgettable soundtrack. It may be one of the best scores in Nintendo’s recent history. The voice acting shares a similar pain at first, but warms up as things goes on. The game doesn’t take itself seriously so neither should players. It’s clearly just trying to have a good time in the face of dire odds.
Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is Nintendo’s first true new IP in a long time. Thankfully the experiment worked, proving the old studio still has some magic up its sleeve. It’s not perfect, but a sequel could definitely smooth out its rough edges. Here’s hoping this won’t be the last time players will see Abraham Lincoln and his diverse agents of S.T.E.A.M.
Score: 4/5 Stars
Special Notes: The publisher provided a review code for the game. This article was originally published on March 11, 2015 via my Examiner account before the website shut down. It was also Examiner’s official review for the game.