Code Name S.T.E.A.M. is a turn-based, tactics strategy game that is cumbersome, slow, and incredibly frustrating. The controls are clunky and the character movement feels bogged down. The camera is a constant point of contention and will often leave you staring at walls and away from the important information. This is all accentuated by the fact that the game forces these long delays for everything irritating which really drives home how much fun the game lacks. There are far, far better tactics strategy games out there and you should avoid Code Name S.T.E.A.M. entirely.
The story and characters you experience throughout the game are probably the only redeeming factors. This is a world where Abraham Lincoln escaped death and created and underground special forces team called S.T.E.A.M. to take down the invading alien threat. This team is full of classical fantasy characters including John Henry, Peter Pan’s Tiger Lily, and several characters from The Wizard of Oz to name a few. These characters are unique and diverse and the silly turns the plot takes are fun and fitting. The narrative behind your missions are whimsical and completely unexpected in its arc. It’s a shame that this light-hearted and unique premise gets executed through such awful gameplay.
Tactics strategy games are all about planning out your moves carefully and weighing the odds of how each characters’ position will impact that turn. Games in this genre such as Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics give you a top-down view of the battlefield so you can see what is coming and how to react on this chess-board like grid. STEAM mixes this up by only allowing you to see what is nearby your team (makes sense from a logistical standpoint). This ends up being cumbersome since it doesn’t allow you to make any moves without an inherent risk involved. Not being able to see what is around each corner causes you to have to move very slowly through the map. This gets worse when enemies will constantly spawn from random points and can counter attack you while walking, giving you no time to react. This limited camera takes a lot of the plotting strategy out of a genre designed for it.
This viewpoint is at an all time low during the enemy's turn. Since you are only able to see what your party can, while the opposing units are moving around, you are stuck staring at whatever you left off at. This leads to a lot of staring at walls and waiting. Waiting, by the way, is something you will have to be happy about since enemy turns always take a very long time and you can’t speed them up. Many times I spent a good thirty seconds staring at a wall directly in front of me while a slow progress bar filled up. When you factor in the twenty hour length of the game you will quickly realise that a good chunk of that time is completely wasted. No part of this is any fun and it constantly had me putting the game down to do something else while I waited.
It should be noted that at the time of this writing Nintendo has announced a patch is in the works to speed up enemy turns. I expect this to greatly improve your experience.
STEAM’s main feature is Overwatch - a counterattack that most secondary weapons in the game have. Equipping one of these will allow you to attack incoming enemies during their turn. This is good since it helps counter how often enemies will spawn/appear around a corner surprisingly. However, the downside is that in order to pull off these attacks, your character needs to have some energy remaining from your turn - which means making fewer attacks/steps forward before hand. In order to be allowed to counterattack, you need to progress at an even slower rate during your moves. This slows the game down yet again to the point where your party is basically crawling through each stage.
Tactics games are usually extremely focused on how the units can move and interact - hence the grid-based movement and stages - almost to the point that it becomes a puzzle game. Once again, STEAM goes in the opposite direction of this philosophy to irritating and questionable results. Characters can move around within each individual grid box which means weapons can sometimes reach an enemy and sometimes cannot. Units can be too far if on one side of the box while the other corner is fair game for attack. This also causes Overwatch to only work occasionally since characters need to rotate and hopefully see the enemy before it moves too close. This faint reliance to the grid-based system makes it almost useless and it becomes confusing why it is there in the first place. Tactics games such as Skulls of the Shogun embraced this looseness by removing the grid and working with a radius of interaction. STEAM does not seem to know which side of the fence it wants to belong on.
When the enemies aren’t surprising you out of nowhere you can definitely count on them to always be incredibly frustrating to deal with. Often you will find yourself stuck in a never ending respawn loop while trying to compose yourself. Some enemies can’t even be killed while others are, literally, so tiny that your gun can only target it some unknown percentage of the time. STEAM constantly reveals new enemies that will annoy you to no end. Seeing what I was up against at the start of each mission usually started me off with a sense of dread and a desire to play something else.
With Code Name S.T.E.A.M. finishing a mission is never a point of accomplishment and always just a moment of relief. When the enemies aren’t irritating you, the camera definitely is. You can never see all the relevant information you would want to and when you can the slow moving camera/units will easily bring you back down. Despite what the developers think, I do not enjoying staring at walls for great lengths of time and I do not look forward to the next time I will have to do so. The story is an alright inclusion but I didn’t have any fun with this game and you should look elsewhere.