I’ve never been particularly into turn-based strategy games, mostly because I just kinda suck at them. I’ve just never been able to properly wrap my mind around the type of strategic thinking necessary to do well in this genre. In spite of that, I knew that Code Name S.T.E.A.M. – a new IP from Fire Emblem developer Intelligent Systems – was something I needed to try.
Why did I need to try it? Well, because it is the story of Abraham Lincoln leading a team of characters from American literature against an army of invading space aliens in an alternate steampunk universe, all rendered in a style that homages Jack Kirby. That’s why, motherfucker. The whole thing plays out like an American version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and it’s glorious. It’s also full of amazing surprises, so if you want to stay spoiler-free, it’s probably best not to keep reading this. Instead, here’s an article about Japanese people making their dogs into cubes.
Prior to the game’s release, the promotional material focused mostly on the inclusion of Abraham Lincoln, and also revealed that Henry Fleming, John Henry, Tom Sawyer and the Cowardly Lion would be playable characters. But, as the story continues on, eventually you travel to Massachusetts and visit this place:
And then this guy joins your party:
Randolph Carter, for those who don’t know, is the protagonist of several H.P. Lovecraft stories, including my favorite work of his, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Not only does he become a playable character (albeit a disappointingly shitty one), but it turns out that the game’s entire plot is heavily tied into the Cthulhu mythos – the aliens you’ve been battling against are actually Lovecraftian creatures!
So, just a few short weeks after somehow turning my experience with a Mario puzzle game into a Lovecraft nightmare, I end up accidentally playing a game rooted firmly in his universe. Can you even begin to imagine how fucking excited this made me? It was embarrassing!
Even beyond the Lovecraft stuff, there are a lot more surprise characters and locations. God knows I’m a sucker for dweeby crossover nonsense, and this game scratches that itch just right. The convergence of all these literary and historical references results in an insane and exhilarating narrative where dialogue like this becomes not only possible, but also perfectly logical:
As for the gameplay, it deviates from the top-down view of most turn-based strategy games I’ve played, instead presenting an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective. What this means is that you don’t get any kind of overview of the battlefield, and you can only plan ahead based on what’s within your characters’ fields of vision.
I’ve heard many complaints about this approach, but I actually really liked it. For one thing, it adds a higher level of tension to missions, as enemy forces could potentially be waiting to ambush you around any corner. I also seem to do better with manic, on-the-fly problem-solving than I do with chess-like preemptive planning.
But in general I am a pretty awful strategist, so more often than I’d like to admit patience and luck got me through missions in lieu of careful tactics. Here’s an example:
I ended up with only one guy alive, and this intensely powerful enemy standing between me and the goal. To make matters worse, my guy only had a few hit points remaining, and a severely underpowered weapon. So I ended up just taking cover behind this wall, and sloooooowly picking away at the alien’s health whenever I got a clear shot. This took around 90 minutes. An hour and a half of standing behind that wall and firing one shot every minute or so, before I could finish this level. Situations like this really, really sucked, but they were always my own fault rather than the game’s.
Eventually, through perseverance and sheer fucking will, I made it through to the end, fought the shockingly easy final boss, and finished the game.
It’s a testament to Code Name S.T.E.A.M.‘s quality that, in spite of constantly finding myself in totally aggravating predicaments, I still really enjoyed my time with it. Even its most frustrated moments made me want to try one more time, instead of making me want to throw my 3DS at a fucking wall, so that’s a really good thing. I suspect that anyone who is actually good at strategy games will love it even more. I really hope there’s eventually a sequel and because I’m a huge dork, here’s my wishlist for characters that should be included:
Who’s on your list??
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