Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.
| Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

Coming from the studio responsible for Fire Emblem and Advance Wars - two of the most elegant and finely-tuned strategy series around - you might be surprised to learn that Code Name: STEAM bins a load of tropes synonymous with the genre.

Instead of observing a battlefield from the sky, you play it like a third-person shooter as you drive your four-man squad through the levels, and manually aim your weapon before firing.

And while it has a grid system, it's far from regimented - shuffle around on a tile and you might be able to get a sneaky shot in, or gain cover behind a piece of architecture.

And, most surprisingly, the game has no map. Even Valkyria Chronicles, which famously merged turn-based tactics with real-time combat, let you see the layout of the battlefield. No such help, here.

Kettle copper attack

It's all intentional, of course - instead of relying on a birds-eye view, you have to be judicious with movement, have your team mates look out for each other, and see "information" as a precious resource, second only to the steam that powers your soldiers's movement and guns.

It works, but it's a fragile kind of working, capable of toppling down as soon as the claustrophobic camera hides an enemy out of view, or stops you from seeing the trajectory of a grenade, or fails to explain the layout of the level. Most of the time, I just wanted to get a better look at things.

The game has a miserable start as you control just one man through a tedious tutorial, but as soon as your squad hits four members, STEAM constantly adds new ideas - from a Lion who can somersault across the map and crash into far off enemies, to a medipack motar cannon, to a boxing glove on a spring.

Steampunk's not dead

The game soon evolves into a complex mechanical mash-up of strategies and systems for you to employ and there are plenty of different enemy types and labyrinthine levels - often with a strong vertical element - that test your skill.

But there are some frustrations to be found, too, like the enemy reinforcements that spring out of nowhere, a tricky ambush system that doesn't quite gel with the real-time movement, and enemies that can teleport randomly around the map.

Luckily, the astonishingly slow enemy turns that so many US reviewers criticised have been fixed in a day-one patch. Though the solution - a blink-and-you'll-miss-it fast-forward mode - can leave you in the dark about what the enemy just got up to.

Lincoln cogs

The story is a bizarre mish-mash of ideas and references and styles. In the game, President Lincoln commands a crack team of soldiers from public-domain fiction, including Tom Sawyer, Queequeg, and the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.

It's got steampunk props, a chunky visual style inspired by the silver age of comics, and aliens that look like Lovecraft knock-offs.

It's perhaps a little wacky for wacky's sake, but it's undeniably charming and unique - and you've got to love that bonkers Saturday morning cartoon theme song that plays over the title menu.

No I in steam

Code Name: STEAM deserves praise for daring to experiment with the tropes of turn-based tactics. And at times, it's successful, offering tense battles that keep you on your toes through a lack of omniscient information.

But a number of frustrating elements, often linked to the semi-real-time nature or the cramped third-person camera, keep it from greatness.

Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

Code Name: STEAM is charming in style and experimental in genre, but a number of missteps make it tough to recommend whole heartedly