Stranded on a vessel somewhere in deep space, four space marines are all that stands between the robots and freedom. You must fight your way through floors and floors of evil space robots, best all the baddies, and do all the other things marines do, so you can reach the elevator and save all the human souls on board.
A grid-based, turn-based game at heart, Steam Marines takes place in a futuristic, high-tech setting. It also appears to be set in an alternate universe where everyone lies on the ground, that the all-controlling god can see them from above. As you’re up-on-high you can get a pretty good view of the battlefield, everything’s easy to read and understand. That said, the camera position creates a very tense atmosphere with the short line of site from your marines and a restrictive fog of war, forcing you to march through a dark. unknown ship, hoping there isn’t a pile of robots waiting to ambush you as you flee from the previous robot ambush..
Everything that you do consumes Action Points (AP), and your marines seem to be quite lethargic, with only a few AP available per turn. Shooting and moving cost points as well, but you can also turn to face another direction (Woah next gen game mechanics wow!) and muck around with your gun. With a very nice little graphic in the bottom left of the UI showing the condition of your gun, you can also switch between various attachments on your gun, most guns having a flashlight and laser sight. The flashlight gives you an extra square of sight range, very useful for a scout or just exploring somewhere new, or you can switch on the laser sight for a 15% increase in accuracy which can make or break an engagement.
Despite you having only four characters on your starting team, there’s five classes to choose from – with each of the five classes having an associated weapon – although variations can be found offering tweaked stats to fit different play-styles; The first class to discuss is the leader class, who you’ll find carrying around a trusty shotgun (Shotgun! I lost my shotgun!) which can push enemies back if they get too close; The support class comes with a very nice machine-gun, which is excellent at clearing out a group of enemies; The scout has a delicious sniper rifle which can go through multiple enemies, and hit from long distances; Next is the grenadier who is equipped with splash grenades which can weaken both friendly and enemy units, and finally comes the engineer with his large capacity SMG to provide firepower when it’s needed.
Each of your four marines also has a perk which can give them a small boon in one aspect, such as the ability to switch attachments without using AP, or any ranged attack at an adjacent enemy having a 100% chance to hit.
Chests and lockers are scattered throughout the ship, offering some very tasty rewards. You might find that last mag of ammunition you need to take out that final droid, a shiny new toy, or even some money. There are loads of these items to pick up, most being stat increases or refillers – like the canteen which gives any unit 2HP when used. Of particular use is the PDA, which when consumed will tell you how many enemies are left in the level, though sadly it does not provide any indication as to where they are.
Being the super-awesome space marines you are, you have the ability to break through nearly every wall in the level – barring the ones separating you from the dark abyss of space. Breaking through may take several moves to do it right, but when done effectively it can provide some serious tactical benefits; instantly flanking an enemy group or being able to quickly regroup your team. One little qualm I have is that the broken walls don’t look very different to unbroken walls, so it gets quite confusing how you got somewhere if you don’t keep a close eye on things.
Your enemies, being robots, are very numerous. Most common among them is a big mech like dude who likes to run up to you and punch you, which -at least in my house- is most definitely not the proper house guest procedure. A variant of these robots has a big shield on its front, requiring clever placement of your units to take the bad beastie down. Finally there is a little droid equipped with a gun, which is just bloody annoying to deal with. While the AI and pathfinding works very well, the robots tend to stand still and attack you if you come near, only taking a single step towards you in most cases, which is frustrating when trying to lure them into a trap. Killing the evil robots will grant your units experience, which can be used to level your troops up to give them better stats and abilities.
Steam Marines is presented in a lovely low bit style which really makes the game feel great to play, but sadly makes it rather hard to tell what something is if you haven’t seen it before, or where an item is or is facing during play. The style is great, but touch ups to differentiate items and make them a bit more easy to identify would have gone a long way in improving Steam Marines playability.
Steam Marines is a tense and fun top-down, turn-based shooter which excels at nearly anything it turns its hand to. With a few touch ups and some TLC, it could have grown into an even more enjoyable game, yet, it still remains one which I heartily recommend.