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3 ways Code Name: STEAM will dominate the 3DS in March

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Code Name: STEAM is a third-person action/turn-based strategy hybrid game, set in a wacky steampunk universe.

There's nothing about it that feels like a traditional strategy game, and that's precisely what makes it special.

At a preview event yesterday, I was able to get hands-on time with the game's multiplayer mode. I tried my hand at deathmatch — wherein two players go head to head with their chosen team of four characters, and medal battle, where opponents fight over gold in the battlefield.

Something different

Code Name: STEAM is set in an alternate steampunk universe, where a version of Abraham Lincoln sails the world in a Lady Liberty-themed airship, commanding your special ops team (consisting mainly of characters from 19th century western literature) against an alien invasion. But it's the twist on the gameplay that really makes it unique. The game combines third-person over-the-shoulder action with a turn-based strategy core. In single and in multiplayer, you switch between your four characters (chosen from a list of over a dozen possible agents), moving on a grid-based battlefield, managing your "steam" resource, which allows you to move and fire your weapons.

The multiplayer modes eschew the slower-paced, almost puzzle-like progression of the main game in favor of a more focussed, quicker combat simulation.

Racing pace

In multiplayer, Code Name: STEAM is one of the fastest-paced turn-based strategy games I've ever tried. Each player has only 60 seconds to take all of their turns — moving around on the battlefield, firing at the enemy, or setting up "overwatch" shots by conserving steam and getting into strategic position. There's a lot to think about at once, but play feels balanced. There are no bad teams or load-outs, and the fast pace encourages smart, economical play.

The quick pace suits multiplayer perfectly, ensuring that each player has the same resources (including time). That speed keeps things interesting throughout the match, and guarantees that you'll never be stuck waiting for long until your next move.

Got character

Code Name: STEAM's zany style certainly sets it apart. But each character has their own unique abilities and possible loadouts, leaving plenty of room for strategy even before you get on the battlefield.

Take the four new agents revealed today. There's Queequeg, yes, from Herman Melville's Moby Dick, who brandishes a penguin launcher. He sends mechanical penguin-bombs down the battlefield, which do massive damage. But Queequeg doesn't have much for close-range fighting — unless, of course, you're smart about equipping a secondary weapon.

>Randolph is a cast-off from the H.P. Lovecraft universe, and he has what's called the "unspeakable lure" — a sort of meatstick that attracts enemies in single player — and spawns fake power-ups in multiplayer.

Scarecrow (from The Wizard of Oz) has a special move that has him exploding a giant pumpkin filled with candy (for health) and landmines (for killing bad guys). And the mysterious Fox is a sniper with a killer overwatch move.

All of this sounds wacky — and it is. But each character really does play radically differently, and every well-balanced team has a fighting chance against anything you can put in front of it.

Code Name: STEAM is set to launch on March 13.