“In space no one can hear you scream” goes the famous film quote. They might just hear you scream after playing this intentionally hard roguelike game.
Steam Marines is a roguelike set onboard a ship that has been attacked. You control a squad of four soldiers who must reach the elevator on each procedurally generated floor to proceed through the ship and eventually find freedom. It would be fair to say the game takes a good amount of influence from the Space Hulk/Crusade and X-Com game series, with its dark corridors and rooms with ‘fog of war’ and action points to spend on movement and actions. While not an original concept, Steam Marines manages to blend its influences into a neat game.
Your squad can be created from randomised suggestions or built from scratch. There are four classes to choose from, a leader, support, scout and grenadier. As the names suggest, their weaponry fits their names, the leader takes the front with a close range shotgun, scout with a long-range sniper gun and support with a high capacity machine gun. Having one of each is probably a good idea to get a good balance of strategy and combat.
Steam Marines throws you in the deep end with a few words of encouragement to keep you afloat for a minute while you play the tutorial. The tutorial gives you a chance to see how the basics work such as movement and combat. Once completed, you are on your own to work the rest out. The tutorial could go into a little more detail for people who are not familiar with this genre of game. After reading the developers forums I found out a few features I knew nothing about. This is a Steam Early Access game meaning the game is still in development, so this can be excused but it is worth keeping an eye on the forums for this reason alone.
After a floor or two, the enemy number becomes many, and you will likely hit a brick wall as you learn the game the hard way. Death is permanent and once your squad is gone, it is game over. Tactics is important as it is in any strategy combat game, never knowing what is around the next corner or behind a door. You will soon learn that moving a soldier with few remaining Action Points into a new room is a silly mistake as they will likely face a couple of enemy units with no points to take action with. The game is turn based, so killing as many enemy units or getting into cover before you run out of AP is essential, the enemy can be brutal even on the easiest difficulty. Tactics such as flanking enemies that have shields works particularly well and grants bonus damage.
Steam Marines features a simple leveling up system that improves the soldiers stats such as their strength and class attributes. Your soldiers also have talents which are awarded as you progress and include attacks and defense buffs and special attacks which are important to take advantage of.
The first 15 minutes of Steam Marines
Much like the X-COM series, you form a bond with your soldiers and you will go to lengths to protect them. One mistake will make you scream as a group of enemy units slaughters half of your squad (if you are lucky). You can explore the ship to find items such as new weapons, health and AP replenishment and boosts. Survivors can join your team to replace any dead soldiers, but they will be weak and need to leveled up.
The graphics are an 8-bit pixel art style that is dark and at times scary. Scary, but not in a make you jump out of your seat way, more in a way that you never know what is in the next room. Your heart will miss a beat or two as you enter a new room to see what is inside. The audio adds to the atmosphere with again dark, slow and eerie effects that remind you of X-COM. It creates an opposing atmosphere and builds the tension very well.
There was little I did not like about Steam Marines. One minor annoyance is the auto-switch to new soldier once the selected soldiers AP has run out. If you manually choose a new soldier it can sometimes auto-switch to another without you realising and you end up moving the wrong soldier. You can switch this off in the options and I definitely recommend doing it!
Steam Machines is a hard game, but it is fairly balanced and death will most likely be player error rather than the game. It is a dark, atmosphere filled strategy roguelike that works very well taking in a lot of inspiration from classic games. If you enjoy roguelike or tactics games this is a perfect game for you. If you are a newcomer, you may find the learning curve a little steep at the start, but it is something that can be reached and enjoyed.
Tough but fair combat system. The approach to the levels gets you thinking the best strategy to reach the elevators.
Nice pixel art 8bit style graphics that give a dark, opposing atmosphere.
Eerie, slow background effects that builds up the suspense.