Any self-respecting definition of steampunk must involve goggles. Goggles, goggles, and more goggles. And Sean Connery. Sean Connery is pretty much essential to any discussion worth having.
For a more entertaining schooling on the nature of steampunk than Wikipedia's, and a less nonsensical one than mine, download a trial of Steam Brigade from Pedestrian Entertainment. Believe it or not, this downloadable game is a side-scrolling real-time strategy game, and an exciting one at that.
The only unit which you have direct control over is your unarmed steam-powered Airship, which has a magnet attached that allows you to pick up and move units, yours or your enemy's. Your goal in every level is to get an engineer into the opponent's factory, which is always placed at the opposite end of the map from your own. You accomplish this through the use of several different unit types, pitting them against your enemy on the field of battle. Money is your main resource, though thankfully you don't have to collect it like in traditional RTS games. It simply builds up over time.
You have several different units to choose from, ranging from basic infantry to armed whirligigs. There are also several map elements that you and your opponent will vie for control over, including bunkers and gun emplacements.
After building a unit it appears outside your factory and begins its inexorable march to the right. You can only affect its fate by either keeping its path clear from harm or by directly picking it up and dropping it somewhere more strategic. You may also pick up and drop enemy units from great heights and watch them fall to their death, but your foe is a master at that tactic as well.
As you whizz around the battlefield and take fire from enemy anti-air units, you lose steam, which in this game is your airship's health bar. You replenish your steam by floating near your factory and filling up, but this may force you all the way to the rear of the battle at a key moment, so it's usually in your best interest to stay just short of the front lines.
Analysis: I enjoyed this game for a lot of different reasons. The production values are superb; and not just the graphics, which are beautifully stylized. The music is well-done, the story is well-written (cut scenes are in verse, no less), and the game as a whole has the polished feel of a retail offering. The designers' dedication to their work is present in every element of the game.
The gameplay is fast and fun. I never spent more than 15 minutes or so finishing a level, of which there are 12 total in the campaign. There is also a configurable skirmish mode, though at this time they only offer games against the AI. Multiplayer, as well as a level editor, is promised soon on the developer's website.
My one quibble with this otherwise excellent game (besides the lack of multiplayer) is how each level, over time, blends into the next. Despite the interesting story elements and different units that are gradually introduced, you are basically playing a giant game of reverse tug-of-war. You churn out unit upon unit until you gradually push your opponent back far enough to be able to drop an engineer in their factory. The missions lose their distinction once you've gotten the hang of gameplay.
One way to remedy this would be to implement different objectives for different missions: hold a particular bunker for a certain amount of time, build a certain number of units or unit types, shoot down 3 enemy airships, etc. This would create a need for a different strategy than just the scorched earth strategy that I found most effective in each level. At some point down the road maybe even adding a vertical component to the ground units would be interesting, like a watchtower or a bridge over low ground, allowing two different levels of play while still keeping the side-scrolling paradigm.
In spite of that, Steam Brigade is a fantastic game from an independent developer that deserves our support. In addition, your purchase will also help us maintain this site and allow us to continue to bring you the very best in casual gameplay.